The art of Indian block print textiles is a labor-intensive, painstaking process that has survived from ancient times to the present because of the beauty of the handmade products.
Block printing is an ancient Indian art that dates as far back as 12th century. Traditionally, hand carved wood block stamps were used to print on textiles. The art of block printing is very unique and labor intensive process, as it makes every piece of cloth one of a kind and different from others, which cannot be achieved with modern printing techniques using automated machinery. What makes this technique exquisite is the fact that the design has to be first carved onto the wooden block by hand, and then executed on the fabric.
Traditional block printing was done using environment friendly dyes, derived from vegetables,plants, minerals etc. These pigments were mixed with kerosene oil and binder which helps in fixing the colors to the fabric.
First of all, the fabric to be printed is thoroughly washed to make is free of any starch. Then it is dyed to the desired color, if required. Once completely dry, fabric is stretched onto the printing table and secured to it with the help of pins. Care should be taken that there are no ripples in the fabric.
The dyes to be used are placed in trays. These are kept on the uppermost shelf on wooden trolleys while the blocks are put on the lower shelf. Printer drags the trolley along as he works.
If the design requires the use of three, four or more colors in the pattern, the outline block is used first, usually in the darkest color. The block is dipped in the color and pressed hard on the fabric to get a good impression. Then rest of the blocks are carefully placed on the first impression to fill in the other colors, one by one . A point on the block serves as a guide for the repeat impressions.
After the printing is complete, the fabric is dried in sun to fix the colors. Fabric is then rolled in wads of newspapers to prevent the fabric layers from adhering to each other and steamed in boilers constructed for the purpose. After steaming, the material is washed thoroughly in large quantities of water and dried in the sun, after which it is finished by ironing out single layers, which fix the color permanently.
India has been renowned for its hand block printed and dyed textiles in cotton and silk. It is the essence of India and the crafts that make India stand out in the world and skill passed through many generations and should be preserved. Block Printing is one of the numerous arts and crafts that are slowly dyeing and need to be renewed and brought back to life.