Hand block printing is an ancient style of decorating a length of cloth using wooden blocks. This type of printing is said to be over 2000 years old and historians have even found evidence that it was done in its rudimentary form in ancient Indian civilizations like Mohenjo Daro; however, the origins of hand block prints have been traced to ancient China. Today this art is mainly preserved because of the immense work of the rural artisans of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
They are the main reason why hand block printing in India exists till today as they keep this art alive through their expert, artistic techniques which produce some of the most beautiful hand block printed textiles. The art of hand block printing fabric is one that has developed over many centuries, having incorporated different cultural influences and different types of aesthetics over time. Moreover, specific regions – not just in Rajasthan but also in other parts of the country where this technique reached – developed their individual variations.
Thus there are many unique and beautiful types of hand block print designs in the market today. From the glorious Sanganeri prints to the exquisite mud-resist Dubka prints, from traditional Gamthi work to vibrant Bangru designs, the different types of hand block prints are often named after their region of origin and display distinctive motifs.
Hand block printing designs are created using a wooden block which is carved with the desired designs. These can be very fine and delicate or big and bold, depending on the kind of effect that is desired for the hand block printed fabric. The carvings on the blocks may also be enhanced with fine copper or silver strips to give the designs a sharper edge. Typically, a different block is used for each color; most fabrics come with at least five different types of colors, though there are also designs which are created with a single motif, repeated throughout the fabric. The wooden blocks are dipped in the dye, pressed to the cloth and then tapped with a hammer to impress it properly upon the fabric. A second impression is also made and the printers have to be extremely careful to press it exactly upon the first design. This is then repeated in a line throughout the fabric; the motif on the wood block is designed to line up perfectly when laid out in repeating patterns end to end. Skilled printers have a deep knowledge of the amount of pressure to apply and how to align the designs perfectly, although certain distortions may creep in due to human error. These are in no way to be considered a defect; it is what sets a hand block print fabric apart from a machine printed one. Experts use the unevenness of the designs to tell an authentic hand block printed fabric from a machine printed one. Besides, the unique and artistic beauty of hand block print designs just cannot be matched by any machine. This is why these vibrant, ethnic prints have become immensely popular of late despite their relatively high cost (because of the labor intensive process of producing them).
There are many different types of hand block printed textiles. The most popular base material for this technique is cotton, as it easily absorbs colors and displays them well. It is also a light, breezy and comfortable fabric which is ideal for the hot and humid weather in areas like Rajasthan. Besides cotton, silk is also a very popular material, preferred for making more formal and luxurious hand block print textiles because of its fine and lustrous appearance. Nowadays, designers and rural printers are even taking to modern fabrics such as georgette and crepe to meet the demands of the market. All types of motifs can be displayed from flowers and leaves to mythological figures and depictions of rural life.
Styles and Trends in Hand Block Print
Hand block prints can be used to make different types of clothes, from salwar kameez and kurtis to lehenga cholis, kurtas and dupattas. Traditionally, hand block printed sarees were most popular with the masses, as this was the preferred base of the many rural artisans. The large width and breadth of the garment made it ideal for covering and displaying a vibrant array of hand print designs. Today, however, more versatile garments such as kurtis, tunics, scarves and salwar kameez have become just as common, especially for daily or office wear.
Hand block printing has become extremely popular in the last few years, especially with the younger generation of women who love the ethnic and bohemian vibe of these bright and beautiful designs. In particular, hand block printed sarees and kurtas are enjoying a lot of popularity. They are typically worn for office or casual wear, paired up with chunky ethnic jewelry such as oxidized silver necklaces, glass bangles and beaded necklaces and Indian footwear such as leather mojaris.