Block printing, one of the oldest type of printmaking has been around for the years now with its feet rooted into the substantial grounds of India. Block printing is a traditional form of fabric design that is extensively used in contemporary design pieces like scarves, bedsheets, curtains, tables cloth and even in men’s shirts.
There is a long history associated with this traditional art form of India, and many techniques have been originated to shape handblock prints on fabric. Block printing at some places is also known as “relief printing”. In hand block printing the ink leaves a raised texture on the surface making it different from letterpress. The Indian block print textile is laborious and painstaking that has survived from the ancient times to present only because of their beauty in the patterns. Let’s have a detailed look at the process of block printing in India.
Step 1: Carving and dying of wooden blocks!
Like many other crafts in India, block carving is also an ancestral skill that is passed from one generation to the next. Only a few communities have the tools like hammers, chisels and drills which are used for carving broad patterns on a wooden block. Once the carving is done, the wooden blocks are dipped into the mustard oil to rest for at least a week. This is to prevent blocks from cracking of the blocks when exposed to dry conditions.
Step 2: Applying the colour paste on the blocks!
After carving, the wooden block surfaces are covered with thick colour paste. This paste combines tree gum, black earth soil and wheat grain powder. The paste is applied to the wooden block gently with the help of a sieve.
Step 3: Fabric treatment for block printing!
The fabric for block printing is first washed for the removal of all the starch. Soft bleaching is also carried out to minimise the aspects of natural grey on the cloth. Fabrics for the length of bedsheets or sarees also needs dyeing.
Step 4: Fabric block printing!
For the beautiful block printing on your fabric, a particular technique needs to be followed. First and the foremost, printing must always start from left to right. A plank of wood is required to even the colour on the tray. Now the craftsman dips the wooden block into the dark outline colour and pastes it on the fabric. The craftsman then pushes a slamming action using the fist on block’s handle to get the beautiful impression on the cloth. The entire process is repeatedly done over the length of the fabric.
After the completion of the printing process, some fine sawdust is scattered onto the wet paste to prevent the design from smudging and to seal the printed parts. The fabric is then left to dry under the sun. Red, brown, black, blue, mustard and orange are some of the traditional colours used for block printing.