Block printing on fabric dates back centuries, and India will be forever linked to the history of this craft. Variations are plentiful—from fabric treatments to preparations of the dyes. However, fundamentals remain largely the same.
Wood blocks are chiseled into the desired patterns by hand. Fabric is treated, washed and dried in a multi-step process. It is then pinned tautly on a cushioned printing surface. Dyes are mixed and poured into tray tables and layers of fabric inserted to create a surface to dip against–which type of fabric depends on the block detail.
The printer lowers the block into the dye tray, allowing just enough colour onto its surface to cover; too much may cause drips or smudges. The block is placed on the fabric with one hand and a quick firm pound from the other hand stamps the colour to the material. Repeated and careful applications create the full design.
A separate block is used for each color—requiring the blocks themselves to overlay exactly. Immense skill is involved in preparing this series of blocks and in accurately laying the dye-dusted blocks to ensure the design is created as it was envisioned.
It is an elegant, time-consuming process, and one requiring skill. The artisans are trained masters and far from plentiful, often passing down these traditions from one generation to the next. With modernization and general societal change, the block printing capabilities of the past are far diminished. shenouk is part of a movement intent on keeping this craft alive, preserving the beauty inherent in these designs and helping to provide a sustainable life for those artisans to which we are grateful.