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Block printing, appreciating the art of hand made. Pt. 1

Block printing, appreciating the art of hand made. Pt. 1

Having worked closely with some stunning block printed fabrics these past few years we’ve been drawn into a complex and beautiful world, where people operate in a manner completely removed from what we are used to in the West.

block printing-parasol-lining

We thought we’d share with you a few of our insights into the origins of these beautiful fabrics, in the hope of encouraging that curiosity within you and to connect you with the source.

Over the coming 4 part series I shall attempt to give you an overview of the craft and it’s deep connection with Indian society. I’ll then go on to detail the processes involved in the production of block printed fabrics, including the important process of making the blocks and of course, the printing itself (it really is fascinating).

In the final part, I’ll also try to explain a few of the existential challenges that block printing faces today and what can be done in the name of survival and progress. Please do let me know your thoughts. I hope you like it, here goes…


An introduction to block printing in India

Block printing is a creative printing technique, that lies deep within the Indian culture and one that involves many skilled artisans throughout different stages of the process. Block printing is used widely throughout the textile industry of India.

Block printing in India dates back a few thousand years, although, the exact dates are a little unclear, I don’t know how one would even begin to try and date an ancient piece of printed cotton, let alone trace it back to it’s humble printing roots!?

The natural dyes used were extracted from a rich selection of local flowering trees and plants, which leads me to believe that it has something to do with the minerals in the soil and water, combined with a little bit of casual carbon dating. Pretty straight forward, right ;)

An ancient art form that passes through many hands on the way to completion. All of which, will of course contribute to the overall quality of the finished creation.

Factors to consider when addressing the quality of block printed fabrics include:

  • the grade of the cotton
  • the cut of the cloth
  • the strength of the stitch
  • the finesse of the designs
  • the subtle hews of the dyes
  • the accuracy of the printer and the calibre of her blocks.


Co-operation and competition

The block printing cottage industry has developed over the centuries to become the lifeblood of many homes, in and amongst towns and cities throughout Rajasthan with each area developing and perfecting their own styles and signature printing patterns.

As with most cottage industries, the block printing communities were traditionally very close, living and working as groups, where skills were handed down through the generations.

Inter-familial marriage within the block printing communities meant that the emergence of close familial ties with the competition was not uncommon. As I’m sure you’re aware, loyalties change subtly with marriage, this is especially true in India, so, occasionally designs needed to be safeguarded through omission.

The daughters of some families did not learn particular patterns so they weren’t passed on, to their in-laws, thus ensuring the expertise remained with the family.

I’m not sure if this practice continues today but the communal living patterns certainly do, the printers, dyers and washers all live and work in close harmony.

The block makers proximity to the community is not a necessity to supply the block printers with the blocks that they need to perform their art, so they ended up forming their own close-nit communities.


To continue with the series and read more about these block making communities, their process and their crucial role in the industry click here.

Have I managed to inspire you to find out more? Enlightened you a little, as to the culture behind the products, the communities behind the prints, the factors affecting quality… increased your love a little? Have you got a unique insight? Anything you’d like to share?

Well, I hope so … Why not let me know below, your thoughts are greatly appreciated!

Remember this is only Part 1… Part 2 can be found here!! Parts, 3 and 4 to follow soon!


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