Indian hand block printing

Every kind of modern textile printing technique has been available in India for many years.  That hand block printing, the oldest and most laborious of all printing techniques, is still in so wide a production – overwhelmingly for her internal market – in India would be a mystery.

But for one fact:  the versatility of the technique which produces designs on various weights of both cotton and silk of both simple and spectacular  patterns – always repeating –  in a large range of colours and shades and an even larger range of combinations of colours and shades.  The only limiting factor is human imagination!

 

Not the least most attractive aspect of hand block is that you can see the hand of the artisan in the finished product:  in the irregularity that almost inevitably occurs in the patterning:  a line which is  suddenly discontinuous;  a smudge of the dye; pattern edges which are dimpled rather than clean; a faint variation of shades when the pressure of hand on block on fabric has varied from one part of the cloth to the other.    

 

Dyes used are both chemical and vegetable.  I was told of a Rajasthani artisan whose handblock work used only natural dyes which were also odiferous.  A drawer or cupboard continuously scented by the fabrics in it!

 

India, of course,  is not the only country in which hand block technique evolved.  Europe has its own history of  hand block printing.

And its aesthetic attraction is attested by the revival of the technique by the English master craftsman and design theoretician,  William Morris (1834-1896).  Many of his designs,  always in repeating patterns,  are still in print.

 

 

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Design for the cover of his own book of poems, The Earthly Paradise, 1891, by William Morris; pencil , black and brown ink, and gouache on paper. 

 

It is India, however, which continues to produce a vast amount of hand block printing, made in many places on the subcontinent.  Among its ancient centers are Gujarat and Rajasthan.  The craft in Rajasthan received a huge

 

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The exterior and the front window of the Anokhi store in Ahmedabad in the winter of 2010.  Makers and purveyors of textile and textile goods handblocked by artisans working in and around Jaipur

 

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Parrot handblock in two blues on muslin made by Anokhi in 2010

boost with the founding of Anokhi  in Jaipur more than 35 years ago by Faith Singh.   There are Anokhi shops in at least 18 cities in India.

 

An aspect of the traditional craft, certainly in Gujerat if not elsewhere, is that it was and is often Moslems who carved wood into the pattern blocks for printing, and often were themselves the people who dyed and printed also.   

The working conditions in much of the industry, large and small, are not regulated so as to protect employees (I am not speaking of Anokhi).  Men and women stand in water soaked with chemicals.  There are open wood fires underneath huge bales of cotton to heat the water in which cotton is washed and bleached.  Pollutants are emptied directly into sewers.

As with all else, regulation will come when the cost of medical services to such employees are greater than the cost of doing without regulation; and with upward popular pressure for more sanitary working conditions.

 

 

An Ahmedabadi hand block master artisan

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The handblock master discussing designs with clients in 2010, surrounded with his collection of thousands of hand blocks

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Bales of white cotton stored outside the door of the house’s workspace

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Thousands of carved handblocks were stored on shelves

 

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The cotton table lining is covered with the traces of many blockings and looks like a Jackson Pollock painting

 

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Dyed and handblocked cotton hanging up to dry in Sanganer, Rajasthan, an important center for the manufacture and sales of textiles of all kinds, 2010

 

Women in a textile concern in Sanganer greeting visitors.  Often the dyed, printed fabric is converted right away to home décor.

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And the completed fabrics are piled up waiting for your choice. 

Nothing more pleasurable than to watch whole families, men and women, bent over tables and shelves of fabrics discussing these choices.

 

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Three generations shopping for textiles in Ahmedabad, 2010

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Vintage hand block on cotton

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Bed covers for export to Italy made by workers at SEWA’s  (Self Employed Women’s Association) textile concern in Ahmedabad in 2010

 

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In a shop in Jaipur, Rajasthan, 2010

 

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In a shop in Jaipur, 2010

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In a shop in Ahmedabad, 2010

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A kurta of one pattern and and dupatta (shawl) of another in the same colour scheme.  Ahmedabad 2008

 

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In an Ahmedabdi shop:  the three on the left are hand block.  The one on the right is batik work (I think)

 

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Cotton hand block overembroidered by the owner of this blog

 

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Cotton hand blocked and hand dyed Pitchuka Srinavas of the village of Pedana, Andra Pradesh for the proprietor of Les Indiennes, Hudson, New York.  2015

Les Indiennes, Hudson NY, July 2014-15

Cotton hand blocked and hand dyed Pitchuka Srinavas of the village of Pedana, Andra Pradesh for the proprietor of Les Indiennes, Hudson, New York.  2015

 

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Cotton hand blocked and hand dyed Pitchuka Srinavas of the village of Pedana, Andra Pradesh for the proprietor of Les Indiennes, Hudson, New York.  2015 

 

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Block print from A'bad, 2010

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Hand blocked fabric embroidered with mirrors by members of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad

 

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A kurta made by members of the Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad.  Handblock has been edged with chain and mirror embroidery, 2008

 

 

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Cotton hand block overembroidered with mirrors and chain stitch.  Self Employed Women’s Association, Ahmedabad, 2010

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Handblock on silk with the dried bark of pomegranate which was used to dye the pale yellow

 

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Vintage hand block on cotton

 

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The night market, Ahmedabad, 2010

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