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.

Hand Block Printed Textiles That Traveled the World

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.

Masters of Multicultural Design: The Global Impact

Indian artisans mastered techniques and styles from different regions, blending local traditions with outside influences. The result was one of the most magnificent pattern vocabularies ever created. Over time, the craft spread not just within the Indian subcontinent, but also to Southeast Asia, thanks to traders and maritime routes.

Hand Blocked Fabric Reached Wester Europe: A Fashion Revolution

When hand-blocked fabric reached Western Europe, it caused nothing short of a fashion revolution. Textiles from the Indian subcontinent were not only desired for their exotic patterns loved by Mughal emperors but also for the mastery behind them, which drew the attention of textile connoisseurs and even European royalty. The fabrics were so valued that they often served as a form of currency, exchanged for other goods and spices across different regions.

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.

Block Print Fabrics: The Ancient Art Passed Down Through the Ages

The traditional craft of 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.

Various types of wood can serve as the source material for the block. However, many of our artisan partners choose to use Sheesham wood, also known as Indian rosewood, which is readily available. A skilled Indian artisan first sketches the design on paper, then transfers it to a perfectly smooth block of wood.

A skilled block carver engraving a detailed design into a wood block preparing for the block printing.

Perfecting Each Separate Block

A separate block is required for each distinct color in the design. To capture this culturally distinct art form, a high level of care and craftsmanship is invested in perfecting the wood printing blocks. By doing so, the artisan lets the creative process unfold naturally, trusting that focused attention on the steady and repetitive stamping pattern will mitigate minor errors. This approach allows the patterns to achieve and maintain their highest visual expression.

Featuring separate wood blocks. Perfectly carved blocks accommodate multiple colors and patterns in the block printing designs.
Three different blocks for the Roza design for the deep red outline, the green leaves and the effervescent pink for the flowers; and one block for the one-color Gulshan design.

Preparing the Fabric

Before the intricate process of block printing begins, the fabric must first be prepared to receive the dye. Cotton fabric is purchased at the market and soaked in water for 24-48 hours. This step is crucial for removing some of the starchiness from the fibers. Artisans beat the wet lengths of cotton on river stones worn down by years of use, a technique that softens the fabric. Once softened, the fabric is laid out to dry, naturally bleached by the bright Indian sun, ensuring it is ready to absorb the intricate patterns and colors that will be applied.

Achieving the Most Magnificent Pattern Vocabularies

The carved block is dipped in a tray of dye…

A carved wood block is dipped in a tray of natural plant dyes or man-made dyes in preparation for placing the block prints on fabric.
Dipping the block for Poppy-Gina borders in magenta dye.

….and pressed firmly and steadily onto the cloth, with each succeeding impression made in precisely the same manner. This process is repeated over and over again, with only the steadiest hands, until the pattern has completely covered the length of the fabric.

wood block designs are completely covered in dye and stamped in pattern across hand blocked fabric displayed upon a long table
Precise placement of blocks onto the cloth for printing the Poppy motif (left) and the Gina pattern (right).

Heritage Craft: The Art of Dyeing

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. Indians possessed unparalleled expertise in the secrets of natural plant dyes or man-made dyes, particularly with mordants, or metallic salts that create color and allow the dye to adhere to the fabric. Dyeing enabled Indian printers to create uniquely complex designs.

both natural plant dyes and commercial dyes in vibrant colors meant to show how color is incorporated in the block printing process.
Dyes for the Poppy-Gina Magenta collection.

In patterns that contain several colors, the cloth is first printed in one color with the complete outlines of the design, and dried.

the process of printing a new stamp within the chalk reference line on fabric to create perfectly straight borders on block print fabrics
Printing outlines for the borders and the Gina pattern.

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. A separate block must be made for each color incorporated into the design.

showcasing the indian artisans during the extremely time consuming process of spacing block prints in geometric patterns across fabric. A separate block is often used to create uniquely complex patterns.
Artisan printing the Roza design one color at a time, starting with the outline block in red, followed by the leaves in green and finally the flowers in effervescent pink.

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.

Newly block printed fabrics are washed in mineral-rich waters of regions where block printing has been done for centuries. This stabilizes the dyes on the fabric and results in vibrant intense coloring.
Washing the Poppy Tablecloth.

Naturally Dried by the Sun

After washing, the fabrics are dried naturally under the bright Indian sunshine, creating subtle variations in the prints’ hues as the light changes.

After washing, the fabrics are dried naturally under the bright Indian sunshine, creating subtle variations in the prints' hues as the light changes.
Drying Poppy (left) and Gina (right) tablecloths.

Reaching Towards Perfection: The Printing Process

The printers take great care to ensure patterns remain consistent across the cloth.

indian block print textiles are placed upon a long table to enable the indian printer to create uniquely complex designs
Artisan printing Poppy bedsheet.

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.

Featuring Marigold Living Indian Block Print table linens including Poppy Magenta, Florence and Gina Lilac, Aria-Riya Green and Juhi Flower Yellow designs.
Marigold Living Table Linens featuring Poppy Magenta, Florence and Gina Lilac, Aria-Riya Green and Juhi Flower Yellow designs.

Printing Heritage in the Marigold Living Collections

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.

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