Block printing is one of the most ancient forms of beautifying a garment. This exquisite form of printing involves the manual imprinting of designs on the fabric using carved wooden blocks dipped in natural paint. It has been around for many centuries and has been used across countries and civilizations to decorate various clothing items. However, block print occupies an important niche in Indian culture and fashion. The art has been carefully and lovingly developed over centuries; from a crude form of ornamentation, it has become one of the most attractive and unique designing techniques in the world.
Block printing on fabric varieties of all types is done in many states of India. Rajasthan produces the most popular and instantly recognizable types of block prints. Here, the rural artisans and printers have been practicing this art for many centuries. There are many different regional varieties even within this state, which are distinguished by the technique and motifs. Other prominent states with a long and illustrious history of block printing include Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.
Hand block printing is done using different techniques in different places, but the basic method remains the same. A wooden block is carved with some type of design, dipped into colorful natural dyes and then pressed on to the fabric in precise locations to create a pattern. The spacing is carefully measured to ensure the symmetry of the pattern. The block print fabric is then dyed and washed to ensure the preservation of the color. In direct block printing, the fabric is bleached before printing designs on it, while in discharge printing, the fabric is dyed first, and the block designs are the only parts from which the color is washed off. Resist printing is a lot more complicated; it involves ‘blocking’ a certain part of the fabric (as per a pre-determined design) using clay or mud while the rest of the cloth is dipped and dyed in a different color. The color is then allowed to seep into cracks in the mud resist, creating a brilliant intermingling of colors on the fabric. In India, the famous Batik method of printing makes use of this last block printing process, while most of the Rajasthani and Gujarati prints such as Sanganeri and Bagru are created using the discharge printing or direct printing.
The different types of block prints found in India can be distinguished on the basis of the colors used, the motifs used as well as the technique used. For instance, Bagru print mostly makes use of red and black dyes, while Sanganeri is done against a white background. Block printing designs will also vary depending on the artistic vision of the printer doing the work. From simple nature inspired motifs to artistic geometric shapes, from intertwining Persian motifs to intricate patterns inspired by the architecture or religion of the region, there are as many types of design as there are sources of inspiration. Many modern designs are being incorporated by rural artisans today as well. This allows them to create unique fusion outfits with block print designs that appeal to a wider customer base.
The way in which the block prints are used depends on the aesthetic of the fabric. Some fabrics are printed with designs all over; these are usually arranged in a neatly spaced pattern which looks machine created but has certain interesting details which mark it has hand printed work. The uneven coloring, wandering lines of design and smudged patterns are not considered ‘defects’; rather, they should be looked upon as the unique aesthetic of hand-printed work. Sometimes, only the border of fabrics is printed with designs. Different types of fabrics can be used as a base, though cotton, linen and silk are the most popular. Chiffon and georgette have also begun to be used in recent times.
Trends in Block Printing Sarees
There is no limit to the number of block printing ideas in the market. The creativity and artistic vision of the rural artisans who practice this art is amazing and they are constantly coming up with exciting and innovative ways of developing this technique further. Moreover, the application of block prints has also expanded. While earlier, sarees and lehenga cholis were the only garments seen with such work, nowadays, one can find block printed kurtas, tunics, salwar kameez and much more.
Block prints go well with traditional type of jewelry, so when women buy outfits decorated with this type of work, they should make sure they get some proper accessories as well. Beaded necklaces, antique silver sets, wooden bangles and tribal jewelry will all bring in the perfect amount of traditional, ethnic charm without being too ornate or rich. A pair of embroidered jutis and a Bandhej cotton handbag will complete the look.