Hand block printing on a fabric is a fascinating process. India has always been renowned for its printed and dyed cotton since the 12th century. The unique art of hand block printing employs skillfully hand carved wooden blocks to print designs or patterns on a fabric by hand. Hand block printing though a simple process requires a lot of skills and expertise. The process is painstaking and time consuming, but the result is always unique and beautiful.


The wooden Block:


Blocks used for block printing are made out of wood and hand carved by skilled crafts men. The blocks called bunta come in various designs and sizes. The underside of the block has a design etched on it. Each block has a wooden handle and two to three cylindrical holes drilled into the block for free air passage and also to allow release of excess printing paste.


Block Printing Process:


The ideal fabrics for printing are of natural fabrics such as cotton and silk.


Preparation:


First of all the fabric for printing has to be starched free as starched fabric cannot absorb the paint properly. If the fabric needs dyeing, it is done before printing. The fabric for printing would then be stretched over a large printing table fastened with a pin on the four corners.


Dyes:


In the olden days,vegetable dyes are mainly used for Block printing. But these days different dyes are used for printing. A skilled block printer needs to be an expert at color mixing. An expert colour mixer can achieve the right colour by mixing tiny drops of different colours by hand. Pigment colours are the popular one these days as they can be kept for a longer time.


The Printing process:


The printing starts from left to right. The colour is evened out in the tray which is on a wooden trolley. The printing would start with the outline colour. When the block is applied to the fabric, it is slammed hard with the fist on the back of the handle so that a good impression may register. A point on the block serves as a guide for the repeat impression, so that the whole effect is continuous and not disjoined.


If it is a multiple colour design, the printer would again dip his second block in the colour using the point or guide for a perfect registration to fill in the colour. The third colour if existent follows likewise. Skill is necessary for good printing since the colours need to dovetail into the design to make it a composite whole


Once the printing is done, the printed fabrics are either dried out in the sun or left to dry indoors. This is part of the fixing process. Once the colours are fixed, the fabric is ready for use.


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