Block printing is an ancient art form practiced in India for centuries. Simply described, block printing is applying colour onto fabric in patterns that make up a design, using wooden blocks. It’s a traditional artform, creating beautifully and intricately design of patterns onto cloth.
Skills and knowledge are being passed from generation to generation. The motifs are first carved from blocks, then printed onto sheets of fabric.
The fabric is made up into saris, kurtas and even tablecloths and curtains for the home. Artisans sometimes add stitching accents and sequin additions to embellish the fabric.
Vibrant, fashionable and inspiring. That’s what generations of families aim for as they traditionally use block print techniques for today’s world.
The city of Jaipur in Northern India is known for its block printing tradition. The capital of Rajasthan state, Jaipur was founded in 1727. Now, almost 300 years later, world buyers and tourists continue to flock to the “pink city” to select from tens of thousands block printed textiles - produced not only for the local and wider India market but for export markets, world-wide.
What is a block printed textile?
Block printed textiles are mostly handmade by artisans who have specific skills and is a manually intensive task. Textiles are printed by using a stamping method using wooden blocks. You will find lots of videos online that will show you the technique.
The “inked” block is placed onto the fabric, given a quick thump and the design is “stamped”. Artisans require great skill to carefully place the wood block in the required position. Many blocks can make up a pattern that is repeated through the design of the item. Only one colour is used for each woodblock.
The wooden blocks are also handmade. These are hand carved into the intricate patterns that are used to form the design.
There are different block print techniques that involve applying paint or dye onto the wooden block, then applying or stamping it to a piece of fabric, which may or may not have a based colour that is dyed.
Direct Block Printing is the main technique where the cotton or silk cloth is dyed to a desired base colour. The carved wooden blocks are used to create the design on top of the base colour.
Resist Printing is another technique similar to direct printing, only the cloth is dyed to create effect before the block print. Areas that are to be protected from the dye are covered with a mixture of clay and resin. Once the dye is washed it spreads into the protected areas through cracks, producing a rippled effect of colour. The direct Block printing method is then used to create further patterns.
Discharge Printing is a third technique where the cloth is dyed and then a chemical is used to remove the dye from the portions that are to have designs in a different colour. These portions can be treated so they can be re-dyed in different colours.
Once block printed, the fabric is next cut and sewn, then made up into clothes, tablecloths, bed linen, and accessories such as scarves or this Matr Boomie yoga mat bag, pictured below.
While block printing is popular in many parts of India, Jaipur is particularly famous for its variety of different block printed textiles, especially as it is the largest trade centre for such textiles in India.
Fair Go Trading has sourced block print textiles from Fair Trade suppliers in and around the Jaipur region in Rajahastan.
Traditional art form contributes to cultural preservation. The art of the block printing technique brings to our homes wonderful and unique fashion and homewares, artisan crafted, home made.