Block printing is an Indian cultural tradition traced back to 2000 BC. This unique method of printing reflects a personal touch and is defined by the sensibility and skill of the craftsman. It is one of the earliest methods of textile printing and certainly one of the slowest and most intricate. Although block printing by hand is a slow process, it has become very popular with designers because it allows for artistic design with depth, texture and color, which is sometimes unimaginable by any other method.
Block printing is a process that requires immense preparation, time and special attention to detail. The main tools used in block printing are different shaped wooden blocks, each hand carved by artisans. The blocks may be made of box, lime, holly, sycamore, plane or pear wood. The blocks are prepared by submerging them in oil for ten to fifteen days in order to soften the grain in the timber. The fabric, usually linen, silk or cotton, is washed free of starch and soft bleached if the natural gray in the fabric is not desired. To remove wrinkles or ripples, the fabric is then stretched over a printing table and fastened with pins. After each pattern has been drawn and carved on each wood block, the blocks are dipped in dye and printed on the fabric. To reinforce the intricate details in the patterns, the process is repeated a number of times. After a few days in the sun, the fabric is steamed in order to fix the dye and make it permanent.
A high degree of skill is required not only for the wood carving, pattern drawing and fabric care, but also for the placement of pattern and the application of pressure. As you can imagine, block printing is a tradition that requires patience, skill and quality craftsmanship. It is a craft that will be long appreciated and respected for its attention detail, personal touch and beautiful results.
Written by Elena Schloss