Block Prints: A Wearable Piece of Art

Don’t let the traditional art of block printing get stamped out!

Block Printing is the art of applying color and pattern to fabric using hand-carved wooden blocks. It is a process that gone unchanged for nearly 5,000 years in Northwest India. The fabrics produced from this process are so expertly created that they can be confused with mass-produced machine dyed fabrics. However, the beauty of these hand-blocked prints cannot be replicated, for each piece is an original work of art and distinctly unique.

As its name implies, the whole process starts with carving the blocks. Artisans from the Chippas caste carve Shesham wood with a chisel and hammer into the intricately designed stamps.  Each block has a handle and two to three cylindrical holes, which printers will eventually use as placement guidelines when moving the blocks across the fabric. The blocks are then soaked in olive oil to prepare the wood to absorb natural dyes, which have been expertly mixed by artisans of the Neelgars caste. The art of mixing dyes in the perfect ratios to produce the vibrant colors seen in most block prints is passed down a family for generations in this caste.

Next, the printing begins! Dye is applied to the block and with a firm stamp the first print is made. Each color in the design is applied by different blocks AND different printers. Teamwork is required as the printers stamp out the design in tandem, alternating between laying the outline and filling the stamps with a desired color. An intricate design may need up to 3,000 stamps to be completed.

                                              Once the piece has been completely stamped, it is treated through a series of steps to fix the dyes and intensify the colors.  The fabric is put out to dry, rolled in newspaper and steamed, washed, then dried once more before it is completely finished.

This ancient art is beautiful and unique to India’s vibrant culture.  The scarves we carry help in both reviving this ancient handicraft and providing jobs for survivors of sex trafficking in Kolkata. These scarves are truly a wearable piece of art.

**Photo Credits:; Mata Traders; Destiny Reflection

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