Hand block printing, a craft handed down through
generations is in the forefront of the fashion scene today. The
ancient craft has seen a major revival over the last two decades and
has moved away from its traditional rural centres to the
metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai,Chennai and Bangalore.
India has been renowned for its printed and dyed
cotton cloth since the 12th century and the creative
processes flourished as the fabric received royal patronage. Though
the earliest records mention the printing centres in the south, the
craft seems to have been prevalent all over India. Surat in Gujarat
became a prominent centre for trade of painted and printed
textiles. The major items produced from this fabric were wall
hangings, canopies and floor spreads in rich natural colours.
Cotton is also printed in Ahmedabad, Sanganer,
Bagru, Farukhabad and Pethapur, the main centres in Rajasthan and
Gujarat where hand block printing seems to have continued to
In fact the prints of these areas seem to be quite
similar. The Bagru and Sanganeri prints cannot be easily
distinguished but if one looks carefully each has its own typical
characteristics. The Sanganer prints are always on a white
background, whereas the Bagru prints are essentially in red and
black. Farukhabad is famous for its artisty and intricacy of
design. Pethapur near Ahmedabad is know for the finest block
printing. Benaras block makers design their blocks to suit fine silk
printing sometimes each design has seven colours. Block
designs get bigger and bolder and the delicacy is lost as one moves
towards the south or towards Calcutta. Today Andhra Pradesh is a
large centre for hand block printing. Hyderabad is the home of the
very popular Lepakshi prints. It is quite amazing how the same motif
can be interpreted in different forms.
Block printing has become popular because of the
simple process which can create such sensational prints in rich and
vibrant colours originally from natural dyes though today
chemical and artificial colours are being used. The main colours
used are red, the colour of love, yellow the colour of spring, blue
as in Krishna, and saffron of the yogi.
The main tools of the printer are wooden blocks in
different shapes and sizes. Blocks are made of seasoned teak wood by
trained craftsmen. The underside of the block has the design etched
on it. Each block has a wooden handle and two to three cylindrical
holes drilled into the block for free air passage and also to allow
release of excess printing paste.
The new blocks are soaked in oil for 10-15 days to soften the
grains in the timber. The printing table is long and rectangular over
which 24 layers of jute are stretched taut and fixed to the table
covering the entire upper surface. This padding offers resilience.
The fabric to be printed is pinned over the table and printed block
by block, creating beautiful designs.