It was an exquisite day for a journey to the centuries-old, preeminent region of woodblock makers and printers–blue skies, clear air, rich vegetation surrounding us as our van climbed up the switch-backed road outside Jaipur, India. Lake Sagar below was mirror-like, reflecting the deep-hued colors of the saris worn by the women who were floating boat candles, their prayers to the gods sent along with each. The Amber Fort was in the distance above us, where, if you squinted hard, you could see the train of elephants lumbering up the very steep road, with cargoes of tourists on their backs.
But we were here at the Kheri Gate for another reason, to visit the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing–the premier museum dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of the country’s top hand-blocked textiles, both contemporary and traditional. Its home is a restored Rajastani Haveli; each staircase led to demonstration or exhibition rooms. The block-printing tables were on the top floor, a wondrous room with sun-filled light.
Wooden Block Making
One of the deepest pleasures I know is watching a craftsman at work—the decades of learning to master hands and tools working in harmony. One false chip with the tool in the well-seasoned wood can create an inaccuracy of pattern. An intricate block can take many days to complete. Watch this master work and learn about the block-carving stages in this video.
The number of printing blocks used for a design depends on the number of colors in the artwork and its complexity. Blocks are classified into three types: the background block (gudh), the outline block (rekh), and the filling block (datta). The average design will have one background block which is printed first and acts as a guide for the next block, the rekh, delineating the outline of the design. And finally, a minimum of three to four dattas are used, one at a time, filling in each of the colors. Contemporary prints can use up to twelve blocks.
We were told that this man has been block printing almost his whole life. In this video, you can see the speed at which he works, the assuredness as he stamps each motif. The exact pressure of his hand as it hits the top of the block, imparting the dye into the cloth.
Gold and Silver Dusting
Gold and silver as a decorative finish was a common feature in traditional Indian painted and printed fabrics. The older technique was fairly simple, with the pattern being painted or printed with a gum paste (roghan) to which gold or silver leaf (varak) was applied. Today, this printing is done using a brass stencil, a plunger loaded with a measured amount of paste which is pushed through the stencil onto the fabric. Metallic powder is then dusted over this sticky pattern; the dust adhering to the fabric wherever paste is present.
This and other Anokhi sarongs are made using these traditional handblock printing processes and gold dusting.