The larger part of shopping in Jaipur is all about traditional block print designs on bed spreads, skirts, shirts, stoles, table linen and the list goes on. Its almost impossible to return from Jaipur without that elephant print to remind you of your trip. While most of the printing is done in Sanganer and Bagru in the outskirts of Jaipur, some of the stores have a small workshop in Jaipur itself. I was looking for a place within Jaipur to get a first hand feel of Block Printing and finally found this store where the person very kindly demonstrated and explained the art.
The blocks are made of locally available wood. Sometimes, 2 or more pieces may be stuck together to get the required thickness and for applying pressure during printing. The design is transferred onto the block and then the outline groove is created. The metal outline is made of brass for the blocks that are used for printing on silk so prevent slipping and for fine designs. The blocks used for cotton and other coarse material has the outline made of copper or some other alloy. Actually, it is difficult to cut finer designs on wood since it may break or chip away with use.
The number of blocks required for one print depends on the number of colours to be used, each block design corresponding to a colour to be used. The printing is done outside in ie first the outline and then the coloured ones. The colours used are natural dyes, made from plants, spices, ground stones etc. Typically, yellow is obtained from turmeric; red from beetroot, blue from indigo, cream from fullers earth, green from a mixture of indigo and pomegranate. He printed the elephant design that we had earlier seen inside out, dipping the blocks in the required colour and pressing it hard on the cloth. It is usually done from right to left when a long piece of cloth needs to be printed.
The freshly printed piece was then soaked in a small tub of water which had a tinge of chemical which converted the reddish colour to green. Then it was dried out in the sun !! I also learnt how to distinguish between machine printing and hand block printing.
Block Printing Artistes
While it may appear easy and a one man job, it is actually a process that involves different people with specialized skills !!
- Artist who draws the design in minute detail
- Block maker who has the mastery on wood
- Metal welder who produces the outline of the artist’s design
- Designer who decides the colour combinations
- Colour makers who prepare natural colours
- Block Printer who produces the design on cloth with great dexterity
If there is time of hand, do visit the Anokhi Gallery on the way back from Amer to get a good view of block printing or better still spend a few hours in Bagru, get hands on with the artisans !!
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