Let’s take a walk down memory lane – there was a time when textiles were only hand-woven and every design was not a mass-produced print. There was a charm about having a unique, exclusive design that wasn’t splashed across high street fashion. But there is no reason to fret just yet, there is a part of this old world charm that we can still make our own – how, you may ask? The answer is with block prints – these beautiful fabrics bear designs that have a way of paying homage to ethnic styles yet being contemporary.
As you read on, you will be able to acquaint yourself with the process of block printing as well as its various avatars, a style that is in fact largely considered the oldest form of textile printing.
So, how exactly does block printing work?
The origins of block printing can be traced all the way back to ancient civilizations in China and Egypt. Indian block printing adapted the concept to regional tastes and preferences and is now widely popular in the sub-continent. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus specifically on block printing in India.
Block printing begins with the preparation of the fabric. Cotton is the ideal choice of a base as fabric as a result of its hardiness and ease of working with. The fabric is then soaked in water to make it more pliable to work with. After the fabric is dried and bleached by the sun, the process of making the block commences. For this, the artisan will transfer a carefully created design from paper to a block of wood – mango wood in most cases.
The type of design can vary significantly based on how intricate the artisan would like to make it. After this, the fabric is cut, colors are prepared and chalk markings are made to ensure accuracy. Using the block and dyes the artisan then carefully places the design block on the fabric and pushes it down with a mallet to hold in place. The level of precision required for this is immense as there has to be a sense of continuity – remember this is entirely hand-done with practically no machine usage. Yet, when one sees the completed fabric the continuity from one block to the other is seamless!
Understanding the different types of block prints…
Sanganeri and Bangru – a popular form of printing, this type originates from Jaipur in Rajasthan and typically uses the flower/petal motif. Mostly artisans of the Chippa community produce these types of print.
Ajrakh – Originally from the Sindh region, the famous and much-loved Ajrakh print tells an interesting story. It stands out amongst its block print peers for its unique usage of indigo and red dyes. It is also considered amongst the oldest of all block print styles. For Ajrakh printing, unlike other block printing wherein the dye is directly applied to the fabric, the fabric is first covered with a “resist” paste – by repeating this process over and over again the deep coloration of red and blue is achieved. For any lover of block prints, having one Ajrakh piece is a must!
Kalamkari – The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is home to this type of block printing. This complex process of creating Kalamkari involves 20+ steps and the design normally tells a story through its motifs. Very often one will find stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana depicted in Kalamkari designs.
Dabu – This signature block printing style often uses indigo and white dyes along with memorable geometric patterns – the labor-intensive process employs the ‘printing and dyeing’ combination which must be done repeatedly to produce this stunning result!
Block printing today
As fashion has evolved, so has the use of block prints. The beautiful style of printing textiles has fortunately found a way to leave its mark not only on garments but also home furnishings such as tablecloths and bedsheets. Moreover, instead of only on cotton, we’re seeing block printing on different, more elegant fabrics such as silk. This has upped the sophistication quotient of the design and made it more coveted. Whether it is a saree, a dupatta or a stole – one beautiful block printed piece is a must-have. We at Aditri have made a concerted effort to bring this style into the twenty-first century – browse through our collection here: https://old.aditri.co.in/product-category/sarees/sarees-hand-block-prints/