Hand Block Printing in India

 

Last month I spent some time in India, most of the time surrounded by textiles. Learning, hand-printing, indigo dyeing and shopping, a dream come true! The intention of my trip was to get to know in detail some Indian techniques and be able to combine them with the ones I’ve learnt whilst living in Japan.

I was  in Rajasthan mostly to learn about Dabu (mud resist) and you can read more about it here. But once I was there I also had the chance to block print with pigments and that gave a nice change to my ever blue fabrics.

The Indian tradition of hand block printing onto cloth is believed to be over 4500 years old.  It’s such an extraordinary technique that there’s no wonder why this art has inspired the rest of the world. Depending on the region, design and functionality of the cloth, they combine block printing as a resist with block printing with pigments. They also dip dye several times in between with different natural dyes, so a single piece of fabric can have a combination of all this steps.

My take on this was purely experimental, I hand block printed onto white and fabric dyed with Indigo and Kassis (iron deposits dye), they are far from being pieces of art but good enough to show the technique.

Since I’m sure many people would love to try this out with woodblocks or improvised homemade stamps, first  I’d like to share an example of how the pigment trays are put together. This is a way to get a cushioned pad and just the right amount of pigment onto the blocks:

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A mesh made out of string or thin wooden sticks is put inside a wooden tray

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The pigment is poured into the tray, covering the mesh and then scraps of fabric are used to create a pad.  After you’ve poured the colour, the first layer of fabric is placed on top and impregnated with pigment

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The process is repeated several times with more pieces of fabric until there’s a right amount of cushioning and the pigment is distributed evenly on the tray.

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These are some of my experiments:

First a little piece for my 1 1/2 year old daughter who is currently fascinated with the moon and stars – this piece was dyed with indigo (resisted with Dabu twice to get the different shades of blue) and finally silver and blue pigments were hand block-printed.

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These are close-ups of gold pigment onto indigo dyed Shibori

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Next is blue pigment onto Dabu-resisted and Indigo dyed fabric:

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And finally gold pigment onto a piece that was first resisted with Dabu, then dyed with indigo and afterwards dyed with Kassis

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There is so much I’d like to share from my trip to India that I’m fragmenting it into different posts. I’m planning to post soon about the woodblocks itself and how to look after them.

I’d also like to thank all the people who send me e-mails and nice messages about my work. All your comments make me truly happy. As for the ones asking questions, I try my best to help on writing but I’m thinking of running a workshop soon, so I can really pass on what I’ve learnt over the last few years and have some fun with you in person 🙂

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20 responses to “Hand Block Printing in India

  1. Hi Luisa I wanted to say how much I enjoy receiving your blog, and your beautiful work. I’m an Indigo dyer and block printer living in Canada, and I will be visiting the UK this August.Could you let me know if you have a retail space in London, or if you are teaching in August at all? Please include my e mail in any posts regarding teaching or events you are involved in. So inspiring, thanks. Carrole Blakeman

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab® S

    • Dear Carrole, thank you very much for your message. Connecting to ‘indigo people’ around the world through my blog has been a gift. If you are following my blog you’ll receive all the info about workshops as I will be posting about it here first. At the moment I am selling directly from my home-based studio but building up stock for an online shop, again you’ll hear about it here.
      Don’t hesitate to get in touch when you’re in the UK.

      Best wishes,
      Luisa

  2. hermoso trabajo, lugar, momento, etc… ese aprendizaje se ve muy interesante, y los resultados hermosismos, mas alma que tintas, mas alma que barro y ese contacto con el material enseña mas que millones de renders.

  3. Hi Luisa
    Your trip to Rajasthan sounds like a great learning experience, love your photos of the indigo you did. About 4 years ago I bought some indigo dye in Kolkata. I live in Australia and would like to use the Indigo I got in India. So far I’ve had no success can you please tell me what other chemicals they used in Rajasthan along with the indigo dye? Hope you can help me. Thanks Di

    • Hi Di, it’s great that you’ve got some indian indigo with you.
      As you may know, Indigo has a very interesting alchemy and is different to every other dye. It is not soluble in plain water so you need to create an alkaline solution first. Then you’ll need to extract the oxygen out of the solution and this can be made by different methods, using chemicals or natural fermentation. The particular vat I was working with in India was made with slaked lime for alkalinity and ‘jaggery’ local unrefined sugar. This sugar generates natural bacteria that in a way eats the sugar and breathes in the oxygen and this is what makes the indigo bond to the fibers.
      Hope this helps, Luisa

      • Hi Luisa, thanks so much for your reply with all the helpful information. I will experiment with your suggestions. You are so lucky to have been in India when they were doing the indigo. I do appreciate your help.
        Regards
        Di

      • You are welcome! If it is your first indigo vat it is much easier to start with a chemical one. There are good recipes online that you could follow before trying out a fermentation one. You can use lime and hydrosulphate/ spectralite.

  4. Hi Luisa..
    This is Manasi Vishnu from Mumbai..India..I m so very fascinated by this Dabu ( indigo esp) block printing art.I love this art n I like to try designing..mix matching with fabrics.I want to learn this art..design n sell.but don’t knw how to go about it?? How can I learn n become a part of designing n selling?where can I learn this in Mumbai? Do u conduct workshops here? Pls write to me in detail.

    Hats off to ur work

    Regards
    Manasi

      • Hi Luisa, I live in Australia and grow and produce Indigo powder or block with a couple of different varieties of indigo baring plants. I would love to go to India to experience the block and resist dye techniques. Did you go with a tour company or organised tour or did you wing it. Would you be happy to share your tour company details. Thanks so much. cheers Tarla

      • Hi Luisa, thank you, much appreciated, always good to have a recommendation. I have a Facebook page, Tamborine Mountain Indigo, so far, still working on the rest. I am keen to experiment with mud resists from our region to see what sticks. Thank you again Luisa. cheers

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