Block Print Sarees: A Timeless Tradition for Modern Women

block printed sarees

Block print sarees became popular in India almost since the mid-seventies or so. Though they were well known earlier also but they became very famous when Indira Gandhi became the prime minister and she started wearing them for day-to-day use or even for election campaign or so. Though known as block print, they are hand printed and not machine block printed and are cotton sarees. These sarees are popular even today with senior politicians and not only that senior beaurocrats’ wives like to shop for them in the emporiums because of their fad for block print sarees which are not available in good quality outside the emporiums. These are generally cotton though they are available in silk also, this saree is not popular.

Hand block print is a craft handed down from generation to generation and is in forefront of fashion. This craft has seen a major revival over the last three to three-and- a-half decade and has moved away from its centre to metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata due to fashion.

India has been famous for its printed and dyed cotton cloth since the 12th century and it flourished as the fabric received royal patronage. The craft seems to be prevalent all over India. Surat in Gujarat became a prominent place of printed textile.

As far as the 12th century several centres in south-western part of India became renowned for their excellent printed cotton. In the medieval age printing and dyeing specially developed in Rajasthan and Gujarat, they used wooden block for printing. Tents were created from printed fabric and they became a necessary part of the royal procession.

Block print sarees depict things like sunflower, camel, elephant and many other designs which have come up in recent times. The main colours used in block printed sarees are red the colour of love, yellow the colour of spring, blue the colour of Krishna and saffron of the yogi. Other colours have also been used in recent times, dhani green from dhan, the parrot green from parrot. The orange is derived from the stem of Shefali flowers, black by burning the paddy husk or the black of the night lamp. The colours used are natural colours derived from natural things.

Trade in cotton cloth is said to have existed between India and Babylon from the time of Buddha. Printed and woven clothes travelled to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Far East. In the 17th century, Surat was a prominent place for export of printed and cotton clothes covering an extensive range in quality. Cheaper printed clothes came from Ahmedabad and other centres. Strangely Sanganer was not such a famous centre for printing as it is today. Sanganer print is very famous as block print and is in huge demand. A single colour design can be executed faster, a double colour design takes more time. A multiple coloured work meant more labour and more consumption of colour.

Different dyes are used for silk and cotton colour. Rapid fast dyes, indigo sol and pigment dyes are cotton dyes.

spread and fixed to the table covering the entire table The padding is different with different block printers, it is varied for the convenience of individual person. Over this a heavy mattress is spread before printing to make the surface smooth so that it absorbs colour, which might spill during the process of printing. The mattress is changed and washed frequently so that the spilt-over dye does not pass onto the new fabric.

Wooden trolleys with racks have costar wheels fastened to their legs to facilitate free movement. The printer drags it as he works. On the uppermost shelf tray of dyes is placed. On the lower shelf printing blocks are kept ready. The fabric to be printed is washed free of starch and soft bleach if the natural grain of the fabric is not wanted. If dying is recognized as in the case of sarees where borders and the body is tied and dyed, it is done before printing. The fabric is stretched over the printing table and pinned, in case of sarees the pallav is printed first then the border.

As block designs get bigger and bigger the delicacy gets lost. Today Andhra Pradesh is a large centre for hand block printing. Hyderabad is the home of very popular Lepakshi print. It is quite amazing how the same motif can be interpreted in different forms. Thirty-two kilometres east of Jaipur city is a small village called Bagru where there is a hub of activity even today in the field of hand block printing on textile using traditional pattern block and rich natural colours. There has been some confusion between Sanganer print and Bagru print which are similar though actually have distinct characters. Sanganer prints were printed on white or off-white background whereas Bagru are in printed fabric commonly green, red and white-all used essentially in two colours. Sometimes the fabric is dyed in different colour variations.

The main tools are woven blocks in different shapes and sizes called banta. Blocks are made of seasoned teakwood by trained craftsmen. The undersize of the block has design etched on it. Each block has a wooden handle and two or three cylindrical holes are drilled into the block for free passage of air.

Excellent cotton block print sarees are made in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The block print sarees made in Madhya Pradesh are superb in the sense that not only the print is beautiful but the fabric used is also excellent. The Rajasthan block print sarees are good in the sense that though the print is excellent the fabric is of ordinary quality. Andhra Pradesh makes extremely good block print sarees. But the most famous is Kalamkari print made by kalam or pen from which it derives its name. The Kalamkari print spreads like a zaal all over the saree. Earlier there were few colours because natural dyes were used. Now almost all colours are available in block print sarees. These sarees are a rage in the high societies of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai as summer wear. When one speaks of block print one means only cotton sarees since they are not popular in silk. They are used for party meetings, rally, day-to-day wear, for social calling and shopping. They can’t be used for parties, wedding or engagement ceremony, and are highly affordable. This is a summer wear for highly educated Indian working women or such of those who prefer cotton to shiffon or polyester sarees for day-to-day wearing or going to work or for social wear. Available in attractive colours they are not suitable as part of a wedding trousseau. Let me add a modern Indian educated woman flaunts her block print collection of sarees making it up-to-date.

Block print sarees became popular in India almost since the mid seventies or so. Though they were well known earlier also but they became very famous when Indira Gandhi became the prime minister and she started wearing them for day-to-day use or even for election campaign or so. Though known as block print, they are hand printed and not machine block printed and are cotton sarees. These sarees are popular even today with senior politicians and not only that senior beaurocrats’ wives like to shop for them in the emporiums because of their fad for block print sarees which are not available in good quality outside the emporiums. These are generally cotton though they are available in silk also, this saree is not popular.

Hand block print is a craft handed down from generation to generation and is in forefront of fashion. This craft has seen a major revival over the last three to three-and- a-half decade and has moved away from its centre to metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata due to fashion.

India has been famous for its printed and dyed cotton cloth since the 12th century and it flourished as the fabric received royal patronage. The craft seems to be prevalent all over India. Surat in Gujarat became a prominent place of printed textile.

As far as the 12th century several centres in south-western part of India became renowned for their excellent printed cotton.