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Dabu Hand Block Printing

Daboo or Dabu Hand Block Printing is an ancient mud resist hand block printing technique from Rajasthan. The practice almost died out in the last century but was revived and is today a flourishing business in many villages of Rajasthan. Dabu printing is very labor-intensive and involves several stages of printing and dyeing; the end result is therefore very unique and beautiful. Dabu printed fabrics display a subtle and extraordinary beauty and depth which is appreciated around the world.

Origin & History

The art of hand block printing is an ancient one that is said to have originated in China. Over the years it traveled to India, with the state of Rajasthan becoming the most prolific producer of hand block printed fabrics. Mud resist printing is a special variation, the origins of which can be traced to about 675 A.D.  Today it is commonly acknowledged that the village of Akola, in the Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan, is the originator of the unique Dabu hand block printing style which uses mud resists.

A Dabu hand block printing artisan working on the fabric
A Dabu hand block printing artisan working on the fabric

Sources of Inspiration in Dabu Hand Block Printing

Traditional Daboo designs and motifs are very similar to the motifs used in all traditional Rajasthani textiles since the ‘blocks’ used for printing are common to most of these techniques. They tend to be nature-inspired designs of plants, birds, flowers, fruits as well as artistic ethnic motifs.

Faces behind the Fabric

Dabu hand block printing is essentially a village handicraft, which is now practiced in many rural areas of Rajasthan. For many, it has become a family business, with the older generation passing on the secrets of the craft to the next. These artisans tend to produce the more traditional and classic varieties of prints which are obviously considered the most authentic.

On the other hand, many new-age designers and craftsmen are also making a business out of producing unique Daboo printed fabrics. They learn the technique from the regional artisans and then add their own unique twist. The fact is, Dabu hand block printing has become a source of inspiration for many artists and fashion lovers across the world, which is why many people have taken to producing fabrics with this ancient mud resist technique of printing.

Artisans having a conversation over Tea break
Artisans having a conversation over Tea break

The Making of Daboo Hand Block Printing

The process of Daboo hand block printing is quite complicated, involving many workers and multiple stages of printing, washing, and dyeing. First, the plain fabric received from the mills is carefully washed to remove any impurities which may interfere with the dyeing process. Then, designs are meticulously and painstakingly hand printed on to the fabric using blocks which are dipped into fast dyes. The next and crucial step involves the use of the mud resist which makes this print so unique. Ingredients like mud, gum, lime, and waste wheat chaff are combined to make the ‘dhabu’ or mud resist paste which is then patted over certain parts of the design.  The paste is dried with sprinkled sawdust. This covering essentially protects these parts of the fabric from the dye used, later on, creating a unique and colorful effect.

After this process of printing, the fabric is spread out in the sun where it completely dries out. It is then dipped into a vat of dye, dried again, and finally given a thorough washing to remove the paste and any excess dye. The dyes used are typically natural vegetable dyes and pastes. Thus the unprotected parts of the fabric catch the color while the dhabu covered bits remain plain. The fabric may be dyed more than once in different colors to give each part of the design a different hue.

Dabu Block Printing
Dabu Block Printing

Colors and dyes: Traditional daboo prints are made with natural dyes like kashish (grey-brown) and indigo (blue), as well as yellows and reds derived from fruits like pomegranate. Today a lot more color options are available to artisans since they are no longer restricted to vegetable dyes and can use synthetic dyes as well.  Fabrics can also be dyed more than once, creating the double dabu and triple dabu effect with a richer, more colorful look.

Dabu Printed Fabrics
Dabu Printed Fabrics

Maintenance

Fabrics with Dabu prints should be first washed by hand to check the fastness of the colors, after which they can be machine washed in cool water. It is best to air dry these fabrics to avoid ruining the brightness of the color. Natural and vegetable dyes tend to be very fast and take a long time to fade, though repeated machine washes may speed up the process.

Eco Clothing India is dedicated to preserving and celebrating this craft and the rich Indian design heritage. Welcome timeless style into your wardrobe — explore our range of Dabu hand block printed Kurtas, Pants Dupattas, Shirts, and more.

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