Blocks are made of seasoned teak wood by trained craftsmen. The underside of the block has the design hand carved on it by the block maker. Each block has a wooden handle and two to three cylindrical holes drilled into the block for free air passage and also to allow release of excess printing paste. The new blocks are soaked in oil for ten to fifteen days to soften the grains in the timber.
Techniques of Block Printing
Direct Block Printing — In this technique, the cotton or silk cloth is first bleached. Then the fabric is dyed, unless a light background is desired. Thereafter, the fabric is printed using carved blocks; first the outline blocks, then the ones to fill color. Resist Printing — In the resist technique, areas that are to be protected from the dye are covered with a mixture of clay and resin. The dyed fabric is then washed. The dye spreads into the protected areas through cracks, producing a rippled effect. Block prints are then used to create further designs. Ajrakh Printing of Kutch (India) and Sindh (Pakistan) and Kalamkari from South India use this technique. Discharge Printing In this technique, the fabric is dyed. Then, a chemical is used to remove the dye from the portions that are to have designs in different colour. These portions are then treated, so they may be re-colored.
Process of Block Printing
First, the fabric to be printed is washed free of starch and soft bleached. If dyeing is required (as in the case of saris where borders or the body is tied and dyed) it is done before printing.
The fabric is again washed to remove excess dye and dried thoroughly.
The fabric is stretched over the printing table and fastened with small pins. This is an important stage as there should be a uniform tension in the fabric with no ripples.
The colour pigments to be used are kept in a tray on a wheeled wooden trolley with racks which the printer drags along as he works. On the lower shelves printing blocks are kept ready.
Under the pigment tray is another tray containing a thick viscous liquid made from pigment binder and glue. This gives the color tray a soft base which helps to spread color evenly on the wooden block.
The printing starts from left to right. The color is evened out in the tray with a wedge of wood and the block dipped into the outline color (usually black or a dark color).
When the block is applied to the fabric, it is slammed hard with the fist on the back of the handle so that a good impression may register. This job is usually done by an expert printer who ensures the effect is continuous and not disjoined.
If it is a multiple color design, the second printer dips his block in color again and prints on top of the outline made by the first block. The third color if required follows likewise, precisely aligning the block each time. Skill is necessary for good printing since the colors need to dovetail into the design to make it a composite whole.
The fabric is sun-dried, which is part of the colour-fixing process. It is rolled in wads of newspapers to prevent the dye from adhering to other layers and steamed in boilers constructed for the purpose. After steaming, the material is washed thoroughly in large quantities of water and dried in the sun, after which it is finished by ironing out single layers, which fix the color permanently.