The art of block printing in India records back to the 12th century. In the 17th century there was a revitalisation of this art in the northern states of India to meet the growing popularity of this process in the times of colonisation.
And here we are in the 21st century and art of block printing of fabric by hand is still practiced by Indian artisans to bring us a part of their heritage and artistry into our homes.
The main tools of the artisans are humble blocks of hand curved teak wood with handles. The block carving process needs skilled craftsmanship to be as precise to desired design. A freehand drawing of the design on tracing paper is transferred to the planed wood and then chiselled to the depth of about a centimetre. Each block has two or three cylindrical holes through it to permit the passage of air and to allow excess dye to squeeze out. Each colour needs a different block. Newly made blocks are soaked in oil for about 10 days to soften the grains in the timber.
As the next step, the fabric to be printed is stretched over the printing table and fastened with small pins. When the block is applied, it is slammed hard on the fabric where the pattern appears in reverse. A point on the block serves as a guide for the repeat impression, so that the whole effect is continuous and not disjointed. The outline printer is highly skilled as he leads the process. If it is a multiple colour design, the second printer uses his block to fill in the colour and so on. It is interesting to estimate the number of blocks used in the printing of a single design. As each colour has its own block so does each component of the design. The artists use several sets of blocks, depending on its complexity, colours, size and sequence.
After printing, the fabric is steamed and then dried out in the hot Rajasthan sun which helps to set the natural dyes without using chemicals.