What is Block Printing? Origin, Process and Types of the Ancient Art of Block Printing
Everything you need to know about Hand Block Printing
Hand Block printing is probably the most ancient printing technique known to mankind. It is loved all over the world for its beauty and uniqueness. Block printing process involves using engraved wooden blocks dipped in colors to create different printing patterns on the surface through stamping. It has been done on different mediums but mostly on paper and textiles.
Though in recent history, India has been widely known for the extensive usage of traditional Block Printing technique on textiles, Hand Block printing did not originate in India.
Origin of Hand Block Printing
There is no evidence to claim the exact place and time of origin of Hand Block Printing technique. But according to some reliable inferences drawn, the origin of hand block printing can be dated back to the period between 1300 to 3500 BC which leads us to the era of Indus Valley Civilization. The earliest dated evidence of hand block printing dates to 868 AD. The work is named Diamond Sutra and is currently preserved in British Museum, London.
Traditionally, organic vegetable dyes were used for hand block printing. That is however, now not much being practiced as artificial AZO free dyes are being increasingly adopted in many areas of the world due to easy availability and wide range of bright colors.
The oldest and popular medium for hand block printing is wood which is still used in many parts of the world. There are now many other popular sources for block printing that are being used such as rubber, linoleum. This method of using wooden blocks is considered to be the oldest because of its existence evidence from the 3rd century in major parts of Asia.
Various types of hand printed textiles, especially cotton, have been found dating back to the Harappan Civilization period. Many tools such as needles, cotton fibers, and a few dyed fabrics were found which support the claims of the familiarity of Harappan people with hand block printing.
Hand Block Printing In India
The inception of Hand Block Printing in India is crucial keeping in mind the magnitude of its usage in the present era. Going by some of the written inscriptions and books it is said to be followed from the 12th century in India getting introduced by Chinese travellers via the silk route. However, it is also widely believed that antique Block Printing in Rajasthan, Rajashtani clothes designs originated and are in existence from the early 3rd century.
In India, the technique and process of Hand Block Printing changes with different regions. Though the usage of Block Printing is supposed to be initiated in parts of current states of Gujarat and West Bengal, there are various belts of Block Printing in different parts of India. Some famous Block Printing hubs of India currently are Bagru, Sanganer, Bagh, Kutch , Balotra, Karnataka to name a few. Both natural dyes and Artificial Pigment Dyes are currently used in India for Block Printing on textiles.
Process and Steps Involved In Block Printing
There are different techniques and methods in different parts of India and the rest of the world. The process and raw materials differ with each method. Some methods of Block Printing involve naturally derived colors while some use artificial AZO free pigment colors.For example, the most ancient hand block printing method is considered to be Dabu which is still followed by artisans in many regions of India. It is a very traditional method followed in its oldest form even today. In this technique they include ancient mud, clay and sawdust to resist hand block printing.
Though all methods have different steps involved, here are some common steps followed in most of the Hand Block Printing techniques -
The first and foremost step is to create a design which will then be carved on the wooden block. These designs are mostly inspired by simple patterns, nature, animals, customs, regional, beliefs. The intricacy and thickness of lines is decided keeping in mind the practical limitations of hand carving.
Carving of Design
This step involves much patience as this lays the foundation of the whole process. The time this process takes can vary from one day to many days depending on the size, intricacy and number of colors in the design. Since the blocks are completely carved by hand by skilled artisans, it requires great precision and patience for the beautiful blocks to finish.
Choice of Block printing colors play an important role as it decides the attractiveness and finishing of the material. In present times AZO free pigment dyes are widely used along with natural colors derived from vegetables and fruits.
The cloth is nicely spread and pinned to the Block Printing Table to make it an even and smooth surface for Block Printing. Then the wooden blocks are dipped in color and stamped on the fabric to get desired design in desired color on the fabric.
Wash and Dry
After the transfer of the design from wooden blocks to fabric, it is washed and rinsed with water and then dried up in the sunlight. This process may be done multiple times to bring out the design and color contrast that is desired.
Different techniques of Block Printing
Now that we have an idea about what block printing is and its standard process, let’s learn about the different forms of block printing there are prevalent in different regions in India and their peculiarities.
The major areas where block printing is done are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal. The block printing methods can vary on the levels of designs, color, process, concept and also depend upon the demand of particular designs and prints of an area.
Each block printing method is different and unique in its own way. India being the largest manufacturers and exporters of block printing fabrics, it has a wide range of block printing techniques. The famous block printing types are as mentioned below.
Ajarakh is produced mainly in Kutch region of Gujarat. The word Ajarakh itself means blue but also comes in other colors such as black, yellow, green, red. Ajrak is a resist-dye block printing technique which uses natural dyes. The process majorly uses indigo and madder.
Sanganer is at the outskirts of Jaipur, Rajasthan. Sanaganeri block printing designs are famous for their off white background in the block printing fabric. Vegetable dyes as well as chemical dyes are used here for printing. Booti prints are the signature patterns here.
The name Bagh comes from a village in Madhya Pradesh and is a unique style of block printing. It is believed that the natural chemical properties of Bagh River are used in the designs for unique shades. The popular colors stand red and black on a white or beige plain background. The signature designs are mostly paisley and floral compositions.
Bagru is one of the most famous destinations for block printing in India. The place is a small town near Jaipur and a very old traditional process is being followed here for block printing. Bagru designs are mostly known for its flora and fauna focused design theme and also various geometrical shapes. The block printing colors used are completely natural and are mostly red, blue, and black.
Dabu block printing originated in China but Rajasthan has been the center of Dabu block printing since decades now. They follow hand block printing technique in which mud clay (black) or kali-mitti is being used as the medium for block printing.
Block Printing Trends Today
For an attractive visual appeal hand block printing has been used since many years and is gaining lots of traction today. Block printing is a sustainable and versatile technique. It supports both small scale to large scale productions. It also adheres to the decentralised production philosophy of Gandhi. Block printed sarees, salwar suit, dupattas, bed sheets have always been in demand in the market.
At Soulcraf, we believe in the rich heritage craft techniques and Hand Block Printing is our most favourite. From premium quality Hand Block Printed Bed Sheets to Block Printed Designer Female Tops, we design and handcraft an array of products using Hand Block Printing technique on textiles. Use of high quality raw materials for hand block printing and willingness to adapt the designs as per the latest trends has given Soulcraf an edge always.
Block Printing is something which never goes off fashion. You can always rely on it and bring home the best block printing products from the wide product range available at Soulcraf and in the market.