Great pride is taken by each member of the block printing communities in their work, each individual process as important as the very printing to ensure the overall quality of the finished fabric.
The cotton, already spun and woven into lengths, is first prepared for printing by washing out the starch and then, only if a brilliant white is required it will be softly bleached.
The fabric once clean and dry, is laid out, pulled taught and pinned to the printing table.
Block printing is done by a team of printers led by a master who has the responsibility of laying the first block print down.
It is a ‘strange dance’, slow, rhythmic and methodical, one that involves great care and precision. The printer having loaded the block with a suitable amount of dye, places their block on the fabric and gives it a SOLID WHACK (that’s the technical term) or a couple of chops on the back in order for the dye to leave a suitably precise impression on the cotton. The block printer will then move along to the next position along the fabric and repeat the process until required.
Each printer draws with them their printing tray (on wheels), which carries the dye (ready for dabbing) and a selection of blocks.
The border is always completed first, followed by the “gudh” block which makes up the background print, which is then followed by the “rekh” or the outline/detail block and the “datta” or filler blocks (each in it’s own colour) making up the beautiful patterns – some examples of which I have included for your enjoyment below.
By now, you’re probably already aware… Block printing is a time consuming, specialised craft that has unique beauty to it, one that is apparent throughout the process and in the finished product.
Honestly, I could sit and watch a pattern come together for hours, each pattern is unique and full of it’s own little surprises and moments of wonder, that really have the ability to WOW.
(The above images are from the linings of our ever so fabulous Indian Summer Embroidered Parasols).
The accuracy of the printers, at times, is so precise and so remarkable… there are some patterns for which accuracy is everything, one little slip, one lapse in concentration could result in disaster (well, probably not quite) and you’re sitting there watching…
Let me tell you, the tension that exists between the permanent coloured dye on the downward swinging, impending block and the pristine, clean cloth, lying in wait on the table… it gets to me… THUD… but each time, when the block is withdrawn, I’m both relieved and amazed that the block has incredulously found the right position on the cloth… the printer then goes for a reload of dye… and the tension within me returns… and casually as anything, the pattern gets reproduced to perfection, the years’ worth of experience certainly give you a steady hand.
As you’re drawn further in to the process you realise the ease with which it comes, how prepared the block printers are for all eventualities and outcomes, such as exacting straight lines around 90 degree bends, without breaking their stride. It’s just like second nature to them, having grown up around the art form and been introduced by their parents at such an early age. They are truly masters of their craft.
Once printed, the material then passes through a fixing process which differs depending on which fabrics and dyes were used to complete the process. The fabric is washed, dried and is now ready for stitching and sale.
You’ll get a good insight into some of the current issues affecting the block printing communities of Rajasthan and you’ll learn about some of the proposed solutions to these big problems. You might even feel inspired to help out!
Go on, have a look, it’s great ;) … and while you’re at it, why not leave me some feedback below… I’d love to know what you think of the series so far!? Do you like the pictures? How about the writing? Do you have any questions…?