Wednesday, 15 January 2014

P R I N T E D    D R E A M S

Text: Hina Nitesh

On the Design Boat is about design.  Can craft be far behind when we talk of design?  Of course not… for design finds inspiration in craft. With that thought, we start our series on crafts with 
the art of hand block printing.
Blocks are hand carved and the designs inspired by nature. Image: 1. Rootdesignstudio 2. Tukytam 3. Journeyofascarf 

In case you are wondering why block printing 
then the answer is simple – yours truly recently attended a workshop on the same and is hooked!!

As far as history is concerned this is an ancient craft that has been in existence for centuries across the world. India too has a rich tradition of block printing. Block printing is practiced in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and each area has its own specific motif and colours. It is a labour intensive craft which requires a fairly high degree of skill. The basic requirement is for carved wooden blocks for printing which are made by highly skilled craftsmen (an altogether different craft). 

Patterns galore - from the block printers in Sanganer. Image: onthedesignboat

The best part though is that the craft can be done on a small scale for all you need is a table and an area to clean and dry.
To give you an idea of the process –
Start with a washed fabric. This is important else the starch will hinder the absorption of colour and you will not have clear outlines. I learnt this after some errors! Next, stretch the fabric and pin it to the printing table. originally colours for printed were made from natural sources (this is a story for another day). These days ready-to- use colour is available which just needs to be mixed with the binder.  

From carving a block to printing it. Image: 1. 2. peacocksnpaisley  3. lesliekeating

Traditionally, a dhavali  is made to transfer colour on the block. For this a square piece of thick jute is dipped in the mix of colour and binder. It is then placed over a tray and spread evenly using a thapi(a wooden spatula). The block is gently placed over the colour and then on the cloth and pressed hard for even print. The block is made such that 4-5 colours can be used on the design. The process is repeated for the entire fabric or as per your desire.  
The process of printing requires total focus on part of the person who is printing so said my teacher at the workshop. Despite my best efforts, I made plenty of errors (an amateur printer is allowed to make them). Some of these errors would go undetected and I felt as if the fabric and I shared a little secret. Though perfection is the name of the game here as well, making errors only adds a human touch to the product and distinguishes it from the machine printed fabric.

Image: Anokhi

This is one of the few craft forms that has not only survived but has also bloomed over the years. A number of designers have adopted the craft in their works and redefined it. In keeping with the times, modern graphic patterns have been introduced for printing though classical patterns are also in demand. 

Block printed furnishing. Image 1. Craftsvilla 2.KerryCherry  3. Indus Decor

I found some amazing examples of contemporary use of block printed fabrics at Rickshaw design. Check out the new ‘slow clothes’ at Rekh & Datta
Slow Clothes. Image : Rekh & Datta

The popular handmade site etsy is also full of examples of experiments with block prints in terms of patterns, colours and fabrics.

Image 1 &3 Home Sweet 2. Katherine Watson 4. Henri Kuikens 5.StudioABCD 6. Kisii

By the way, I also came across some really innovative use of printing blocks.

You can try block printing as a hobby, this New Year.  The joy of seeing your own creations come to life is unsurpassed. 
The whole process is like meditation for the soul. It is the best stress buster ever. I am talking from experience. 
Don’t believe me - try it!