A printing method that involves using carved wooden or linoleum blocks to create designs and patterns on a surface is called hand-block printing. It is a traditional form of printing technique where the design you want to print is carved out on a block after which the ink or dye is applied to the block. Finally, this block is stamped on a surface, for instance, a fabric.
The history of hand block printing dates far back to ancient times. It is believed to be originated in China but was introduced to India in the 12th century. In India, the meticulous process of hand-block printing was and is still used largely in the textile industry. From and after India, the technique spread across various countries in the Asian continent such as Japan and Indonesia. Hand block printing played a significant role in the formation of cultural identities in countries such as France, Italy, Spain and England, around the time when this art form gained its popularity in Europe in the 12th century. Hand block printing now serves as the artisan’s way of showing his craftsmanship and artistic expression while conveying the importance of preserving cultural traditions in many parts of the world.
Materials and Tools
The success of hand block printing on textiles is highly determined by the texture and durability of the fabric. Wool, cotton, linen, etc. are perfect for hand block printing because they are good in absorb dye. The fabric needs to be pre-washed to remove sizing problems or dirt before the printing process. This helps in avoiding a compromised look of the design or pattern on the fabric.
Types of dyes and pigments
A desired color and fabric is decided first to figure out the type of dye or pigment that will be used for the process of hand block printing. Eco-friendly dyes produce a range of colors and are made from plants, minerals & insects. Synthetic dyes are also used in various grades of colors.
Hand block carving tools
Hand block printing requires carving the wooden or linoleum blocks, so one will need a carving tool such as a knife, hammer, chisel & gouge. These tools help carve patterns or designs carefully and with attention to detail.
Other essential materials and tools
Many essential materials such as ink/dye mixing bowls, printing tables, brushes, squeegees and drying racks are also included.
The muse for a design or a pattern can arise from anywhere including nature, art and cultural traditions. The design selection is indeed a crucial aspect before committing to the craft since it gives an outline of how the product will finally look.
Sketching and finalizing the design
Once selected, the design is sketched on a piece of paper to add or subtract any element to achieve the final design.
Transferring the design onto the block
The final design is then projected on the wooden or linoleum block via carbon paper or tracing paper.
Preparing the block for carving
The surface of the block is smoothed so that the carving can be done efficiently. It’s difficult to carve a block with a rough surface and will hence adversely affect the printing process.
Carving the design onto the block
Once the surface of the block is flat, it’s time to carve the design carefully using hand block carving tools such as a chisel and hammer. The artisan must have an immense amount of skill & patience to create an impeccable design.
Finishing and smoothing the block surface
After successfully carving the block, the dye or pink is applied evenly before finally getting into the printing part. The effectiveness of the block is tested on a piece of scrap fabric to ensure that the final design is coming out the way it has been ideated & approved.
Dyeing the Fabric
Preparing the fabric for dyeing
To have a good print, it is important to make sure that the fabric is free from impurities and sizing problems. Therefore, the fabric has to be prepared separately by soaking it in a fixative solution or just water. A clean fabric without any sizing issues will absorb the dye evenly and improve the color’s vibrancy.
Mixing and preparing the dye
The dye is produced either out of the manufacturer’s instructions or the artisan’s preference. The dye is heated to a particular temperature to activate the color & ensure that the fabric absorbs it evenly.
Immersing the fabric in the dye bath
The prepared fabric undergoes a dye bath and is stirred in it repeatedly for the dye to penetrate the fabric evenly and effectively. This helps in maintaining the durability of the color and avoiding its fading. The fabric stays in the dye bath for a few minutes or hours, it all depends on the color intensity.
Hand Block Printing
Preparing the block for printing
The dye on the carved block is applied using a brush or a roller. Before proceeding to print, the dye must be spread evenly on the block so that the design is put accurately on the fabric.
Applying the dye to the block
The dye is spread across the carved surface using a brush or roller. Any excess dye on the carved block is removed carefully.
Printing the fabric using the block
The prepared fabric is printed by pressing the block on the fabric carefully and evenly. The artisan performs this process again and again, aligning the block precisely to form a pattern that repeats seamlessly.
Repeating the Process
Repeating the printing process for multi-colored designs
The blocks must be selected & used carefully based on the design finalized and the colors involved. The artisan has to dedicate each block to a different color if the fabric design that is ideated and approved involves using more than one color.
Cleaning the block and fabric between printing
The block and the fabric have to be cleaned time and again between the printing work to avoid the dyes from getting into the wrong areas. The block can be cleaned using a solvent or just water. This helps in removing the excess of dye/ink.
Drying and Finishing
Drying the printed fabric
The fabric is left to dry completely in an open space, away from the sunlight right after the printing part is done. The fabric has to be fully dry to do what’s next.
Fixing the dye onto the fabric
To make sure that the dye or ink does not fade or wash out, the fabric is heated to a particular temperature from a fixed point. Another way to ensure the durability of the print is to use a fixative solution.
Finishing the fabric for end-use
The last step of hand-printing on textiles involves finishing the fabric for end use. The finishing process includes washing, ironing or treating it with a specific finish to improve the texture with durability. The result is a splendid garment product created from the traditional art form of hand block printing.
The elaborative process of making hand-block printed textiles is a diligent craft with labor-intense nature that requires an immense amount of skill, patience and a detail-oriented approach. From choosing the right fabric to carving the block carefully and then printing the best design, each step is essential to making a magnificent piece of textile art as the final product. Hand block printing has a rich history and cultural significance in many regions of the world, and artisans are working consistently towards preserving the tradition through their craft.