Block Printing Garments
Different printing methods
The four main methods of textile printing are block, roller, screen and heat transfer. Each of these methods start will the application of colour, usually a thickened paste, followed by a fixing process such heating or steaming, with the excess colour being washed off. The block printing technique has produced the most beautiful prints but is considered too laborious and costly for large commercial use.
When Alexander the Great invaded India in 327BCE, printed textiles were found
A printing block dated 300CE was unearthed in the burial grounds of Akhmin in Upper Egypt. There is also evidence of block printing in India from the early 4th century. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 327BCE, printed textiles were found. While block printing fabric has been part of ancient cultures around the world, it was in India the highest level of detail and intricacy was achieved.
The artisans of Jaipur
The art of block printing as we recognise it, was developed during the medieval period in India. This centuries old technique involves stencilling a design onto a smooth wooden block, which is then carved to create a print. Designs range from the simple to the ornate, and the level of skill required by those creating printing blocks is extremely high and is handed down from generation to generation.
After the printing blocks have been carved, the fabric can be prepared. Historically Indians have had an enviable knowledge in the alchemy of plant dyes, especially with metallic salts to create and fix colour to fabric.
Historically Indians have possessed enviable expertise in the alchemy of plant dyes, especially with metallic salts to create and fix colour to fabric
Plain or dyed cotton is then laid out flat in batches. Dye is applied to the prints which are then manually stamped onto the fabric. Depending on the intricacy of the designs and variety of colours, two or even three blocks may be required to produce the finished fabric. As block printing is done by hand, design placement is positioned by eye. These tell tale signs of hand crafted prints form part of the charm and uniqueness of each print.
Visiting a printing shop in Jaipur is like stepping back in time. To see the highly skilled artisans applying techniques that have been passed down the generations is really an amazing sight and makes you feel connected to history in an incredibly tangible way. Despite it being a manual process, the speed and precision required to do this job is something unique to behold.
Preserving ancient skills
In this world of fast fashion, it is easy to take the designs of our garments for granted as the majority of clothes are digitally printed. Complicated graphics and logos can be altered at the click of a button to adapt to ever changing trends and styles.
To see the artisans of Jaipur producing such stunning designs using techniques and skills that have stood the test of time was a real privilege. We are so proud to be using their fabrics in our garments and try and do their hard work justice.
Wearing a block printed shirt supports local communities and prevents ancient skills from becoming extinct
When our customers purchase our clothing, they are helping support these artisans and ensuring that these skills are given the rewards they deserve. If we do not celebrate their skill and effort, there is a risk that their trade will shrink and eventually disappear in the face of large-scale mass production, which would be a real shame for the world.