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 art work is executed on paper. For carving out the wooden blocks the design is traced on a 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 on to 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.
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 than accordingly the blocks will increase. The designs usually made are border designs, motifs and variations of running lines.
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 centers 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.
3 colour design being printed and the folk art block used in all over pattern
Repeat of block Folk art block used for print
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 form Andhra Pradesh, Sanganeri and Bangru from Rajasthan, Ajrakh from Gujarat, Lepakshi from Hyderabad.