Raw Materials: The process of block printing is widespread due to its intricate process, motifs and vibrant colors. The main raw material is the color used in the printing. Traditionally the artisans used natural colors but today it has been replaced by chemical and artificial colors.
Different types of dyes are used for silk and cotton.
Vegetable/ Natural dyes: Vegetable dyes have been used for generations for printing and dyeing. Extracted from nature, vegetables, fruits etc., they are eco-friendly and traditionally important. There are few major colors produced naturally which are known internationally too: black, red, green, yellow, indigo, pink.
Discharge Dyes: These are chemical dyes are used to print on dark background because of their quality to react with the dark base fabric. These dyes bleach out the dark color from the printed area and print the desired color on it. In this process a range of white and other light colors can be printed on a dark background.
Pigment Dyes: These colors are readily available in the market and are easy to use. Pigment colors, are mixed with kerosene and a binder to be made ready for use. The mixing has to be done carefully as the thickness of the material can give raised effects on the cloth while printing. These colors follow the direct printing technique. Colors applied are visible and do not change after washing.
Reactive Dyes: These are the chemical dyes which when mixed with second chemical produces a third color. Artisans therefore dye the cloth, to be printed, in one chemical and then print it with another chemical. These two chemicals react with each other and hence produce a different color.
Rapid fast Colors: These colors are difficult to store and has to be used the same day. In rapid fast color process the color in the design and the ground color both are printed in one go. Generally white or light background is used. There are only few colors available in this process.
Cloth: Traditionally the printing was done on white or pale background of cotton cloth. Today the craft is practiced on any material ranging from cotton, silk, organza, jute, kotadoriya, chiffon, paper etc.
Water: for washing
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.Color 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.Block for printing - The making of blocks is in two kinds: wooden blocks and metal blocks. Both are made in very unique ways and have very unique purposes as well.
5.Scale - Scales are used to mark the areas to be printed on fabric.
6.Chalk - Tailoring chalk is used for marking and the sharp edges of the chalk give fine lines.
7.Brushes - To maintain the life of the block, metal or nylon brushes are used to clean the wooden and metal blocks after use.
8.Tambadi (Copper vessels) - Traditionally copper vessels are used for dyeing and washing of cloths.
9.Mogari (wooden roller) - A cylindrical wooden roller on which the cloth is kept and beaten is called a mogari.
10.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.
BLOCK CARVING: The making of blocks is in two kinds: wooden blocks and metal blocks. Both are made in very unique ways and have very unique purposes as well.
Wooden Block: The first requirement for block printing is 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.
Metal Block: For the more intricate, clearly printed designs on fabric, the use of metal blocks is prevalent. There is no smudging or mixing of colour on the fabric when metal blocks are used because of the highly narrow width of the engraved design. Evenly cut metal strips are engraved into wooden blocks. The metal strips are beaten till they are thin and then are cut into strips of even length. The design is traced on the wooden piece and the metal strips are gently hammered on it. It is checked thoroughly once the block is made, to see whether all the strips are of the same height on the wooden base. Metal blocks take a long time to be completed and are costlier than wooden blocks but are comparatively very long lasting.
The Sanganeri block-printing process involved:
1.Preparation of the cloth: The chhipa begins his task by subjecting the cloth to a rigorous scouring and bleaching procedure called teluni, to emulsify the oils on the cotton threads, acting like a modern laundry detergent. Goat or camel dung is mixed with sesame seed oil and soda ash and a little water and left overnight with the fabric soaked in it. The fabric is then dried and this process is repeated every night for about a week. This solution creates the soap, which acts like a laundry agent.
2.Pila karna: (To-do yellow): This process involves the application of harda onto the cotton cloth. Harda is a dried powder extracted from tannin-filled fruit and because of high levels of the tannic acid; it functions as a pre-mordant link between the fibers and the various other ingredients. Once this process is done, it leaves a yellowish tinge to the fabric, which is why the term 'pila-karna'.
3.Syahi: The word, syahi means ink and this is the process where the craftsman prints the black portion of the design during the process. The syahi printing paste is prepared while the raw, grey cloth is bleaching. Scrap iron, such as old horseshoes, blackens in a fire to remove rust after which it is steeped in an earthenware vessel with a quantity of gur (jaggery). The heat of the sun causes fermentation and results in a runny iron-rich solution after eight to twelve days.
4.Begar: After the black outline is made, the craftsman makes the begar, a mordant used for red. Alum is mixed with sticky tree gum paste and a pinch of geru red ochre to bring out colour in the otherwise transparent paste. The beggar paste is then applied using a 'Datta' block to fill in the 'Rekh' and highlight the printed areas. The alum is required to mature on the fabric for a few days. So once the Begar is filled in, the printer lets the fabric dry for about a week.
5.Dhulai: Once the printing is done, the fabric has to be thoroughly washed in order to remove the tree gum, so that it does not get soaked into the fibers during the next process. Also, for this process the printers usually prefer running water so as to not smudge the printed designs.
6.Ghan ki Rangai: Water is filled into a large copper vessel called the Tamda and it is set onto the bhatti hearth. Red dye matter is added into it along with shakur ka phool insect gall or dhaura ka phool fire flame bush and a drop of either castor or sesame oil. The printed fabric is set into the copper vessel and allowed to soak for about an hour before lighting the fire underneath. The temperature is gently raised over several hours. The chhipa stirs the cloth in the vessel and adds the shakur ka phool or dhaura ka phool if the red colour begins to spread from the begar printed areas. Alizarin is mostly used as the red dyestuff from the late 20th Century, though earlier the red dyestuff came from the roots of Al, Indian mulberry tree. By heating the cloth in the red dye solution, the red dye molecules chemically attach them selves to the areas printed with alum beggar mordant. Also, the black syahi becomes strong and colour fast.
7.Dhulai: The printer washes the dyed fabric in the running river water, so that the natural water can rinse and cleanse the fabric of the extra dye from the cloth.
8.Tapai: One last procedure is required for Sanganeri block-printed textiles to brighten the white background of the fabric and to bring out the printed designs. Tapai means 'to warm' and this process involves spreading the fabric and sprinkling it with mineral rich water from the rivers and letting it dry in the fierce power of the Rajasthan sun, side by side. The chhipa sprinkles it with water throughout the day and repeats this process for the next eight to ten days. Though the task is very arduous, it results in a bright white background and clear richly coloured butis and butahs.