The Art of Hand Block Printing in India

Hand Block Printing in India

Timeless beauty, and age-old craftsmanship. This is the heritage that Indian block-printed textiles exude. From pieces once prized by royalty and taste-makers to those that adorn modern homes around the world, the hand block printing in India used to create them has not changed much in centuries. The history and technique behind these fabrics are complex and remarkable.

Sanganer, near Jaipur, is famous for its fine hand block printing in subdued colors. Hand block printing was patronized by the royal family. Sanganer has become an export hub for hand block print export. The Sanganeri print is visible from small flower motifs like stylized sunflowers, narcissuses, roses, and other flowers of luxuriant foliage like daturas, rudrakshas, and arkas.

The principal items printed here include Kurta, Shirt, Sarees, Dupattas, Salwar-kameez, Bed cover, Curtains, Scarves, etc. Both local and imported cloth material is used. At present,’ mulmul’ (cotton voile), ‘latha’ (sheeting fabrics) and cambric, etc. are being sourced from Jaipur.

Eco Clothing India – Block Printing by one of our Artisans

Hand Block Printed Textiles That Traveled the World

Block Printing is an ancient craft form of Rajasthan that has been practiced since time immemorial. Natural colors are used in Block Printing. Rajasthan is well known for the art of block printing that is hugely practiced there even till date.

The process of doing hand block printing in India flourished since the 12th century. The art received royal patronage from the kings of the era. Block Printing is done on cotton fabrics. Rajasthan is an important center in India where block printing has gained a good prominence. The designs of the block printing that originated in Rajasthan are considered the most popular and best of all other designs.

Indian dyed and printed cotton were famous for the quality of their designs and colors. These were new and unfamiliar to the Western consumers and carried tremendous influence over fashionable taste in Europe.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, India was the world’s greatest exporter of handcrafted textiles.

Aristocrats, textile connoisseurs and working people alike were charmed by the extraordinary printed fabrics, and gave their patronage to the craft. In England alone, lengths of Indian patterned silk and cotton, as well as hand made handkerchiefs, table napkins, Indian print bedding and neck-scarves were sold in the thousands. These storied antique hand block printed textiles can be found in museums all over the world today.

Artisan Techniques Passed Over The Generations

The hand block printing process requires precision, skill and meditative focus. It begins with the engraving of detailed designs onto a wooden block by a skilled block carver. These highly skilled craftsmen acquired the skills from their ancestors and have grown up learning them.

This elaborate work needs expertly cut mirror images blocks to print the usually asymmetrical Mughal style designs. Although Sanganer is well known for producing fine block printed textiles on off white or pastel backgrounds, today a wide range of textiles are produced with both dark and pale grounds.

Bagru is famous for its Cream, Red, and Black Dyes. Dabu, another artform of hand block printing in the region, is famous for its Indigo-dyed garments.

The Process of Hand Block Printing in India

Eco Clothing India - Wood Crafters Carving the Blocks with Motifs
Eco Clothing India – Wood Crafters Carving the Blocks with Motifs

While one block is required for the outline of the design, A separate block is required for each distinct color in the design. The carved block is dipped in a tray of dye and pressed firmly and steadily onto the cloth, with each succeeding impression made in precisely the same manner.

Eco Clothing India - Artisan dipping the block in Natural Dye
Eco Clothing India – Artisan dipping the block in Natural Dye

To minimize the environmental impact and to ensure the best color properties, both commercial and natural vegetable dyes are used, maintaining the vibrancy of the colors. We at Eco Clothing India, use only natural and AZO-free water-based dyes. In patterns that contain several colors, the cloth is first printed in one color with the complete outlines of the design and dried.

Eco Clothing India - Artisan Block Printing a Design
Eco Clothing India – Artisan Block Printing a Design

Then the distinct colors are filled in using infill blocks, one color at a time followed by drying each time. The multi-colored patterns reflect hours of complex and detail-oriented work by highly skilled artisans. After printing, the fabrics are dried naturally under the bright Indian sunshine, creating subtle variations in the prints’ hues as the light changes.

Eco Clothing India - Fabrics Drying in Shade after Printing
Eco Clothing India – Fabrics Drying in Shade after Printing

The fabrics are then washed in the mineral-rich waters of specific regions in India where block printing has been done for centuries. This is done to stabilize the dyes on the cloth, and results in vibrant, intense coloring.

Eco Clothing India – washing the  cloth in mineral-rich water to stabilize the coloring
Eco Clothing India – washing the cloth in mineral-rich water to stabilize the coloring

The printers take great care to ensure patterns remain consistent across the cloth. However, the process of hand printing using hand-carved wooden blocks leads to inevitable irregularities. It is these irregularities that give hand block printed textiles their unique and nuanced charm.

Eco Clothing India is dedicated to preserving and celebrating this craft and the rich Indian design heritage. Welcome timeless style into your home—explore our range of Indian hand block printed bedding, pillow covers, curtains, table linens, and more.

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