Through our partnership with Sufiyan Khatri, we connected with Mukesh Prajapati, master block carver, who runs a block carving workshop with his sons and nephew, in the village of Pethapur, Gujarat.
Our teak printing blocks were carved in Mukesh's workshop, and used to print our block print fabrics and shawls.
The village of Pethapur is one of the remaining traditional block cutting centres in India. The village is near Gandhinagar in Gujarat and about 340 kms from our block printing partners in Ajrakhpur.
Home to approximately 20 remaining artisans, the block carvers of Pethapur carve blocks in various regional styles, in both traditional and contemporary motifs, for block printers across India who still value the beauty, skill and historical significance of hand carved blocks.
The skill, dedication to the craft and the unique effect that handcrafted processes have on cloth is in stark contrast to the cold precision of machine carved blocks, and the mass produced screen and digitally printed fabrics that flood the market.
Block carvers cut their blocks from locally sourced teak wood.
Readily available, teak is a non-fibrous and durable wood, which makes it ideal for carving the minute details required for block print designs.
The process of carving a printing block:
1. The hand drawn design is transferred to tracing paper as a mirror image of the original design.
2. The outline is engraved onto the planed block of teak wood, using a tool that punctures the wood through the tracing paper.
3. The design is then carved into the block, using chisels and manual drills.
4. The block goes through a seasoning process, strengthening the block.
5. The new block is painted white.
6. A test print is done before sending the block to the printers.
It can take 1 – 7 days to carve a printing block.
Printing blocks are then dipped, in our case in natural dyes, and then pressed onto various types of fabric to create designs that are entirely hand made.
A design may only require an outline block for a simple single colour motif, or may require a set of blocks that are used to create a design with different background, outline and fill colours.
Our design required two blocks to be made - one for the outline and one for the fill. Sufiyan then used our blocks in two distinct ways:
a) using only the outline block for a resist print. A printing resist is a substance used to resist the dye colour - in this case, a mixture of gum arabica and lime - leaving the printed area blank. The outline was printed onto the fabric using the resist paste, the fabric was then dyed to produce the background colour, and then the resist was removed by washing to reveal the motif. This technique was used in our indigo shawl and our mustard smock dress. The technique allows the colour to bleed into the resist areas, creating a slight blurring of the design.
b) The second method used both the outline block and the background fill block. The outline was done with a dark colour, while the background fill was done with a natural dye called himalayan rhubarb. The flowers and leaves remained the pale yellow colour of myrobalan, a dye used as a fixative. The fixative helps the other dyes adhere to the fabric.