THE CRAFT OF HAND BLOCK PRINTING
The timeless art and technique of crafting beautiful textiles using wooden blocks emerged in India almost 450 years ago. In ancient India, the division of communities was done on the basis of their occupation. The Chippa community was so called as their primary occupation was dyeing and printing (chhapai - printing). This community was originally found in Nagaur in Rajasthan and it gradually migrated to Gujarat also. Chhippi (printers), Rangrez (dyers) and wood block carvers, are the craftsmen who play an important role in the production process of Hand block printing. Spread across the villages of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the textiles from each village have their own individual style, by way of specific motifs, colours and patterns pertaining to their geographical location, availability of resources and their familial ties.
From start to finish, the whole process of Hand block printing is a labour of love. Wooden blocks are carved out to print the outline of the design and separate blocks are used to fill the colours in the design. Each colour has its own block. The wooden blocks are then hand stamped more than 1000 times to create a pattern across the length of the cloth. The designs used are mostly traditional Indian motifs, influenced by nature, beliefs and customs of the region. This labour intensive process is very time consuming and actually tests the tolerance level of the craftsman.
Two prominent settlements of Hand block printers have emerged in Sanganer and Bagru villages, which are situated near Jaipur. Though the techniques used are similar, each village has its own individual stamp on the fabric. The availability of water in the two Hand block fabric manufacturing villages plays a significant role in the design and colour of the fabric. In Sanganer, water is available in abundance and hence washing and printing is easily carried out for crafting fabrics using lighter shades of colour. However, the use of Sanganer water in printing produces a darker shade of colour on the fabric. On the other hand, the scarcity of water in the Bagru village and the reddish tinge the water leaves on the fabric, results in the Bagru hand block cloth having bold designs in darker shades of colour.
The Sanganer Hand block designs are very detailed. They have intricate floral patterns pressed upon a white or off white background. Flowers like rose, marigold, lotus, lotus buds, sunflower and lilies are some noted motifs. Printing techniques called ‘Calico Printing’ and ‘Do rookhi’ are the two most preferred and practiced art forms applied in Sanganer block printing. The Calico style involves printing of the outline first, which is followed by filling of the colour, and the same is repeated diagonally too. In Do rookhi, printing is done on both sides of the fabric. Sanganer block printing uses both natural and artificial dyes. Artificial dyes are also used for screen printing on similar Sanganer block print fabric, which is then priced lower than the fabric using natural dyes. Bagru hand block prints are majorly geometrical patterns etched on an indigo background or on other darker shades. In the Bagru style there are two patterns of design which are prominent: the Seyali-bagru print, a fabric which has a theme of black-creme colour and the other is the Dabru print that hides the print from the dye by using a special resist technique. Hand block printing, though ancient, is truly an environment friendly craft that showcases nature at its best.