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What is Hand Block Printing

An introduction to hand wood block printing technique

Hand block printing technique with the use of wooden blocks is a technique entirely done by hands without the use of any machines. In a nutshell, it is the technique of dipping hand carved wooden blocks in color trays and then stamping the block on the fabric imprinting the design carved on the block on the fabric permanently.

The History Of Hand Block Printing Technique

The origin of Woodblock hand printing technique

Woodblock printing technique is one of the oldest techniques of printing on textile and paper known to man. Woodblock printing is widely used throughout the Eastern part of Asia for printing pictures text or printing majorly on textiles but also on paper. The art of block printing was originated in China with the evidences dating back roughly to 220 AD. technique of woodblock printing initiated with printing on textiles it later was started to be used for paper. Till 19th century block printing was a still the most popular technique of printing in various parts of the world. Before the invention of woodblock printing majority of the printing was done using seals and stamps with which impressions were made in which date back to around 3000 BC in Mesopotamia. The technique of hand block printing came to India around 12th century from China. It was during this time that some towns of India majorly on the coastlines started getting famous for printed cottons. Diamond sutra hand block printed on a textile which is currently kept at the British museum is the earliest example of block printing on textiles with an exact date dating back to 868 AD. The technique of block printing latest write two parts of Europe. unlike the common perception areas near Surat including Surat and parts of South India and Bengal were the areas where initially the hand block printing was adapted.

Fragments of block printed fabrics from India dating back to 11th Century

The process of Hand Wood Block Printing

What is the process of woodblock printing on textiles or how is hand block printing done on textiles

 The process of hand block printing on textiles can be bifurcated in the following steps-

Step 1 - Making the Wood Block

Seasoned wood logs are cut into flat pieces. Then the flat finished wooden log piece is painted with white chalk paste on one side. First design is drawn on paper. The drawing is then traced on the white chalk paste surface. The with the use of different types of chisels, the block maker carves the design on the wooden log. It takes roughly a full day to two days to complete one block depending on the intricacy of the design. Multiple see through holes are drilled in the block to avoid air locking and discharging any excess color while stamping the block on the material. In the end handles are hammered in the block. At some places the handle is also carved in wood along with the flat portion from the log itself making it much more durable. The blocks, once complete are then soaked into oil for at least 10-15 days which softens the grains of the block. The blocks are regularly brushed and washed after usage in printing.

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Chopped Wooden Logs

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Block Master Carving Wooden Block

Step 2 - Preparing The Fabric

There are various types of fabrics as we know. But there are also various stages of a fabric. The general basic stages are Greige, RFD and White/Dyed. Greige fabric is the rawest form of fabric and is basically the fabric woven/knitted from yarn directly. Greige fabric is made for either dyeing or whitening. But to make it dyeable it needs to be converted into RFD fabric. RFD stands for “Ready for Dyeing”. After doing few processes on the greige fabric like scouring, bleaching and equalizing, greige fabric gets converted into RFD Fabric. The RFD fabric then either is further whitened or dyed in desired colors. In case the fabric is ready for printing but is starched, then the fabric is soaked in water overnight to remove the starch and make it printable.

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Greige Fabric

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RFD Fabric

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Dyed Fabrics

Step 3 - Preparing colors and dyes for Block Printing

Colors are prepared depending on the style and technique used for hand block printing. If it is not a natural dye print, the colors are prepared mixing different components. The majority of the composition comprises of two elements, Binder and water. Apart from these two, Color, Fixer and SLN are added to the mixture. The proportion of each component plays a vital role in the quality of the print. Therefore, expert color masters make the colors for printing. In cases of a light color print on na dark fabric, colors are made in a special type of material called “Khadi”. This stops the color from merging with the base color and transforming into to new color tone altogether. The colors are then filtered using filter cloths and then poured into the tray also known as “Tari”. Layers of different types of fabrics is placed inside the Tari which are changed depending upon the intricacy, color type and fabric type of the design to be printed

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Greige Fabric

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RFD Fabric

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The Color Tray "Tari"

Step 4 - Printing The Blocks On The Fabric

After the fabric is pinned and the color is poured in the Tari, the Tari is placed on a wheeled stole called as “Gaadi” by the printers generally. The block printer keeps the block on the fabric inside the Tari like a seal is kept on the inkpad. After that he keeps the block at the desired place on the fabric and then presses it with the thrust of his fists. This way the design gets printed on the fabric. For multiple color prints, different blocks are printed on the same place to add colors in the empty spaces of the previous block.

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Greige Fabric

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RFD Fabric

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Dyed Fabrics

Step 5 - Post block printing optional processes

Steaming washing calendaring

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Fabric Steaming For Color Fastness

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Cloths Hung Dry After Washing

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Calendaring of Fabrics

Different types of wood blocks used for hand block printing

There are different types of wood blocks used in hand block printing. Each type of block has specific purpose for which they are made that way. Below are some major variants of wood blocks for block printing.

Lewis Carroll

The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.

Lewis Carroll

The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.

Lewis Carroll

The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.

Different Styles Of Hand Block Printing In India

Below is the list of different styles of Block Printing technique prevalent in India.

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Bagh Printing

It is done in the Bagh Village of Madhya Pradesh, India. Floral motifs printed in vegetable dies majorly black and red. The fabrics are dyed in copper containers with colors derived from boiled flowers of Dhavadi and Alizarin.

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Bagru Printing

Getting its name from the place of origin, Bagru in Rajasthan, this techniques is done with natural dyes. Either natural dyeing and printing or the mud resist technique of Dabu is done. Indigo dyes, hues of Red (Begar) and Black (Syahi) are the major colors.

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Sanganeri Printing

Originated and printed in the town of Sanganer established by Raja Sanga Ji specially for the printed fled from Gujarat and settled here. Floral running prints on white fabric is the identity of this print in the modern times. Currently, mostly printed in pigment dyes, this is the most produced forms of block printing.

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Ajrakh Printing

Name derived from Azarak (meaning blue), the fabric is resist dyed in this technique with natural dyes like Indigo and Madder. Majorly printed in complicated floral and geometric patterns with major colors being red and blue.

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