Block printing, also known as Woodblock printing, is an ancient art that emerged and was popular in East Asian countries with India being one of the largest producers in the industry. In this traditional craft, a fabric is dyed and printed using wooden blocks. Usually, wooden and metal blocks are used, sometimes even linoleum.
The innovation of artists here and the availability of raw material such as plant dye has yielded some splendid designs. It is practiced in several parts of India such as Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, especially Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Some popular centres practicing this art since generations include Sanganer, famous for its Calico prints and Bagru renowned for its Syahi Begar and Dabu prints.
Source: Calico Prints from The Encyclopaedia of Crafts in WCC Asia Pacific Region
In Kutch, Gujarat, Ajrakh designs come in incredible red and black motifs of birds, women and animals.
In Andhra Pradesh, Kalamkari Painting is popular. As the name suggests, the artwork is created with a pen (kalam).
Source: UX Collective
The design is usually a traditional motif with historical significance and influenced by age old customs such as animals, geometric figures, nature and plants. The craftsman traces this motif onto a wooden block which leaves the design to be stamped and printed. The fabric is thoroughly washed and dyed as the artisan prepares the colour. At last, the woodblock is placed on the fabric and it is dried in the sun for optimal results. The real charm arises from the slight variations that make each fabric unique.
Here’s a brief summary of the different techniques used in Woodblock Printing:
- Direct Printing: The fabric is first bleached, dyed and primed using carved blocks. Initially, carved blocks are used and then colour is filled in.
- Resist Printing: In this some parts of the fabric are protected from the dye. The dyed fabric is then washed. It spreads into the protected areas through cracks, producing a rippled effect.
- Discharge Printing: This technique sees the use of chemicals in removing parts of dyed fabric which are then incorporated with different patterns. They may even be re-coloured.
While being a dying art, it has been modernised and survived by designers who have been adapting it in creating several handicrafts. The revival of Block printing has given the community a resurgence in an age dominated by mass produced products and fast fashion. Many contemporary brands have also revolutionised this art form from incorporating these designs on trench coats, crop tops and saris to using more eco-friendly and atypical techniques.
What makes the art form truly versatile and unique is the human touch. Every process in Block printing requires creativity, craft and innovation. It is also a sustainable art, connecting us to generations of handmade crafts. The tiny imperfections and variations along the way make the design feel like yours.