Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Block-printed Awesomeness

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.




  1. That is so cool! I've wondered how they do it and I love your photos, you really capture the process so perfectly! Makes me love the block printing even more now! How are you guys doing? Hope to see you soon!!!

  2. It's such an amazing art when you think about everything from the carving of the various blocks to all coordinate into one multi colored print and those that can do it so quickly and accurately! Thanks for sharing the process. It was a great reminder of visiting Jaipur -- hoping you get to go back more to explore. It's such a beautiful city and I would love to see more of it through your eyes!

  3. These look so cool! I just love all the different fabrics!

  4. Brilliant page! Really helped me with my Textiles homework! Thank you

  5. i am going to be in so much trouble in India. My addiction to fabric will know no bounds.

    1. Yes, you will, Amy! The only thing that's saving me is that I have to go to work and don't have all the time in the world to shop. Otherwise the fabrics here are truly incredible!!!

    2. Thanks for the pics. Could you please tell me where exactly this is ?? Are there any block printers in Delhi. I am visiting Delhi In september and would be grateful for a reply.

    3. Poornima, I am not sure if there are any block printers in Delhi. There are a lot of block printed products but they are usually not made here. My understanding is most of the production happens in the villages. Rajasthan in particular is famous as a center for block printing.

  6. I am looking for block printing businesses in India, who specifically use vegetable dyes. This is for my business hence, I am not looking for retailers, but the actual manufacturers or wholesalers who can provide the products at a wholesale price. I want to be able to tell them what design and colour I want for the products. Can you please suggest some names. Thanks Dora

    1. Many of the block printed products I have bought claim to be made using vegetable dyes. Whether that's true or not I don't know. It is also difficult to say where something was made. Most of the sellers claim their products are made by hand in villages in Rajasthan. I do not know of specific manufacturers though.

  7. Hey! Thanks for sharing this. I am desperately trying to look for block print fabric in Delhi and I have been to all the major wholesale markets. In case you know something specific, please let me know.

    1. Hi. I was looking for the same. And finally found some this morning! The Handloom House within the Central Cottage Industries complex has a few. The only ones I liked there were the ones in indigo. However the Rajasthan Emporium, Rajasthali, on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, where all the state emporiums are, has a decent collection of fabrics. I came away quite pleased :)


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