Want to give hand block printing a try? The process is easy and it requires very few supplies beyond the stuff you already have on hand. In present-day India, Bagru in Rajasthan is a key hub of hand block printing. Beautiful traditional textiles are created by craftsmen using wooden blocks that are generally dyed with mineral and vegetable dyes.
1. Block Carving and Dyeing – It is the Chhipa cast of India (Rajasthan) that has all the block carvers, dyers, and printers. In the block printing process, block carving is the first process like many other crafts in India, it is the ancestral skill, which passed down from one generation to the next generation. Chhipas are equipped with tools such as small hammers, chisels, and drills and use them for carving elaborate patterns into wooden blocks. After the carving process, these blocks are put into mustard oil and allowed to rest for at least a week. This helps prevent cracking of the blocks upon exposure to dry conditions. The carvers also drill miniature holes into the wooden blocks to allow the wood to breathe. This also extends the life of the wooden blocks for decades.
2. Application of Color Paste – After the carving process, the color paste is applied to the wooden block surface with the help of a ‘sieve’. The contents of this paste usually include tree gum, black earth soil and wheat grain powder. The wooden block is gently patted on the paste before being pressed onto a fabric.
3. Treatment of Fabric – Firstly we have to wash the chosen fabric to remove all the starch. After that to minimize the appearance of the natural grey it will undergo soft bleaching. Fabrics such as saree lengths usually require dyeing. This is done before the printing process begins. In this method of hand block printing, our craftsman will lay the fabric on a printing table, stretching it across the entire length and fix it with tiny pins.
4. Printing – Block printing has a special technique that needs to be followed in order to get the desired results. Printing always begins from left to right. A plank of wood is used for evening out the color on the tray. The craftsman dips the block into a dark outline color and applies it to the fabric. A strong slamming action using the fist on the handle’s back helps achieve a beautiful impression. This is done repeatedly along the length and breadth of the fabric.
5. After Treatment – After the printing process is done, and to prevents the smudging of design and helps seal the printed parts our craftsman scatters some fine sawdust onto the wet paste. The fabric is then left to dry out in the sun. Different dyes may be used for block printing on cotton and silk fabrics. Some of the common cotton dyes include indigo sol, pigment dyes, and rapid dyes. The traditional colors used for block printing are red, black, brown, mustard and orange.