The Art of Block Printing

Block Printing is the ancient craft of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is one of the oldest types of printmaking, and has been around for thousands of years. Scraps of cloth found in the ruins of  Mohenjo Daro, an ancient city of the Indus Valley Civilization, provide evidence that block printing was practiced in India as long ago as 3000 BCE. The process of block printing takes time, team work and especial skill.

The three main tools of a block printed fabric are the wooden blocks, the fabric and the dye.   Block printing can be done with wood, linoleum, rubber, or many other materials.

The Process

  • First step is to sketch the design.  It is important to reverse the image if you are using text, as the printed image will be the reverse of what is on the block.  Once the image is ready, It can then be transferred on to the linoleum or wood to give an outline of where to carve.
  • Next is to carve the design.  Carving is done on the parts which you don’t want to print, as the ink will be applied to the raised surfaces to print the design. Carving a block can take anywhere from an hour for a small piece, to several weeks or even months depending on the size and detail of the image.
  • The fabric to be printed is first washed free of starch.
  • If tie-dyeing is required, this is done before the printing process. In case fabric is dyed, it is washed thereafter, to remove excess color. It is dried in the sun.
  • The fabric is then stretched over the printing table and secured with pins.
  • Color is mixed separately and kept ready. So are the blocks. The blocks are made of teak wood and hand-carved. They are soaked in oil for 10-15 days to soften the timber.
  • The color is kept in a tray which rests on another tray that contains a liquid made of glue and pigment binder. This gives the color a soft base and permits even spreading of color on the block.
  • When printing begins, the color is first evened out in the tray. Then the block is dipped in the outline color.
  • The block is pressed down hard on the fabric, to make a clear impression. Thereafter, other blocks are used to fill in color.
  • Once the fabric is printed, it is dried in the sun. It is then rolled in newspaper to prevent the fabric layers from sticking to each other.
  • The fabric is then steamed.
  • Thereafter, it is washed in water and dried in the sun.
  • Ironing is the final stage.

 

Colours/Dyes

Vegetable or Natural Block Printing Inks

  1. Black: This color is produced by mixing an acidic solution of iron (rusted nails/horse shoes etc) with jaggery (unrefined country sugar) that has been allowed to rot for about a fortnight.
  2. Red: This dye is made by a material such as alizarin with alum. The resulting colors range from pink to dark red. The color red is also extracted from the madder root.
  3. Blue: Is obtained from the indigo bush found all over India.

Pomegranate skins, the bark of the mango tree, vinegar and slaked lime are also used to make block printing inks.

Block Printing Pigment Inks

These colors are first mixed with kerosene and binder before they are used. Once mixed, they can be stored for a few days. Pigment inks are popular because of this and also because they give a variety of hues. They can also be mixed with each other to create new shades. Moreover, they do not change color once they dry on the cloth. Therefore the artist knows exactly what shade he will get once the fabric is printed.

It must be kept in mind that it is vital that the consistency of this block printing ink be right; if too thick it will stick out in lumps on the textile.

Block Printing Rapid Fast Colors

These inks come in the standard colors: black, orange, brown, red and mustard. Unlike pigment inks that may be mixed to create unique colors, rapid fast colors are limited in color variation, and also it is not possible to know the final color from before. When using these colors, the ground color and the color in the design are printed in one step. Rapid fast colors cannot be stored.

Block Printing Discharge Dyes

If printing in white or other light color has to be done on a dark cloth, the block printing ink to be used is the discharge dye. This dye contains a chemical that reacts with the dark color and bleaches it, while at the same time coloring the bleached area with the desired light color.


In Rajasthan, colorful prints of birds, animals, human figures, gods and goddesses are popular. The important centers for this form of hand printing are Jaipur, Bangru, Sanganer, Pali and Barmer.

  • Sanganer is famous for its Calico printed bed covers, quilts and saris. In Calico printing, the outlines are first printed, and then the color is filled in. Bold patterns and colors are popular. They are printed repeatedly in diagonal rows.
  • Bagru is famous for its Syahi-Begar prints and Dabu prints. The former are designs in a combination of black and yellow ochre or cream. The later are prints in which portions are hidden from the dye by applying a resist paste.
  • Barmer is known for its prints of red chilies with blue-black outlines, surrounded by flower-laden trees. The other famous prints are of horses, camels, peacocks and lions, called Sikar and Shekahawat prints.

 

Experience this ancient craft of Rajasthan with our Born2C program

https://www.born2c.com/programs/programinfo/block-printing-pottery-in-jaipur

 

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