Monday, 23 April 2012


Isha Bhatt

    Block Printing is an ancient craft form of Rajasthan that is being practiced since time immemorial. Natural colors are used in Block Printing. Rajasthan is well known for the art of block printing that is hugely practiced there even till date. The process of doing block printing flourished since the 12th century when the art received a royal patronage from the kings of the era. Block Printing is done on cotton fabrics. Rajasthan is an important center in India where block printing has gained a good prominence and the designs of the block printing that originated in Rajasthan are considered the most popular and best of all other designs.

During the 12th century, the parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat became famous for the art of Block Printing that was hugely practiced. The block printing of Rajasthan in India was exported in a large number from India.

Block Printing can be distinguished into two categories, The Sanganeri and Bagru prints. Although much difference is not noted, but the background color of the Fabric marks the difference between the two. The Sanganeri prints are done on a white background and the Bagru prints are essentially done on background of red and black. Block Printing of Rajasthan in India is known for the intricate designs and the details that are made on the block prints. Block printing is done on rich and vibrant colors and this aspect has given prominence to Block Printing as a craft of Rajasthan.

The wooden blocks of different shapes and sizes used for block printing are called bunta. The base of the block has the design carved on it. The fabric is washed free of starch before printing is done on it. Printing is done from left to right. Standard colors used for block printing are black, brown, orange, red, and mustard. The fabric is dried out in the sun after the block printing is done.

         Printing table
         Printing color tray
         Wooden net
         Dye tray
         Color trolley
         Gum basket
         Cambric cloth



         First, the fabric to be printed is washed free of starch and soft bleached. If dyeing is required (as in the case of saris where borders or the body is tied and dyed) it is done before printing.
         The fabric is again washed to remove excess dye and dried thoroughly.
         The fabric is treated by harda and dry it.
         The fabric is stretched over the printing table and fastened with small pins. This in an important stage as there should be a uniform tension in the fabric with no ripples.
         The color naphthol to be used are kept in a tray on a wheeled wooden trolley with racks which the printer drags along as he works. On the lower shelves printing blocks are kept ready.
          Under the naphthol tray is another tray containing a thick viscous liquid made from naphthol binder and glue. This gives the color tray a soft base which helps to spread color evenly on the wooden block.
         The printing starts from left to right.
         When the block is applied to the fabric, it is slammed hard with the fist on the back of the handle so that a good impression may register. This job is usually done by an expert printer who ensures the effect is continuous and not disjoined.
         The fabric is sun-dried, which is part of the color-fixing process.
          At last we will dye the cloth into Naphthol dye.


Making Colour Tray
Colour Making




The cornerstone of the block printing process is the carving of the wood blocks. The block carving process is tedious and demands an exceptional degree of skilled craftsmanship. The process of block making is akin to building a jigsaw puzzle. The most skilled part of the block making process is the making of the outline block. The outline block is often the costliest of all the blocks in a design set. It is the skeleton around which the rest of the design is fleshed out. The most skilled artisan in a block making shop, often the owner, will work on this piece. Work on the block begins with an accurate freehand drawing of the design’s outline on tracing paper. Using the outline drawing as a map, a drawing for each color in the design i.e. the color fill blocks are traced out.

A block starts out as a planed slice of shesham wood. The design is traced on to the wood’s planed surface. The wood is then chiselled to the depth of a third of an inch. Tiny holes are drilled in areas intended for the application of flat color. These holes are stuffed with cotton at the time of printing to ensure an even application of color. The precision that a master block maker achieves with his meagre arsenal of hammer and chisel is truly extraordinary. Generally the size of a block is between five to eight square inches. However in instances where the design requires it, blocks of up to fourteen inches may be carved. The size constraint of the blocks to a large extent defines the parameters of viable design. Hence small motifs and repetition, characterize block printed designs. The number of blocks required for a design can range from 3 to 30 depending on the complexity of the design. It is interesting to try to estimate the number of blocks used to print a block printed textile. It is possible to do this by studying the design in terms of:

         The number of colors used, since each color will have it own block.

         The different components of the design, i.e. the presence of a border in addition to the main design. Another characteristic of block printed textiles are their magnificent borders. The borders will always consist of a separate set of block (outline plus color fill), distinct from the block set used for the main design. Depending on the complexity of the borders, its size and the sequence in which it is to be printed, the border itself may consist of several sets (outline plus color fills) of blocks
Once the blocks are carved they are left to stand in large trays of mustard oil, for a couple of days. This is done to prevent warping, caused by moisture absorption from liquid dyes during printing. Later, the excess oil is drained from the blocks by leaving them to stand on wads of fabric for a couple of days.

Block printing method
Purchasing the fabric 

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