Wooden Hand Block Printing is a process of printing patterns on textiles, usually of cotton, linen or silk, by means of carved wooden blocks. It is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of textile printing. Block printing by hand is a slow process. It is, however, capable of yielding highly artistic results, some of which are unobtainable by any other method.
The design is first drawn on paper and carved into the Sheesham wood block. Designs are precisely carved by hand into the blocks. The physical block is the design for a single repeat which is then stamped in rows across the fabric. Each colour in the design is carved into a separate block. The outline block or ‘rekh’, is the most intricate and usually stamped first; it is typically the outline for a floral or lattice type design. Next comes the fill block or ‘datta’ and possibly the ground colour block or ‘gud’ depending on the colour scheme used. The blocks are generally made of teak wood, hand-carved and later soaked in oil for 10-15 days to soften the timber.
A combination of naturally found materials is used to create a few different basic colours, which can then be mixed together to make several different colours. These include madder, indigo, pomegranate rind, turmeric, etc.
As they work, the karigars pull a wooden cart called ‘saaj’ along with them which has the colour that is to be printed and the wooden block along with them. They stamp the block on the fabric with a hard pound of the fist at the centre of the block, ensuring even printing. They repeat this from left to right, aligning the blocks perfectly by eye from years of experience.
The fabrics are pulled tightly and pinned to a long table for printing. The printing master carefully aligns each block as he prints, using the ‘guide’ carved on the left edge of the block as his marker. The printing master must then follow the same pattern of aligning the blocks with each colour layered on to the design. The subtle gaps and overlaps are a beautiful reminder of the handwork and give block printing it’s iconic look. All prints exemplify this aesthetic and have a subtle pattern of light/dark across the design.
Block printing is a sustainable source of textile production in rural India. While often men have been the printing masters, in small-scale, traditional production, women also become skilled printers. Traditional printing is often done in family units which provides more income for the whole family.
We are grateful for the hospitality and involvement of Karigars of Bagru. These Pictures and information are based on our observations and discussions with these karigars while working on Curio Cult’s Block Print Quilt collection at Bagru Village, Rajasthan.
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