Block Printing Workshops

On our second day in Delhi, after the trip Chandni Chowk, we went to Isha’s house for our first block printing demonstration and workshop. Three of the lads who work with Isha on her block printed fabrics available from Aahilya, two block carvers Sachin and Saurabh and printer Ashok, made the trip specifically for this demonstration. I was surprised how young they were and how talented. The carving process is both beautifully simple and requires a skilled and steady hand. In many cases, these skills are passed down from generation to generation. We were incredibly privileged to see the carving process from start to finish, and to have personal tuition in using the carved blocks for the first time. We each printed a tea towel in deep red and navy, and it was a wonderful afternoon and a real pleasure to meet Isha’s family and to spend time in her home.

‘During the regime of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 18th century the craft started building its roots in Sanganer. The place was suitable for the craft as it had a river flowing through it which helped the artisans with constant water source for washing and dyeing the products. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh invited printers from Andhra and Gujarat to settle in this newly developed block printing village.’ D’source

On the fifth day of out trip, our first full day in Jaipur, we visited Sanganer which I wrote about in my previous post. During the walk around the town we went upstairs, in what looked like a normal residential building, to find a small studio, our first visit to a working block print workshop. There were five artisans at work, printing two different patterns, one being a beautiful four colour/block pattern in black, grey, pink and ochre.

After that, we attended our second block printing workshop at the studio Sakshi International. This studio was a much large space with around 10 very long printing tables, plus space for mixing inks and and other processes. Next door is another printing space where women are working as block printers, something that is still fairly rare. On the tables were various large pieces of cloth being block printed. Prints from Sanganer are known for their bright colours on white cloth. The water of the river Saraswati is thought to have a quality that ‘brings out the radiance from the natural dyed fabric’.

After an introduction by the studio manager. we each had a go at a double coloured test piece (a two block camel print shown above) before moving on to our larger white scarf. Whilst not using natural colour, we were working with colours that were certified ecologically sound so that there is no pollution from using these dyes. Choosing our own blocks to use, and encouraged and helped by the wonderful printers on hand, we each created our own personal pattern. There is a skill in working on the long wide tables. Rather than swapping sides, which would waste time and cause issues in the limited space, we stood on spars under the table to reach across and print on the far side of the fabric, definitely a skill that needs practice. It turns out one of the blocks (the green one) I had chosen was a pattern designed by the workshop in conjunction Ralph Lauren to produce block printed fabrics for their homeware range. We were also presented with small wood blocks with our names on them, which was a lovely touch. You can see some of our work below, and hearteningly, we were all better at it than we had been in Delhi – it’s always nice to improve!

Text and images © Jonathan Dredge

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