Introduction to Block Printing

Introduction to Block Printing
Block printing

What is block printing? 

Block Printing is one of the oldest types of printmaking. It is the process by which an artisan uses a wooden block carved with a design or pattern, to print on fabric or paper. 

Block printing is a centuries-old tradition that originated in China as early as 220AD and was used widely throughout East Asia. Since at least the 12th-century, Indian artisans have also used block printing. While it started in China, many people believe that it was in India that hand-blocked fabric reached its peak as an art form. 

Why block printing?

The art of block printing requires a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the traditional technique as well as attention to detail, patience, and careful coordination. 

The process, step-by-step, allows you to see why I favor block printed fabrics. 

  1. Block Carving—Using small hammers, chisels, and drills the artisans carve elaborate patterns into wooded blocks that then rest for at least a week. 
  2. Dye is Applied—Similar to a stamp, the block is pressed onto a palette of dye in preparation for being applied to the fabric.
  3. Fabric Treatment—The fabric must be washed, dyed, and stretched prior to being printed on. 
  4. Printing—The printing process is highly technical in order to get the desired results. The artisan dips the block into the color and applies it to the fabric, always beginning from left to right. As you might imagine, this is a meticulous process. 

Most things we buy today are mass-produced. A printed textile, like a tablecloth or pillow cover, might be a unique pattern or design, but if it’s from Target (for example) it’s machine-made. Block printed textiles are luxurious in that they are truly one-of-a-kind and hand-made, a rarity in our modern world.