A Close Look at the Process of Block Printing in India
- The fabric to be printed is first washed free of starch.
- If tie-dyeing is required, this is done before the printing process. Incase 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 last stage.
Centers of Block Printing in India
Block Printing in Gujarat
In Gujarat, this form of hand printing has been practiced and perpetuated by the Paithapur families. They make intricate blocks, and print their textiles using the mud resist-printing method. These prints are called Sodagiri (trader) prints.
Dhamadka village in Gujarat is known for a block printed fabric called Ajrakh. The popular designs of block printing in this village are geometric. The artisans use natural colors such as red from the madder root, black from a rusty iron solution and blue from indigo.
In Kutch, the popular patterns are black and red designs of birds, animals, and dancing girls. The saris of Ahmedabad and Baroda have large mango patterns against a red or blue background.
The other well known centers for block printing in Gujarat are Bhavnagar, Vasna, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Jetpur and Porbandar.
Block Printing in Rajasthan
From Gujarat, the art of block printing spread to Rajasthan. Here 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. Doo Rookhi printing is also famous here. In this technique, artists print on both sides of the cloth.
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 latter 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.
Block Printing in Punjab
The block printing from Punjab is not as famous as its Rajasthani counterpart, but is still merit worthy. It was the art of a group of textile workers called Chhimba . The designs were usually floral and geometrical. Today, traditional designs have been displaced, and vegetable dyes have been replaced by chemical ones. The colors are light and pastel. The motifs are usually mangoes, peacocks and nets.
Block Printing in West Bengal
The art of block printing is not traditional to West Bengal, and was introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then, Bengal's block printing artists have built on the traditional designs and created several of their own. In West Bengal, Serampur is the center of block printing. It is well-known for its bold and vibrant patterns.
Block Printing in Andhra Pradesh
In Andhra Pradesh, the block printing method is applied in the creation of the exquisite Kalamkari Painting. Kalamkari, as the name suggests, is artwork ( kari ) created with a pen ( kalam ). It is a combination of hand painting and block printing.
The two major centers of Kalamkari art are Sri Kalahasti and Masulipatnam.
The Masulipatnam designs are Iranian in character; the most popular motifs are Persian motifs like trees, creepers, flowers and leaf designs. In Masulipatnam, Kalamkari work is mainly done on bed covers, curtains and garments, using a combination of wooden block printing and hand painting.
In Sri Kalahasti Kalamkari work, temples are a major source of inspiration. It was because of the demand for scrolls and wall hangings with Hindu mythological stories, that Kalamkari flourished in this village. These themes are painted in the panels, and there is a script painted along the border. The popular motifs are Hindu gods and goddesses . The work is done entirely with a brush-like pen.
Block Printing in India is also practiced in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.