I was fascinated by this Indian craft when I fist saw it done in Jaipur back in August and have been meaning to blog about it but kept running out of time. I finally managed to carve a little time for it, so let’s get to it.
People have used blocks to print on fabrics all over the world for centuries but it’s an art/craft that has been largely replaced by machines. In case you are wondering, when I say blocks, this is what I mean:
In India block-printing it is very much alive and well. It’s not that there aren’t machine-printed fabrics here but many people do like the hand-printed ones better and that keeps the craft alive. We got a demonstration of it at a block-print fabric and craft store in Jaipur and this is how it works:
First, you get the wood blocks (stamps) and the colors ready.
You pick your design (we picked an elephant) and colors. The blocks the dude is holding below have already been inked.
The more colors you want, the more stamps you need and the more skill is required because you basically layer the colors on top of the first block-print which gives you the overall shape. You have to be careful and align the stamps just right, because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a messy design. Of course, these guys were pros and did this elephant design in a couple of minutes. When they are making a big item like a table cloth or bed cover, several people line up, each with the respective block/stamp and stamp their color/shape in succession.
After you add all the color layers, you dip the fabric in a special solution, which fixes the design and changes the colors a little.
Here are some wonderful light quilts made of block-printed silk and stuffed with wool. Those things felt so heavenly to the touch that I don’t know how I didn’t buy one right then and there. Actually, I remember now, it’s because it was ungodly hot in Jaipur when we were there in August. I am definitely going back to rectify that. The quilts come in many different colors and designs but I fell in love with the blues, made using natural indigo.
I did not leave the store empty-handed though – I did buy this cotton tablecloth and napkins set.
And have since acquired a few more cotton block-printed items from markets in Delhi: a couple of bed covers and a wrap-around skirt. If you look closely at the designs, you notice slight imperfections from where the stamps meet. And if you know me, you’ll know that I am a little bit of a
nitpicker perfectionist and things like that bother me more than they should. Interestingly, now that I know how block-printing is done, I find those little imperfections special – they remind me that we are all human and thus perfectly imperfect. I’ve also got a few blocks – a paisley, an elephant and a peacock, hoping to use them to make cards one day.
Finally, here are block-printed fabrics in a myriad of designs and colors.