As we take that swift turn from the highway, carts with colorful fruits stand on each side of the road to welcome us, occluding the sweet shops selling the local savories. Just after a few kms the place turns into a quintessential Rajasthani village. Where the older women sway in their gathered skirts or lehengas and the grandfathers flaunt their sizeable turbans and mustaches. The younger generation females are cladded in sarees while the men are seen wearing vests that are stained on the waist owning to the nature of their work.
Pigs can be seen in bichrome colors, of grey and nude, swamped in squishy mud to resist the heat. As we move through the placid streets, lengthy scrolls of fabric hanging from the roof of the printer’s home hypnotizes us. The mysticism is amplified by the consistent sound of thumping made by pressing the wooden block on the fabric. In this village one can witness an incongruous mix of structure and patches of barren land where the the sand is not in the tints and shades of brown but has been bequeathed with surreal indigo, as the fabric is layed on the sand to dry in the scroching sun as part of the indigo dye process. The technique of block printing was originated In china some 4500years ago, but it was rewired to a very intricate form in the Indian sub continent. Also, the resources in the country like natural dyes and mordants paved the way for this technique, that produced textiles that were coveted by communities of distant lands.
The process of block printing is a laborious one, involving various steps to the final fabric. The village works in tandem, where each community or set of people contribute in the development of this printed textile.
A sketch is meticulously chiseled on a teak block, the kora or greige cotton is treated with a mordant, preparing it to be printed with natural dyes that react with mordant to produce brilliant colors. The beauty of this colored fabric is enhanced with each wash in contrast to the chemical dyes that wane off. This process has negligible carbon foot print as most of the work involves human hands and the clothes remain in your wardrobe for a longer time as natural dyes used for printing elevates the grace of your clothes as they age.
6” by 6” is the most common dimension of the wooden blocks used to create yardages of printed fabric, the artisan’s expertise is used to match each 6” by 6” block to be repeated precisely matching the intricate pattern. The fabric is then put aside for atleast 24hrs for the dye to be fixed and then sent to a furness where it is baked with mordants to fix the dyes.
It is then washed and steamed, ready to be used to suit your delight. This is the basic process of block printing, there are various forms of block printing techniques that exist, each one having its own unique characteristc and technique.