India - Block Printing


















Dhamadka a village in Gujarat had many printers using predominantly madder root for red, rusty  iron solution for black and indigo for blue. These fabrics are known as Ajrakh. The designs are geometric. Many states have block printing workshops using chemical dyes. However there are only small pockets of areas still using natural dyeing with age old recipes and local plant material.

The earthquake in 2001 was devastating to wide areas of Gujarat. Many artisans were killed or had their homes and workshops destroyed. Hopefully aid is helping many to rebuild their former way of life and continue creating unique textiles. Most of the Dhamadka artisans have gone elsewhere to start again in better conditions with adequate water of good quality. A new area called Ajrakpur has been settled by many.






Boys take the treated cloths to the canal to wash them. The work gets combined with fun swimming in the canal.

Masuliputnam in Andra Pradesh is the main centre of block printing where the fabric is known as Kalamkari. The cloth used generally is mill made cotton first bleached with cow dung and placed in the sun. The next step is to soak the cloth in a mixture of Myrobalan and milk. The Myrobalan contains tannic acid and acts as a mordant helping the dye stuffs to bond with the fibre. The buffalo milk, having high fat content, helps prevent the dye from running. Next the black outline is printed using a solution made with rusty iron soaked in sugar water and bran for several weeks. When the solution comes in contact with the myrobalan it turns black. The next step is printing on another mordant, alum. This bonds the red dye, Madder Root, after boiling, to the areas that receive the alum. These steps continue until all colours have been printed or brushed on. It is necessary to have a good water supply for washing after printing. It takes weeks to complete all the steps. My admiration goes to these artisans producing beautiful textiles with such time consuming techniques.
Near Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh the workshop of Creative Bee, owned by Bina and Keshav Rao, uses both chemical and vegetable dyes. These blocks, carved out of hardwood, usually teak, are typical of the hundreds they have. Combining numerous blocks creates unlimited designs. Customers pick the blocks and colours for custom orders. Besides using traditional motifs, Bina Rao designs comtemporary blocks to meet fashion demands. Keshav is researching and developing new colours using natural dyes to create more eco-friendly textiles.

Copyright 1997-2012 Dana McCown *