The process of block printing is widespread due to its intricate process, motifs and vibrant colours.
The main raw material is the colour used in the printing. Traditionally the artisans used natural colours but today chemical and artificial colours have replaced it. The main raw materials are Colours/ Dyes. Different types of dyes are used for silk and cotton: Vegetable/ Natural dyes, Discharge Dyes, Reactive dyes, Rapid fast Colours, Pigment dyes.
Apart from this, cotton fabric, fuel and mordents like harda and alum are required for the printing process.
The wastage in the process of hand block printing is immense when it comes to water and chemical wastes. Usually less fabric is wasted, as the dimensions of the block are multiplied to calculate the dimensions of the fabric to be printed on. The chemicals in the water seep underground, polluting the underground water of the area, and in turn leading to a lot of water wastage.
Tools & Technology
The main tools of the printer are wooden blocks, which are available in different shapes and size as per the design and requirement.
1. Printing Table- The tables that fabrics are printed on have varied specifications as well. Block printers often customize them but vastly it approximately measures 3 feet in height, 3 feet in width and 9 feet in length and it allows about 3-4 printers to stand and work simultaneously. But earlier, the tables would be about 1 feet high, 2 feet wide and 5 feet long because there would usually be only one printer who would be sitting on the ground and printing. The to-be-printed fabric is not placed directly on the wooden table because when the block printer hits the block to get a proper print while printing, it would damage the block and the colour would smudge. So the table is covered with layers of canvas, jute and other fabrics to provide a cushioning for easier and clearer prints.
2. Colour Plates-While printing, the printer needs his colours next to him and such that he does not have to keep carrying them around, since it would break the flow of the printing process. So, block printers use a wooden tray in which they keep colour, called 'saaj'. The tray works on a certain kind of mechanism, which would make sure that the colour just dabs onto the wooden block and the does not smudge on fabric when printed. Colour is poured into the tray and a wire mesh is kept over it, after which a piece of felt is also placed on it because felt soaks the colour nicely. Finally a fine cotton (malmal) cloth is kept on the cloth.
3. Tray Trolley- These are wooden trolleys' accommodated with two shelves and wheels in the base for the easy movement and are locally called as 'patiya', 3 feet tall, suitable for working on the printing table. The upper shelve is to keep the color tray is kept while in the lower rack is required to keep blocks in.
4. Scale- Scales are used to mark the areas to be printed on fabric.
5. Chalk- Tailoring chalk is used for marking and the sharp edges of the chalk give fine lines.
6. Brushes: To maintain the life of the block, metal or nylon brushes are used to clean the wooden and metal blocks after use.
7. Tambadi (Copper vessels): Traditionally copper vessels are used for dyeing and washing of cloths.
8. Mogari (wooden roller): A cylindrical wooden roller on which the cloth is kept and beaten is called a mogari.
9. Kotan (Wooden mallet): This is used to beat the cloth over mogari, to remove the starch from the fabric.
A critical component of block printing is block carving and it is an art form in itself.
1) BLOCK CARVING:
Wooden Block: The first requirement for block printing is the print to be carved out wooden blocks. For generations, artisans have been carving blocks out of teak or sheesham wood. The wood has to be seasoned properly for blocks to be carved out. The design is first printed out on paper and then stuck on the wooden block. Using iron/steel chisels of different shapes and sizes, the artisan then carves out the design from the wooden block. The handle of the block, also mostly made from wood is attached with nails to the opposite side of the design base for support and grip during printing. Every block has holes drilled into the wooden piece for air to pass freely and to allow the release of excess colour. The blocks can be made of any shape: square, rectangular, circular etc. The block is soaked in oil for about 10-15 days after it is made to soften out the grains of the wood. The life of these block are approximately 600-800 meter of printing.
This step is important to rid the fabric of any impurities. In the olden days, they would use cow dung diluted in water to do this. Today, they wash it in soap water to do the same. The cloth is dipped in a soap water batch for about 2-3 days to get rid of starch and impurities and then made to dry in the sun.
3) HARDA DYEING:
The fabric is dyed in cool water and harda powder (a natural mordent). They use harda as a primer. This step is done to increase the colour absorbing capabilities of the fabric.
Once dyed, the fabric needs to lay flat and dry in the sunlight. The fabric will have a yellowish tint after this stage, which will later disappear once washed.
5) COLOUR MAKING:
While the fabric is drying, we watch as colors are mixed.
Black: Horseshoes that sit on coals for a period of time, brushed of rust are then put in cans with water and sugar cane juice, left to ferment for periods of months to yield black dye.
Red: A mixture of natural gum paste, pieces of rust and alum.
Indigo: Natural Indigo, extracted from the plant leaves is used to get blue colour. A 'V' shaped well called 'Naand', dug in the ground is used for dyeing. The Indigo along with casatoria seeds is added in 'Naand' containing water and is left for months to ferment (this brings out the iconic blue of the Indigo). Then, the fabric is dyed in it for 10-15 min. These days due to very limited supplies of natural Indigo, the synthetic Indigo color is widely being used. It mixed with sodium hydrosulfide and caustic soda in the 'maat' (clay container) containing water. The 'maat' is left to mature for 3-4 days. The fabric is then added to this solution and dyed for 10-15 min. and then dried in sun.
Brown: Red kashish with water.
Once the fabric has dried and the colours have been made, the fabric is stretched out and pinned on a large table and starting with the 'Gadh', the printer prints the fabric.
7) FINAL WASHING:
Once he printing is done, the printer washes the fabric in water and then dries it out.