Wooden blocks, carved with intricate designs are dipped into dye and used to transfer patterns onto the fabric. The fabric is then treated in various stages of resist-dyeing to transform into the final product blossoming with vibrant colors and beautiful motifs.

Raw Materials

Printing fabric - This is brought from 'Bhimandi' (Maharashtra) and 'Thirupur'

Dyes - Pigment dyes, Discharge dyes, Reactive dyes, Vegetable dyes. 

Plain cloth - This is used as a cover for the printing tables before printing cloth is laid out over it.

Muslin - This is also used a as a base covering for the printing table.

Glue - This is mixed with different colored pigments and dyes. It gives a consistent and an easy application of the dye.

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Waste

During the process the fabric is put through frequent washes, which leads to a lot of wastage because unlike older days, the process is not carried out in flowing rivers anymore and the use of chemical dyes renders the soil and water unfit for any other usage.

Tools & Technology

Wooden blocks : Made of seasoned teak wood, the wooden blocks are the main tools of the printers. These blocks are carved in accordance to the designs given by the craftsmen of 'Pethapur' and are etched on the underside of the block. About two to three holes are drilled vertically and horizontally across the body of the block, which ensures free air passage and release of excess printing paste. This special feature is unique to these blocks. 

Dyeing Trays : Trays made of wood or plastic are used to fill the dye and it is mixed with the help of various ladles. A thin bamboo trellis is fixed into the tray of dye mixture and this holds a coarse piece of cotton cloth. A piece of cloth is soaked in the dye and the blocks are pressed onto it, rather than being dipped in the solution directly. This enables the dye to spread more evenly onto the block and not drip.

Printing tables : These are raised wooden blocks and are 5 feet by 3 feet in dimension. Bricks and smaller wooden blocks are used to uniformly raise this platform by 9 inches. Printing begins on these after they are covered with layers of plain cloth and jute for protection.

Washing tank : In olden days, the cloths were washed in the running waters of the river. But now the artisans have erected a series of water tanks with varied heights. The top most tank has the purest water, while the lower most tank has the water containing the dye from washes. The fabric is first washed in lowermost tank, then further in higher tanks. 

Drying structure : Earlier, the printers used to dry the fabrics by laying them out in open under the sun near the rivers. Due to lack of clean spaces on river banks nowadays, the artisans have a bamboo structure developed at their workshop, it spans up to the height of two storeys. It is a rectangular framework with a number of parallel runners made of bamboo or iron rods. The fabric of length up to 12 meters can be dried on these structures.

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Rituals

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Process

Preparing the fabric : The fabric is thoroughly washed to remove factory starch. If the natural grey of the fabric is not desired then it is bleached to obtain a stark white color. The fabric is also dyed sometimes to get a base color at this stage and washed to remove excess dye. It is then stretched evenly over a wooden table and fastened using strong pins.

Printing : The wooden blocks are used at this stage. Color is kept in a tray on a wheeled wooden trolley, which the printer drags along as he works. The tray of color rests on another tray that contains a thick viscous liquid made out of mixing pigment binder and glue. This gives the color tray a soft base and helps in spreading color more evenly on the wooden block. The fabric is printed by hand from left to right. Different craftsmen are involved at this stage. One layer of blocks is pressed appropriately with adequate pressure to get the pattern. This step is repeated as per need. In case another set of prints is required, it is done by the other craftsman. 

Post-printing : After the block printing is done; the fabric is dried in the sun. It is rolled in newspaper to prevent the dye from spilling on to other layers and is then steamed in boilers. The fabric is again washed in large quantities of water and finally dried. The process is finished by ironing as this makes the color become permanent.

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