Ghanshyam Ji doing a printing demonstration at Mehera Shaw.
The traditional process of hand block printing on textiles, with rich natural colors, has been practiced in Rajasthan for around 500 years. Block printing was introduced to the Jaipur region of Rajasthan by the Chhipa community. This community was originally located in Bagru Village, an area now famous for its vegetable dye and mud resist (dabu) block prints. The art of block printing has been passed down for generations within families and communities and has branched out in recent decades to other regions such as Sanganer, just South of Jaipur.
In traditional Bagru style block printing, the ‘recipes’ for the traditional plant-based dyes are developed within each family and kept alive from generation to generation. The colors are dependent on the quality of the plants, the water and skill and knowledge of the printing masters. In more recent forms of block printing, such as those practiced in Sanganer, colors are mixed using AZO free pigment dyes.
A print starts with the design, drawn on paper and carved into the Sheesham wood block. Designs are meticulously carved by hand into the blocks which are approximately 18-25 cm across. The physical block is the design for a single repeat which is then stamped in rows across the fabric. Each color in the design is carved into a separate block. The outline block or 'rekh', is the most intricate and usually stamped first; it is typically the outline for a floral or lattice type design. Next comes the fill block or 'datta' and possibly the ground color block or 'gud' depending on the color scheme used. Block carving is in itself an art requiring years of apprenticeship to gain mastery and is done entirely by hand.
Color Mixing-Preparing the Dyes
Once the blocks are carved, the master printer prepares the colors which will be used in printing. The colors are then poured into wooden trays and the blocks stamped in the color each time, then stamped onto the fabric to form the repeat pattern. The colors shown are AZO free, eco-friendly synthetic colors which are used in Sanganer printing.
For each new design, we do a color check and test out new color combinations. We use Pantone TPG (TPX or TCX) reference codes for color matching. Above, our master printer, Ghanshyam Ji is working with our team to develop a series of new colorways with our new collection.
Each color pattern is stamped individually onto the fabric; the process takes skill and time, as the pattern must be stamped repeatedly across the fabric, color by color. The slight human irregularities — inevitable in handwork — create the artistic effect emblematic of block prints. The final outcome of this intricate labor is a timeless beauty, and every garment made from this fabric is unique.
The printing master must carefully align each block as he prints, using the ‘guide’ carved on the left edge of the block as his marker. Each printer has a slightly different style which is considered his ‘signature’ look. The printing master must then follow the same pattern of aligning the blocks with each color layered on to the design. The subtle gaps and overlaps are a beautiful reminder of the hand work and give block printing it’s iconic look. All prints exemplify this aesthetic and have a subtle pattern of light/dark across the design.
The block printing villages are know for their rhythmic ‘tock-tock’ sound of the block printer hitting the wood block to ‘stamp’ the pattern. It is an enchanting sound which echoes through the village and is a reminder of the significance of artisan work.
The original Bagru style printing traditionally used natural vegetable dyes and mud resist techniques to print on cottons and silks.
Traditional Bagru designs reflect nature in floral, leaf and geometric motifs. Later techniques incorporated Persian motifs and developed block printing into a highly intricate style.
Hand block printing now also extends to Jaipur and Sanganer with the use of AZO-free, synthetic dyes (such as pigment and indigo sol) and different styles of printing.
We’ve experimented with some new design styles, mixing elements of traditional buti and jaal patterns with inspiration from Mediterranean tile motifs (above) and from Japanese origami motifs (below).
In recent decades, designers from the West have worked closely with local artisans to create Indo-Western styles which are inspired by other cultures, pop-art, nature and city-scapes. This collaboration has been beneficial for everyone as new designs emerge, but also it helps to tell the story of block printing and keep the market alive.
Modern, Japanese Zen inspired sari design.
Block Printing at Mehera Shaw
We work both in Bagru and Sanganer. In Sanganer, we work at our own facility using AZO free, eco-friendly, pigment dyes with our own print designs. The advantage of ‘modern’ synthetic dyes is that they are colorfast, easier to make and machine washable.
In Bagru, we work closely with a local printer using vegetable dye and dabu mud resist techniques in traditional prints such as indigo prints.
The “recipes” for Bagru style vegetable dye prints have been preserved for many generations by the artisans’ families. Many of the dyes require months of curing for the desired color to develop. Weather, water quality, and changes in the crops, all affect the vegetable dye.
Decentralized Artisan Textile Production
Block printing is typically done in open-air facilities in villages, or in people’s homes. It provides a source of income to many village families and is an environmentally positive approach to textile production in rural India. It is also a method of decentralized production, following Gandhi’s philosophy of keeping more people employed within their traditional environment.
While often men have been the printing masters, in small-scale, traditional production, women also become skilled printers. Traditional printing is often done in family units which provides more income for the whole family and allows women to work within the the day-to-day routine of family life.
Block prints, are, by nature, hand-done. The slight color variation within a print run and across different print runs if printed at different times or in different seasons, is a natural part of the process. It is an attribute appreciated by those who value the uniqueness of artisan textiles.
Established in 2006, the Craftmark initiative helps denote genuine Indian handicrafts, develop sector-wide minimum standards and norms for labeling a product as a handicrafts product, and increase consumer awareness of distinct handicraft traditions. Craftmark is an initiative of AIACA.
To learn more, visit http://www.craftmark.org/why-craftmark
and see what they say below.
With over 23 million craftspeople, the crafts sector is the second largest employer in India. Many communities in India depend on their craft skills as a source of income. The craft sector keeps rural communities alive, sustains families, and allows children to gain education. Supporting the craft sector breathes life into a heritage that is over 4,000 years old. It maintains the transfer of valuable traditional knowledge from elders to youths and master craftspeople to students. Buying hand-made products delivers livelihood to millions of skilled craftspeople that proudly create unique, high-quality products by hand.
Above all, in an evolving global village where homogenous products dominate our lifestyles, craft products stand apart in their distinctiveness and cultural reference. Thus, purchase of craft products not only allows consumers to buy quality products but also maintain a connection with their culture.
Click here for retail fabric purchase.
If interested, please click here for the European Market (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scandanavia, Spain, France). For all other locations, please contact Shari Keller at shari(at)meherashaw.com. Please send your registered company name, address, website and a brief description of what you're looking for.
Our previous print collections can be viewed at the link below: