What Is Block Printing?
Hand block printing is a centuries old art form popular in India, China, and many other East Asian countries. It is also referred to simply as “block printing” or “woodblock printing.”
In India, this ancient printing technique utilizes a hand-carved teak wood block that is dipped in dye and stamped by hand onto cotton or silk. The result is truly unique, hand block printed fabric that connects us to a rich tradition and history of handmade crafts.
The Block Printing Process
While the block printing process takes practice to master, it can be explained in a few simple steps.
First, the block for the design must be created. The design itself is most often a traditional Indian motif, which is typically influenced by the nature, beliefs, and customs of the region. These motifs regularly take the form of geometric patterns, animals, or plants.
A master craftsman traces the chosen motif onto a wooden block, usually made of teak, a deciduous hardwood tree native to India. The wood block is oiled and sanded before the craftsman carefully chips away at the block, leaving behind the desired design for the stamp.
Second, the artisan pre-washes the fabric. Many Indian artisans, including those who work with Passion Lilie, pre-wash fabrics in local rivers or other waterways. This makes the block printing process highly sustainable, because it reduces water consumption.
Third, the fabric is dyed its base color, laid flat on a table, and fixed firmly to the table with pins. Although small variations in the printing are part of what make Indian block print fabrics so special, a single unwanted movement can result in smudges or uneven printing that mean starting over again.
Fourth, the artisan mixes together four or five basic, natural colors to create a multitude of dyes. The block is then dipped in dye and stamped firmly by hand onto the fabric. This requires a certain amount of force, often achieved either by hitting the stamp by hand or with the aid of a hammer. If the design incorporates multiple colors, then each is applied separately with its own block.
Lastly, once the dye has dried, the completed block print fabric is rinsed in a local river or waterway. The block printing process concludes by hanging the fabric to dry in the sun. Just as the method of washing reduces water consumption, this sustainable method of drying the fabric minimizes energy consumption for a smaller environmental footprint than many manufactured processes.
Good hand block printing requires skill and plenty of practice in order to create uniformity and clear block printing patterns. The tiny variations in the block printing, vibrant and meaningful motifs, and handmade technique of Indian block print fabric are what give it such a unique charm.
Shop Hand Block Printed Clothes
At Passion Lilie, we pride ourselves on our traditionally crafted, hand block printed clothes. We carry a variety of block print dresses, skirts, tops, scarves, and more. Browse our full inventory or shop our hand block printed clothes today.
Hand Block Printing FAQ
What is block printing? Is it different than hand block printing or woodblock printing?
Block printing is a printing process that involves applying text or images with a block dipped in dye. This process can be used to print onto fabric as well as paper. Generally, “block printing,” “hand block printing,” and “woodblock printing” refer to the same process. It is possible, however, to block print using a press rather than applying the blocks by hand.
How long does it take to create a block?
The process of creating the stamp can take 7 to 10 days, depending on the complexity of the design.
How many blocks are used on one Indian block print?
If the design requires only one color, then it can be made with a single block. Each color must be applied by its own block, however. So the print below, for example, requires three different blocks.
How long do the blocks last?
If the block is used on a regular basis, which would equate to about 300 meters of block print fabric per month, it will last about eight months. However, even if a block goes unused, the wood inevitably deteriorates after several years. In this case, the block may still be usable, but it will not print as well.
How many meters can be hand block printed in a day?
A skilled artist can print 20 meters per day of a one-block design or four meters per day of a four-block design.
What is the inspiration behind the blocks?
Most of the blocks are based on Indian mythology or inspired by the natural world, including animals, flowers, or fruits. Many also feature complicated geometric patterns.
What is the hammer used for?
As pictured in one of the above photos, a hammer may sometimes be used in the block printing process. This is because stamping the fabric requires force. For those who lack the strength needed, including artisans who are a bit older and more frail, the hammer helps to create that force and produce a clean, clear print.
Can any color be produced for block printing?
Not all colors can be produced for block printing, though many can. The traditional block printing process involves mixing together several natural dyes, which may be plant-based or vegetable-based. Some of the colors that can be produced by chemical dyes cannot be made from natural dyes, so they are not used for block printing.
How should I care for my Indian block print fabrics?
For best results, we recommend machine washing with mild detergent in cold water. Wash colors separately. Do not soak block print fabrics and do not dry them in direct sunlight.