Origin: Legend has it, China gave birth to block printing in the 3rd century. Reminiscent of its presence in Egypt and some Asian regions were discovered around 4th century. However, archaeological survey suggests that block printing has its roots in Indus Valley.
Surat in Gujarat mushroomed as an eminent printing center. Other popular locations are: Ahmedabad and Kutch. From the bygone era, block printing was dominated by two castes – the Chhipas and Khatris. Wooden block making has been a popular profession among the inhabitants of Pethapur for about 300 years.
Gujarat dominated the cotton trade for ages and till date is a major producer of block prints. Gujarat is pregnant with certain printing styles namely: Ajarakh’ printing of Dhamadka and Ajarakhpur, ‘Matani-Pachhedi’from Devi Pujak community, Vegetable prints from Dessa, Ahmedabad and Kutch, ‘Batik’ prints from Bhujpur, Mundra and Mandvi villages of Kutch and ‘Saudagiri’ Prints of Ahmedabad.
Present Day: Although, this pristine art form is flourishing; the number of block carvers has been diminishing. Few decades back, Pethapur was home to 500 craftsmen. Unfortunately, now it can boast of only a handful. Saving grace is de facto that this art has spread to new centers in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore.
Presently, the prominent hand block printing centres are Ahmedabad, Sanganer, Bagru, Farukhabad and Pethapur. Pethapur village in Gandhinagar, Gujarat is famous for wood block makers, who supply customized blocks for printing.
Originally, only natural dyes were used but today chemical and artificial colors are also employed. Red, yellow, blue, and saffron are the main hues that are used.
Procedure: Firstly, the design is sketched on wood using a sharp needle. Then, it’s carved using chisel, hammer, file, nails etc. These wooden blocks are fashioned in different shapes and sizes and are called bunta. Printing process involves laying the fabric on flat tables and impressions are made using bunta. When bunta is pressed on the fabric, it’s slammed hard with fist of the handles back to register a good impression.
There are three main techniques in the making of a block printed fabric, direct printing where with the help of block dye is applied directly on the fabric, resist printing uses wax or lime to resist the dye and discharge printing uses repulsing material to unlock zones on the dyed fabric wherever the block is applied.
The most common raw materials used are silk, cotton-wool, cotton, jute, lime powder, natural dyes, and chemical dyes. Block Printing is mainly in the form of flowers, vegetables, leaves, animals, birds like peacock, parrots etc.
This handicraft is very popular in India and has a huge demand overseas. During festive season, it sales shoot up. It’s hugely demand in the form of cloth material, fabric for lehengas, saree, Chaniya Choli, Salwar Kameez and decorative pieces like table cloth, runners, etc.
Bring Home Block Printing: You can find block printing treasures at local markets of Jamnagar, Kutch, Bhuj, Suratand Ahmedabad. You can also find it at any government emporium shops like Gujarat State Handloom.