the magical art of block printing

The art of printing has always fascinated me, whether it be in the form of lino printing, screen printing, digital printing or block printing. The creating of an artwork and the application of it onto fabric or paper in my eyes is magical.

Block printing is a special medium because unlike some of the other printing processes there is very little that can be automated so it is still carried out in much the same way as it always has been, by hand, with techniques passed down over generations. And its of course block printing that we use on all of our Yogipod products.

Within the area of Jaipur there are two main ways of block printing, named after the towns where the techniques are used, Bagru and Sanganer.
These traditional methods of printing are still only produced in the areas that they gained their name from and often by families that have carried out this work for generations.

The difference is the type of printing pigment that is used and the colours that can be achieved with both techniques. Bagru printing uses natural inks and has a limited colour palette available, centred around natural tones of blues, rusts and greens and always printed onto a darker colour or indigo base cloth. The Sanganer method is used for our Yogipod prints. This method uses chemical dyes which are certified safe to create the vibrant prints onto light coloured bases and can produce pretty much any colour. Although these dyes aren’t natural they still need the natural world to develop as post printing the sun is used to oxidise and set the dye. It is unusual for the colour that is physically printed to actually be its final colour as like magic the colour changes under the sun while the dye sets.

For instance this pink version of our fretwork print is actually the blue print before the final setting of the colour. Magic!

Due to this natural element to the printing method guarantees cannot be made for the colour because it all depends on how long the print needs to be oxidised for.

So how do prints get out of the heads of their designers and onto fabric?

Well all of our block prints start one way, with a piece of either mango tree wood or rosewood depending on the complexity of the design. This is intricately carved by hand to create the patterns required for printing. Each colour of the print will have it’s own block which will then be carefully overlaid on top of each other to create the design.

The time it takes to hand carve the design depends on the complexity but most take up to a week for each design with more complex ones taking even longer. Post carving the blocks are then seasoned in mustard oil to protect the wood from the printing ink.

As most of the Yogipod prints are single colour the printing process is quite simple as there is only one block to print from. This is inked up at the side of the printing table and hand block printed across the whole of the fabric. This is how all those beautiful variants happen on our fabric because it is an artisan interlocking the design and creating the pressure onto the block. The blocks are stamped quite heavily onto the fabric to ensure a detailed pattern and then inked again for the next repeat.

Watching the print artisans at work is fascinating and its so quick! While printing a four colour print four artisans can print up to 70 metres of fabric in a day!

At Yogipod we work with a cooperative of artisans to produce our printed fabric. This cooperative is made up of small families who are looking to keep the tradition of block printing alive using all the traditional methods above. By working in the cooperative families have been able to send their children to English medium schools, buy cars and help other family members run businesses. By keeping this tradition alive it not only means we can all enjoy the magic of block printing but it really is supporting a community too.

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