Behind the Craft: How the ‘Block’ in Block Printing is Made

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You must have seen woodblocks carved into intricate, traditional motifs as a child at craft museums and even at your local state mela. Most of us women have, at some point in our lives, been inked with block-mehendi designs in pretty paisleys, complex peacocks and even pouty pomp fret fish lookalikes. But, have you ever wondered what’s the complex process behind those elaborate designs we’ve all taken for granted?

Block printed fabric is a summer essential, and it’s no surprise that they are having their moment in the evolving grammar of Indian textiles right now. If you ever wondered how the lengths of floaty fabrics you bought were actually crafted, you’re in the right place. The art of block printing is a lesson in patience, to say the least. The creation of a single ‘carved’ block takes more than two weeks before it’s show time.

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Block printing is one of the oldest printing techniques, and dates back to the 19th century with roots in India and China. The traditional designs that are crafted, often describe an ancient scripture or folklore. Block printing has become hugely popular in the recent times, with designs becoming more complex and contemporary.

A piece of wood that’s roughly five inches, takes about eight days to craft. The entire process can take more than two weeks. But ask at a fabric store, or your mother, and you’d know that block printed beauty is one of the cheapest available fabrics in the Indian market.

 

As children, all of us have tried our hand at block printing; be it with ladies’ finger or brinjals. We have decorated our houses with finely block stamped linen, and even worn kurtas in multi-coloured prints. But did you ever wonder the labour of love that went into producing this? We guess not, but it’s never too late to know more, right? So here you go!

The first step to making a block is to flatten a piece of wood, and rub it with sand paper to smoothen the surface.

The next step is to add wet white chalk paste and let it dry in the sun. This is done for the design to appear clear before cutting. Once the chalk paste has dried, a stencil, along with rulers is used to sketch out the desired design onto a piece of wood.

The next step is to hammer tiny pores into the wood from the stencil to map out the final design. The stencil is used on the wood piece as it eases the process of reproduction of the same design, especially when a variety of colours are used.

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Using a chisel, the basic details are crafted. A finer, thinner needle is used to improvise and chip off the empty spaces. The deeper the relief, the resultant design is clearer.

The last step is to soak the finished block in oil for about 15 days to let the wood soften. That’s all; the blocks are now ready to be stamped!

Watch this mesmerising video to watch this entire process yourself.

 

So the next time you buy a block-printed garment, you know how much effort and how many people have worked to create it for you!

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