Truly appreciating the beauty of Attiser’s patterns and prints requires an understanding of how they are created. Hand block printing - our crafting technique of choice - is in many ways a community effort, involved in the processof creating hand block textiles. Developed close to 450 years ago in Rajasthan state in India, the hand block printing method has been sought for its intricate designs and spectacular colors.
The Hand Block Printing Process
Following in the footsteps of the original creators of the hand block printing method, our crafters go through many steps to produce a single work of art. These steps are generally as follows:
Creating the wooden blocks
Carved wooden blocks are the foundation of hand block printing, and so great care is taken to produce quality wooden blocks by hand for use in our process. Starting with a slice of shesham wood about five to eight inches square (although some are as large as fourteen inches), a kharaudi or block carver will transfer a pattern from paper to the fibres of the wood using traditional hand tools such as chisels, rulers, a compass, wooden mallets, routers, and saws.
Each design - including the outline (rekh), background (gad) and filler (datta)- is carefully carved out of the wood. The outline block requires the most skill as the rest of the pattern will be built inside this frame. Following the outline block, additional blocks for background and filler will be made, one for each colour.
In all, a hand block printed pattern can involve anywhere from three to 30 individual blocks depending on the number of colours and complexity of the pattern. Once the artists have completed the carving, the blocks are places in trays of mustard oil for several days to prevent warping caused by absorption of moisture from the dyes that will be applied later. Just before printing, tiny holes will be drilled into the blocks and cotton will be stuffed into the holes to ensure even saturation of dyes for the printing pattern.
Cloth and dye preparation
Before dyes can be applied to our cotton (our fibre of choice), it must be prepared to receive the colour. This involves treating the cotton with several solutions to whiten it and to open the pores of the fibres so that the dyes will be absorbed uniformly. This process also ensures that the dyes remain colourfast and vibrant. During this process, the fabric will go from a grayish colour to a creamy-yellow hue. The process finishes by drying the cotton in the sun on bamboo frames.
Once dry, the fabric is then measured and cut, often to the size of the finished piece so that each piece—be it a curtain, a duvet, or a quilt—is dyed and printed individually. It is then pinned tightly to padded tables.
Hand block printing and dying
After all of these labourious preparations have been made, it is finally time to begin printing the pattern onto the fabric. The dyes are placed in trays with the corresponding wooden blocks and arranged in the order they will be required during the printing process. Popular motifs include jhad or tendrils and borders, hathi or elephants, and patashi or tiny floral designs, as well as spirals, geometrical shapes, fish, and other figures.
There are generally two types of printing used commonly in Bagru hand block printing: direct dye and resist printing.
In direct dye printing, the wooden blocks are pressed into the dye tray and then onto the fabric, one block at a time until the pattern is complete.
In the resist dying method, also known as Dabu printing, a thick paste made of mud, gum, and sawdust is applied to the fabric. After the mud is applied to the fabric, wooden blocks are used to resist the mud and the whole thing is put into a cauldron of dye. The process is repeated several times, once for each new colour. This is similar to the Batik method of fabric printing and will often result in characteristic veining of the dyes once the mud is removed.
Once the fabric has been printed, it is often dyed as well to complete the process. The fabric will first be dried in the sun and then put through a dye bath. Once dyed, the fabric is washed and set in the sun for its final drying. It is then lovingly packaged and prepared for transport to your home.