As far as our fabrics are concerned, we are in an age of constant innovation and up-gradation. Even so, our love for age-old crafts and processes like block printing can never fade. Block printing is an art that is at least a few centuries old. Especially in India, the art has evolved to incorporate the motifs and designs of different regions. It is a process of printing designs on a base fabric using wooden stamps dipped in dye. The charm lies in the fact that all the steps of block printing are done by artisans using their hands. Right from carving the wooden stamp, which itself requires a lot of expertise and skill, to printing the fabric and drying it, each step is carried out by dedicated artisans. The intricately carved stamps are a wonder by themselves and there are separate sects of artisans who specialise in this and create highly nuanced wooden stamps using chisels, drills and hammers. Once this is done, mustard oil is applied to the stamps and they are left to soak up the oil to prevent cracks. Meanwhile, the base fabric is washed and dyed. Mul Mul fabrics are most preferred as they absorb the colours of the print gorgeously. Following this, the fabric is laid out on a flat surface and held in place with small pins. The wooden stamp is dipped in the chosen dye and then slammed onto the fabric in one forceful motion. The entire saree or as much as required is printed this way by consecutively pressing the stamp on the fabric with force. To make sure that the print doesn’t get distorted, sawdust is sprinkled on the saree once the printing is done. After the process is over, the saree is washed and dried. The patience, skill and creativity of artisans come forth brilliantly with a hand block printed saree. There are bound to be small irregularities in the print as a result of human error and that lends a whole new level of allure to this art-form.
The mul cotton is what we call ‘made in heaven’ at Suta. Known in West Bengal as mul mul, the fabric is what can be categorised as muslin cotton. It is believed that this fine method of weaving cotton can be traced back to even before the Indus valley civilization.
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