Block printing originated in China about 2000 years ago. In India, this art became popular in the 12th century in Rajasthan (a western state of India). The royals wore rich costumes featuring intricate motifs. Textile printing later flowed into the neighbouring state of Gujarat (the state immediately south of Rajasthan and also my home state). Indigo seeds have been discovered at the ancient archaeological sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Even today, indigo and white is the most common and popular color combination in block printed fabric.
Block printed fabric is very visible in Gujarat in the form of home decor products like table cloth, bedsheets, cushion covers, wall hangings as well as clothing like saris. A very typical motif used is paisley. It is known as ‘keri’ in India, which means raw mango. Indeed, paisley looks like raw mango and that’s how the motif originated. Other popular motifs were peacocks, horses, birds and flowers. Now, of course, prints have become wilder and quirkier. There are abstract prints, geometric designs and even pop art.
Block printing was originally done using wooden blocks. You will be amazed to know that in many parts of India, even now this method is used. It is what gives the print a rustic, ancient look.
Wooden block printing is a very time-consuming method and requires a lot of precision and skill. Motifs, patterns and border designs are manually printed on using wooden blocks. The colors cannot overlap, motifs cannot be unevenly placed and there cannot be strike-offs. One has to wait for a section to dry before the next one can be printed (to avoid overlap or rubbing off of colors). But this is what makes the art so unique and valuable.
Nowadays, chemical dyes are very common but originally vegetable and plant dyes were used. They were organic and very natural. Even today, most of Rajasthan and Gujarat printed textiles use organic colors. This is the reason why colors tend to run off when washed. But again, the beauty of these fabrics comes from use of earthy colors like indigo, dark green, rust, red and mustard. These are the colors of the royals of the past and Indian art.
I have been greatly smitten by the motifs and patterns of block printing because I have grown up seeing and wearing them. When I worked in Maharashtra (another western state of India) and was always decked up in pretty block print Indian wear, my female colleagues were all in awe. I used to take tons of stuff for them every time I returned from a vacation at home.
Block print may have shied away from the dynamic and modern fashion world but I feel it is evergreen. We do see it here and there; it stands out from the rest of the swarm.
My clothing line is all about printed cottons – some of them are very typical ethnic block prints and some are contemporary. You can totally wear them with today’s fashion pieces because I think blocks prints are here to stay.
Presenting my favourite printed skirt from my line. Hope you like it.