Alexander Pope once said that charm strikes the sight. This much is true for block printed fabric; the beauty and charm of sarees with prints can’t be lauded enough. But it isn’t just sarees. Any block printed attire carries an innate charm that is widely appreciated on sight.
The production method that uses a high level of human touch from beginning to end invariably lends itself to inconsistencies. These inconsistencies, far from being annoyances, serve to brand each and every one of the block printed clothes as special.
How is Block Printing Done?
The key to understanding, and ultimately appreciating the charm that block printing has is understanding the grit behind the production of these attires.
The production process for block printing is a generally arduous one, but the juice is overwhelmingly worth the squeeze. The production process is a very artisanal one. It also displays a high level of environmental awareness, which contributes to the appeal that block printed clothes have.
1. Creation of Block Design
A craftsman creates the design for the block, based on motifs. These motifs usually have roots in the culture of the community that’s producing the block printed clothes.
These motifs are usually designs of plants, animals, etc. The craftsman then uses these motifs to carve the designs on the wooden block. He does this by tracing the designs unto the wooden block and then oiling the block. He also sands it, which will make the carving process smoother.
For a complicated design, it might take a couple of days before the wooden block is ready.
2. Fabric Pre-Wash
The artisan prewashed the fabric to prepare for the dyeing process. Pre-washing the fabric will also help ensure that the fabric is clean of any dirt, which will distort designs.
The pre-washing also makes the fabric softer and more stamp receptive, since the dyes used are water soluble and free of chemicals.
3. Application of Base Color Dye
The artisan proceeds to apply the dye for the base color of the design. The base colors are usually natural colors, nude or black.
The base colors serve as sort of an easel for the design about to be stamped.
The artisan then proceeds to stamping. This is done by first making a mixture of basic colors, about 3 to 5 of them. This mixture will create the dyes needed.
The wooden block, which would have been ready for use by this time, would be dipped in the dye. Stamping the design unto the fabric then follows. Stamping is the stage of block printing where the most brute force is exerted. Basically, stamping harvests the brute force of a hammer to superimpose the designs unto the fabric.
Single block designs use just one block, and multiple block designs use as many as three to five blocks. This stage of the process can go on for a number of days, especially in the case of multiple block designs. Usually, it takes a skilled artisan about a day of work to print 20 meters of fabric, if it’s a one-block design.
For multiple block designs, maybe four to seven metres per day, depending on the number of blocks needed.
5. Fabric post-wash
The artisan waits for the dye to dry and then does a post wash, allowing the dye to bond more with fabric fibres. The fabric is then sundried.
The block printing industry is one that is very environmentally friendly. The artisans wash the fabric in rivers and waterways. This enables them to consume a low amount of water. And since the dyes used are water based, there is no release of harmful chemicals into the water. The fabric is also sundried, which is a use of a sustainable drying system.
Block printing allows for a wide range of designs available, and one thing is clear; any design chosen will cover you in block printing-inspired charm.