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Woodblock Printing

What is Woodblock Printing?

A strong craving for human beings to express their thoughts and feelings whether verbally or by publishing or printing has always been very evident. This yearning gave rise to varied art forms and techniques and woodblock printing is one of them.

Woodblock is basically the process wherein text, images or patterns are printed on textiles and paper as well. This technique originated from China in 7th century AD and gained momentum in East Asia for printing books, other texts and images in the 19th century.

Origin of Woodblock Printing

Woodblock Printing is also called a “living fossil in the history of printing” as it is considered to be the earliest printing in the world. It is still an issue to debate as to when it was invented. It is also an indication of the prosperity of Buddhism in China. Woodblock printing could cater to the demand for classics and portraits during that era and could produce more than 700 sheets a day. Moreover, it saved labor, reduced cost, and ensured quality so it was extremely favored by the people.

History of Woodblock Printing in India

Let us delve deep into this captivating art and technique of printing in India. In fact, India has always been a favorite tourist destination and a haunt for scenic lovers and people who adore antiques and ancient architecture. Top on the list is the state of Rajasthan in India which attracts the people with its vibrant prints and rich natural hues of hand block practiced here for around 500 years. Commonly the history of hand block printed textile in India dates back to the 12th century.

This printing was introduced to the Jaipur region of Rajasthan by the ‘CHHIPA’ community originally placed in Bagru village, an area famous for its vegetable dye and ‘DABU’ block prints. The plant-based dyes are developed in each family here. The conventional Bagru designs ‘depict nature in floral, leaf and geometric motifs.’ This art is being kept alive and carried forward from generation to generation spreading to even south of Jaipur to the places like Sanganer. Here the colors are mixed using AZO free pigment dyes. Historically Indian textile producers have been esteemed for their ability to lend magic using natural dyes to fabrics like cotton and silk resulting in vivid and fast colors which is a mesmerizing visual treat.

The Process of Hand Block Printing

The handcraft of Woodblock Printing is cumbersome, time-consuming and requires precision, patience, and efficiency. In order to cherish this art and because of its success, the artisans wisely thought to pass it on to younger generations.

  • The process begins with the preparation of the fabric wherein the cotton fabric is soaked in water for 24 to 48 hours to remove the starch from the fabric.
  • Thereafter, the wet cloth is beaten on river stones to make it softer and is laid to dry and bleach naturally under the sun.
  • The three main ingredients of block printed fabric are the wooden blocks, the material and the dye.
  • Then a design is drawn onto a paper and transferred onto a perfectly smooth block of wood.
  • The block is also prepared carefully by hands using sharp knives or chisels. Small holes are made across the height of the block to prevent air pockets and ensure even impressions.
  • Each color has a separate block to be incorporated into the design.
  • The fabric is always printed from left to right and each block is firmly pressed on to the cloth so that it is printed in one go.
  • It takes five carvers up to three days to create an intricate design in a block of teak to be used as a printing block. The complex designs are handled only by the most experienced carvers.
  • When the colors are prepared, the blocks are ready, the fabric is cut to size then the artisans get ready to print the fabric.
  • The fabric is then spread on a long table, the block is dipped into the dye, pressed firmly and is hit with a mallet.
  • Since this process is repeated over and over again until the length of the fabric is completely covered by the pattern so only the steadiest hands are made to do it consistently.
  • In case of multiple colors each color is left to dry and then the next color is applied with a new stamp.
  • Once the printing is finalized and the color is set the fabric is thoroughly washed and dried.
  • Finally it is checked for any quality issues or flaws in cutting and sewing that need to be rectified.

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Difference between Screen and Hand Block Printing in Jaipur

The working pattern of both these techniques is absolutely different. Block printing is conventional and has been done since the ancient times whereas screen printing emerged. The block printing makes use of wooden blocks whereas screen printing uses stencils to engrave designs on the desired fabric. Block printing is an ethnic handcraft, creative and simple wherein various prints can be generated using a stamping method whereas screen printing presents sharp and cleaner looking prints. There are characteristic differences in the look and texture of the designs of the two methods of printing. Both have a beauty and exquisite style of their own and are used in a variety of attires and designs.

Revered Art

Despite being a demanding, labor-intensive process, Woodblock Printing has been in vogue for centuries. It is a beautiful craft requiring skill and devotion. In a world with an abundance of attires, each with its specific kind of style and design, the art of Woodblock Printing in its core practice, remained true to its origins. The beauty in the designs and pulsating hues of this art today is a blend of ethnicity and modernity. Woodblock Printing is everlasting and iconic for the generations to come.