Block printing heads back to a very rich history within South Asia. It is known that this art form originated about 4500 years ago in China. And in India it originated in the time of Harappans. The printing process involves a concept of using natural dyes on cotton fabrics using wooden motifs to make patterns and designs. It is one of the most beautiful processes of art involved in sustainable and slow fashion. The fabrics produced in this process are naturally sourced and purely hand printed. The print designs are first inscribed on wooden blocks from trees like teak, sycamore and pear. These blocks are then soaked in oil for 10-15 days to soften the timber before it can be used for printing. These are eco-friendly, durable and anti-allergic as the dye used is natural and the cloth used in this printing are usually hand woven cotton fabrics.
Block printing was brought into major fame during the reign of Mughals. They introduced beautiful motifs and designs that were back then widely used. In the current era it is prominently seen in the gullies of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is also widely spread among few other cities as well such as Punjab, Andhra Pradesh etc. These fabrics are usually printed in blues, indigoes and shades of red which are basically naturally developed dyes from plants or natural minerals which have almost zero impact on our ecoworld. Hence falls under the category of sustainably sourced fabrics.
The block printing styles of Rajasthan and Gujarat are usually differentiated with respect to the colors they use. Gujaratis prefer bright and enchanting colors printed on light background fabrics whereas in Rajasthan you would majorly see prints on red and black as backgrounds especially in the areas of Bagru.
In Rajasthan this art style evolved with an unparalleled expertise which was named as dabu that allowed a kind of mud resist-printing where certain areas of the fabric are reserved from dye during printing providing a unique pattern of design on the fabrics. This enabled the artisans to project amazingly unique and creative complex designs which was gradually exported to the capitals of Western Europe. With a mixed culture and influence from various external communities and tribes India has emerged with one of the most indigineous pattern vocabularies for block printing.
In Gujarat the Paithapur families passed on the art of block printing from one generation to another creating the sodagari print, where ‘soda’ means ‘trade’ in Persian. Kutch district is one of the major places where block printing has thrived from generations to generations. A print style named ‘Ajrak’ originated from here. They are basically bright prints on dark backgrounds. It can be easily identified by their elaborate geometrical patterns.
This printing process which is ages old is one of the adorned art forms endeared in India on a large scale which is widely being appreciated in recent times where one section of the fashion industry is looking into sustainable options. Many eco-friendly brands outsource their fabrics from small regions of these states where these fabrics are hand made which helps these artisans in maintaining their age old tradition and does not exploit the natural world where every manufacturing industry is going through surplus wastage and chemical discharges. This is a beautiful alternate fabric option for sustainable and better fashion choices.