Timeless beauty, and age-old craftsmanship. This is the heritage that Indian block printed textiles exude. From pieces once prized by royalty and taste-makers to those that adorn modern homes around the world, the hand block printing process used to create them has not changed much in centuries. The history and technique behind these fabrics is complex, and remarkable.
It is difficult to say with any certainty when India first began practicing block printing. Records indicate that as early as the 12th century, certain coastal regions of the country were renowned for their excellent printed cotton. In the 17th century, the craft migrated to the state of Rajasthan in western India, which became the preeminent center for block printing.
The exceptional vitality and character of hand block printed textiles is unlike any other, and captured the hearts of both traders and patrons around the world. Indian dyed and printed cottons were famous for the quality of their designs and colors, which were new and unfamiliar to the Western consumers and carried tremendous influence over fashionable taste in Europe. During the 18th and 19th centuries, India was the world’s greatest exporter of handcrafted textiles. Europe paid in gold or silver for the highly sought-after printed textiles, and often used them as direct currency to barter for spices from Indonesia. Along with these spices, the remaining textiles were then taken back to London where they were sold for bullion.
Aristocrats, textile connoisseurs and working people alike were charmed by the extraordinary printed fabrics, and gave their patronage to the craft. In England alone, lengths of Indian patterned silk and cotton, as well as hand made handkerchiefs, table napkins, Indian print bedding and neck-scarves were sold in the thousands. These storied antique hand block printed textiles can be found in museums all over the world today.
Artisan Technique Passed Down Through the Ages
The hand block printing process requires precision, skill and meditative focus.
It begins with the engraving of detailed designs onto a wooden block by a skilled block carver.
A separate block is required for each distinct color in the design.
The carved block is dipped in a tray of dye…
….and pressed firmly and steadily onto the cloth, with each succeeding impression made in precisely the same manner.
To minimize the environmental impact and to ensure the best color properties, both commercial and natural vegetable dyes are used, maintaining the vibrancy of the colors.
In patterns that contain several colors, the cloth is first printed in one color with the complete outlines of the design, and dried.
Then the distinct colors are filled in using infill blocks, one color at a time followed by drying each time. The multi-colored patterns reflect hours of complex and detail-oriented work by highly skilled artisans.
After printing, the fabrics are dried naturally under the bright Indian sunshine, creating subtle variations in the prints’ hues as the light changes.
The fabrics are then washed in the mineral-rich waters of specific regions in India where block printing has been done for centuries. This is done to stabilize the dyes on the cloth, and results in vibrant, intense coloring.
The printers take great care to ensure patterns remain consistent across the cloth.
However, the process of hand printing using hand carved wooden blocks leads to inevitable irregularities. It is these irregularities that give hand block printed textiles their unique and nuanced charm.
Marigold Living is dedicated to preserving and celebrating this craft and the rich Indian design heritage. Welcome timeless style into your home—explore our range of Indian hand block printed bedding, pillow covers, curtains, table linens, and more.