Block Printing on Fabric

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all over block 72dpi

Wooden block

Block printing is an age-old method of hand printing on fabric and paper.  There are many different techniques to create surface designs. Some of them are dyeing the entire white fabric, dyeing the fabric by using the resist method, painting with a brush, which is a time-consuming method to cover large surfaces. In relation to printing, painting is also more expensive. Block printing is an easy way, as you can see the design emerge in most cases. The blocks are made in small sizes so repeating the design is easy. The designing, as well as block making, requires expertise as when the block is repeated there should be no break or gap in the design. In fact, printing can still be attempted by a novice with pigment colours.

The very first stage is to draw the design. The repeat of the design is taken care of by the designer especially in the case of a border. The entire artwork is executed on paper. For carving out the wooden blocks the design is traced on tracing paper and outlined in black ink. The rest of the colours are filled in the spaces so designated. A three colour design will have one outline block and two colour blocks. The block maker transfers the outline onto a wooden block in reverse image. The carved outline block is very fine and calls for a lot of expertise. The other two blocks are the filling blocks and are bold.

3 colour block 3 colour paisley design wooden blocks

These blocks enable the printer to repeat the design any way he wants. There is no limit to the colours which can be used. The above paisley is a three colour design so there are three blocks. In case more colours are required in the same design then accordingly the blocks will increase.  The designs usually made are border designs, motifs and variations of running lines.

zigzag block 72dpi     zigzag print

zigzag  design  wooden block                          Design on fabric after printing

These are used in permutation and combination to create various new patterns. Today factory printing is mechanized and does not enjoy the flexibility of hand printing. India still boasts of hand block printing and has many dedicated centres of this popular textile art.

The dyes used for printing are natural dyes and also chemical-based. For printing with rapid and indigo dyes, you need a lot of expertise in mixing the colours. The dyes are mixed in a solution of gum arabic and then printed on the fabric. After the colour dries the fabric is further processed before the actual colours appear. For this an expert dye master is important. In the year 1982, I visited a printing unit in Gariahat, Kolkatta. The expertise of the dye master was astounding. What appeared to be a number of brown mixtures when processed after printing on fabric transformed into very subtle shades of pinks and greens. His knowledge and experience manifested in his mixing of the various shades of colours corresponding with the designer’s sheet.

With the availability of pigment dyes, printing has become very easy as the colours are visible while printing. Design Schools teaching subjects like Textile Designing and Fashion Designing have created professional Designers and young entrepreneurs. It is easy for them to create one of a kind design and cater to a niche market looking for exclusive goods. A number of young Designers are working and catering to this market all over India.

For printing the tools required are simple. A printing table with layers of cloth pinned on it to provide padding. Pigment dyes, binder and containers, usually plastic bottles to mix the colours in. Wooden blocks, a tray with a sponge sheet over which the dye is spread to feed the block. Trays are needed according to the number of colours used in the particular design.

  1. colour feed 72dpi Plate with a thin sponge sheet and colour for printing

2. 3 colour printing    printed  printed 1

3. Colour design is printed and the folk art block used in all-over pattern

lateral repeat  folk art block

4. A repeat of block                                     Folk art block used for print

all over block 72dpishowing repeat

5. wooden block                                             print on fabric

Block printing is a very ancient art form prevalent in China over 2000 years ago. It is believed that it travelled to India from China. India has a long history of trading in textiles with other countries for the past several centuries.  In fact, prints from different states of India are famous for their style with special names. Some of them are Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh, Sanganeri and Bangru from Rajasthan, Ajrakh from Gujarat, Lepakshi from Hyderabad.

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