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Preparing the printing block

The main tools of the printer are wooden blocks in different shapes - square, rectangle, oval, round and semi-circular or crescent - and sizes called bunta. Blocks are hand-carved of seasoned teak wood by trained craftsmen. Wood like sycamore, plane or pear wood, could also be used. The thickness is expected to be at least two or three inches to guard against warping. Additional precaution is also taken by backing it with deal or pine strips. The block is made by creating tongues and grooves to fit in each other snugly and gluing under pressure to make it seem like a homogeneous block.

The block is smooth planed and the printing surface is smooth and flat. The design to be incorporated is etched out after applying lamp black and oil on the design and transferring it to the block surface. To achieve fine clear edges of the design the outline of the design on the block is coloured and then the etching is done.

On the bottom face the motif are engraved with steel chisels of different widths and cutting surface by the carver. Each block has a wooden handle and two to three cylindrical holes drilled into the block for free air passage and also to allow release of excess printing paste. The new blocks are soaked in oil for 10-15 days to soften the grains in the timber. These blocks sometimes have metal over the wood.

Metal copper pieces are wedged into the hollowed out design on the block to prevent caving in of pieces or edges becoming blunt due to the block used continuously with reasonably applied pressure over the laid out fabric. Sometimes coppering is done by heating the block with the copper strips inside and then removed when the block gets cold or thin sheets are cut into strips of even length. The design of the block is drawn on the wooden block and the thin metal strips are pressed onto the design and gently hammered in. The resulting block would have extremely fine edges and detailing as a single piece of wood.

The designs are filled in from the center to the outside to allow maneuverings of the hand. After the design is completed the design is checked to see if all the brass strips are of the same height from the wooden base. This is to ensure good high level of printing. Brass blocks are used in case of very fine designs and for a high level of clarity in print. They also last much longer and are more expensive and time consuming to make.

Accompanying Brush technique for blank areas between outlines

Brush Prints are done generally by colouring through dyes filled in blank areas, doing fine lines on the design, inner filling etc. in designs using different type brushes based upon the fineness of the design and its application.

You could have silk brushes for filling in large areas and water colour painting, fabric brushes which push the dye into the fabric for it to soak in. You have brushes with different shapes at the tip like round, tiny round, flat for fine to coarse detailing work. Other known varieties are liner brush for different thickness of lines, foam brushes generally used for tie-dye applications, sumi brush for calligraphy, chinese wash brush for broad strokes on painting.

Brush printing is practised as a complement to block printing in many places more as a filler and touch-up application than the main printing. Block prints and brush prints have been done successfully on various fabrics such as cotton, silk and Sico.

Block making in Sanganer

About 152 block carving units exist in Sanganer. A block maker or a carpenter who specializes in block making is called “Bhatt-ghar“- in Rajasthan. ‘Bhatt’ implies block and ‘ghar’ implies the carver. The block printers of Sanganer get most of their blocks made in Jaipur. Those blocks that need some special technical input are usually sent to Farukhabaad, Sitapur, Meerut or Pilakuan in UP or Pethapur in Gujarat.