The patterns of block print give any space a warm and lived in feel..
The patterns of block printing give any space a warm and lived in feel..

As an artistic individual and a free spirit, I have always been drawn to natural and imperfectly perfect works of art, where you can clearly see it was made by hand and mind. One of my favorite is the process of block printing. India has been renowned for its printed and dyed cotton cloth since the 12th century and the creative process flourished as it was favored by royalty. Though the earliest records indicate the printing started in the south, the craft of block printing seems to have been prevalent all over India.

It starts with the vision of a pattern design on the cloth. How will each pattern look once repeated with itself or another block design.

Thank you to Genevieve Hewson and Lauren Emerson, my favorite fabric designers from Australia for sharing the complete process of block printing and Indigo dying.

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A modern Block Print by Walter G.

Wooden Block After each wood block is carved they are soaked in mustard oil for up to a week to ensure the wood doesn’t crack when exposed to the dry conditions of the printing process. Tiny holes are also drilled through each block to ensure that the wood breathes, allowing the blocks to last for decades. India-Block-Printing-1

Mud Paste Dabu is a smooth paste, which combines well sieved and soaked black earth, tree gum and a powder from wheat grains. The printer gently pats the wood block onto the dabu paste then quickly stamps it onto the fabric. This paste acts as a resist during the dyeing process.

Block Printing The surface used for printing is a saree length table (approx 6 meters) that is padded with many layers of cloth. The printer aligns the first block to the bottom left corner of the fabric and with incredibly precise hand eye coordination, gives a sharp tap the release the dabu paste onto the cloth. This same process is repeated along the length and width of the fabric.

Dusting A fine saw dust is scattered over the wet daub paste once it has been printed to prevent the design from smudging and seals the printed portion from the subsequent dyeing process. 6.drying                  

Drying Once the sawdust has been scattered, the fabric is taken outside so the sun can dry it. This causes the sawdust and dabu paste to fuse together, creating a hard barrier that the dye can not penetrate. 9.drying-fields                  

Indigo dying The dabu printed cloth is next immersed in the deep vat of indigo dye. Natural indigo, from the indigo plant indigofera tinctoria, is not water soluble. It is purchased in blocks, ground into a powder and soaked before fermenting in an underground vat containing a strong alkaline lime powder and water. The strong alkaline reduces the indigo dye, removing oxygen from the liquid and so making the colour chemically available to bond to the cloth. When the cloth is removed from the vat it is green in colour, though as it comes into contact with the air (oxygen) the cloth develops into a rich blue tone. The cloth is dipped repeatedly into the indigo vat to achieve darker shades of blue, drying thoroughly between each successive immersion.    

Wash baths Washing occurs at the start and end of the printing process. The fabric is first soaked in large outdoor water baths for up to a few days to remove any starch, oil, dust and any other impurities. Once all printing and dyeing procedures are completed, the cloth is once again subjected to washing and beating in the baths to remove all traces of the dabu mud, revealing the resist area to be the original white. 10.wash-baths

Indigo Fabrics Each piece of indigo fabric tells a story of where it comes from in that it’s end colour can be influenced from anything from the weather conditions of the time at dyeing to the pH levels in the dye vat to the minerals in the water or the consistency of the dabu paste. However it is in these uncontrollable elements that the beauty of indigo dyed fabrics lies.

Hope this helped in appreciating understand the process and what block printing is.

Renate Karger

 

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We’re back from our trip inspired by the history and culture of this ancient land and also managed to find many great products you will love. 

New Delhi

The smell of New Delhi was evident as soon as we opened our hotel room door on the very first morning. It was a stench of industry seeping in through the lobby which lingered as if the norm. Once out of the hotel, we traveled by private car where we felt like we were in a protected bubble from the everyday life on the street. It was fascinating, disturbing and beautiful at the same. It was hard to ignore the suffering, desperate and hungry when your heart wanted to give. Once we settled into accepting this way of life, it became easier but at times still painful to witness. 

With populations in the millions in an average city, there are many laborers desperate for work. This was one of the ways we could give back. 

The New Delhi Craft Show was massive and was greatly influenced by Europe. From the very first exhibitor I laid my eyes on, to the very last, I was pleasantly surprised by the innovation and forward thinking designs. There were buyers from all over the world and the expectation was to import in larger quantities. We connected with small local businesses as they manufactured by hand and most had an interest in fair trade regulations and quality workmanship.

Jaipur

We flew from Delhi to Mumbai and then Jaipur to follow up with the manufacturers we met at the show. In Jaipur we felt we could breath and we traveled more freely out in the open by Tuk Tuk, which was a sheltered three wheel motorcycle. At times I even traveled alone with our Tuk Tuk guide into places you wouldn’t venture as a tourist and felt completely safe. We spent endless hours in fabric showrooms and small domestic factories which we felt had good clean work ethics.

I was completely in my element on the roof top of a Jaipur factory designing our very own “Karger Gallery” private label bedding, using the ancient method of block printing in natural dyes. From the top of the roof, I could hear chanting and prayers in various religious dialects coming from all directions. It was magical, I didn’t not even realize I worked every day.

Evening out with our friends
We would site see by visiting forts and palaces in the mornings when the sun was mild and bearable and work hard afternoon to evening. My favorite night out was when our Jaipur friends took us to their local hangout. It was situated on top of a fort sitting on the highest mountain. The boys bonded and shared stories over multiple King Fisher beers and I indulged in a popular Indian white wine, Sula. We were advised not to eat anything here as the kitchen was not set up for foreigners. This made us appreciate it even more. We were finally out of the protective bubble enjoying the real life without getting sick.
I have and will be posting more pictures on the Karger Facebook page if you are interested in seeing more of India.

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Peter Colbert has been drawing and painting throughout his life. Winning various awards, from an early one as a child in Toronto to many others in the graphic design, illustration and fine art fields, his work is known internationally and sold throughout the world.

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