The craft of Indian hand block printing has been passed down from generation to generation. It refers to an art form where patterns are printed on papers or fabrics using a carved wooden block with detailed artwork of high aesthetic value. It is one of the most time-consuming forms of art in the world of textile printing methods, however, the results received make up for the time taken because chances are you have never seen an artwork like this before. Standing as a testament to the skill and creativity of the artisans, hand block printing produces some of the most beautiful pieces of artwork.
Hand block printing has been relevant since the 12th century and it has been evolving to this day to become a more refined technique. Handblock printing has served as a vital tradition of various artisan communities for centuries to develop mind-blowing textiles for clothing, home decor and ceremonial items.
An enormous magnitude of skill and patience goes into the process of Indian hand block printing, which is a labor-intensive activity. Firstly, the fabrics are washed and dried to stretch them out on a flat surface. Then, the wooden blocks are dipped in a dye of a specific color. Finally, the blocks are carefully stamped on the fabric, one at a time, to produce the wanted pattern. The process is repeated till the fabrics are fully printed with the hand block technique.
The designs and patterns created out of hand block printing reflect a story of years of cultural heritage from a region. The magnificently detail-oriented designs are created in motivation that the hardworking artisans seek within the beauty of nature, architecture, mythology and folklore among others. A beautiful example of such a case would be the tradition of hand block printing that goes on in Rajasthan. There, the artisans are inspired by the flora and fauna, and it is reflected in their chosen patterns for printing, which include flowers, leaves, peacocks, elephants, camels, and even representations of scenic local folktales.
In the state of Gujarat, you will observe a mix of geometric and abstract patterns. There will be squares, circles, triangles and intricate lines and dots that come together to create something mind-blowing. The colors in use are bold, bright and make the cloth stand out.
Hand block printing is a truly mesmerizing and diverse art form since each region has its unique artwork to present through this method. Like in Madhya Pradesh, the hand-block printed figures will generally feature birds, flowers, trees and some paisley designs inspired by birds. Similarly in West Bengal, the local art form of Pattachitra comprises painting on cloth with natural dyes. The hand-block printed fabrics have well-detailed motifs that often depict Hindu mythological scenes.
Hand-block printing requires some arrangements done beforehand for each step. This includes preparing the fabric and carving the wooden blocks. The fabric which is washed, dried and stretched in preparation is usually of cotton or silk texture. The washing is important to remove any impurities that would compromise the detailing of the print. Each wooden block which is carved into a particular design and then dipped in dyes is used for one color at a time.
After it is dried completely, the fabric is ready to be stretched on the printing table and the wooden blocks are finally dyed with one color. Next up, the block is firmly pressed on the fabric, leaving a unique print on the design. This process occurs again and again with different color dyes on different blocks that are now pressed by an artisan with careful attention to the pressure and positioning of the block on the fabric. This ultimately gives the desired results wanted on a fabric, which is a one-of-a-kind, magnificent piece ready to be adored by its viewers.
The most popular use of hand-block printing in the modern era lies in the fashion industry for creating hand-block printed dresses. Other uses of hand block printing are included in crafty products used for decor. It’s safe to say that this art form has transcended well from a traditional era to a contemporary one and is therefore not limited to just traditional textiles only.
The hand-block printed dresses have become widely popular through their unique outlook that comes from intricate patterns and designs. Each dress is a work of high-level craftsmanship done carefully using traditional techniques. Thus, ensuring that no 2 pieces are the same. The results speak for themselves when you are presented with a splendid garment piece that is unmatched by any other garment and is unique even out of its variations.
You can choose from a variety of different hand-block printed dresses with each piece uniquely owning its design and aesthetics. Certain dresses feature bold, geometric patterns that exude an intimidating presence. But there are also those pieces that are subtle and delicate. The kind of fabric involved in the process also determines the quality of the final product with cotton, silk and linen being highly demanding choices for hand-block printed dresses.
It’s not just about the aesthetics, but hand-block printed dresses carry a significant cultural and historical value because of which it has been going on as a tradition for centuries now. They represent India, pioneering the artistic potential of the country through its variations existing in different regions. Thus, reminding us of the importance of preserving traditional art forms. Your choice of wearing a hand-block printed dress marks a gesture of deep respect to the artisans who create these beautiful pieces for you and pay homage to the cultural heritage of India.
Despite the fame and beauty involved in producing hand-block printed dresses, the art form in itself is struggling in the modern era. The rise of low-cost, machine-made fabrics which are easily available has brought artisans to their knees in the textile market. This has brought extremely difficult times for many who make a living from their craft. On top of that, the pandemic era brought a devastating impact on the industry, due to which many artisans were left with no choice but to shut down their shops permanently, leading them to find other sources of income.
As citizens who are proud of our culture, the least we can do is buy these handcrafted products and show our support and appreciation. By doing so, we are taking the initiative in preserving our cultural heritage.
One of the most vital and magnificent forms of art in India’s cultural history, hand block printing has been existing for many centuries. A practice that is continuing, hand-block printing has transcended successfully into the modern era via hand-block-printed dresses. Today, these dresses serve as the tangible symbol of India’s rich cultural heritage. But it’s also a fact that the art form is facing significant challenges in the contemporary era, with those challenges primarily coming from machine-made garments of the fast-fashion industry. It is up to us as consumers to do every bit of what we can even to the least degree, aiming for the preservation of traditional art forms like hand-block printing.
Choosing to buy hand-block printed dresses like formal dresses and maxi dresses for women means showing support to the artisans who make these products with hours of hard work, skill and patience. Purchasing these beautiful and unique places is just one step towards keeping the traditional art forms alive. By making these conscious efforts to support our culture, we make sure that these traditions are passed down to future generations the same way it has been coming down to the present from our ancestors.