Under the bright desert sun of northwest India, small things sometimes cast long shadows. Take the town of Bagru, for example: Just a short drive from Jaipur on the highway to Ajmer, this Rajasthani village has developed a decidedly large influence on the art of Indian block printing.
For at least 400 years, Bagru has been home to the Chhipa — a clan whose name comes either from a Gujarati word meaning “to print” or from combining two Nepal Bhasa words: ‘chhi’ (“to dye”) and ‘pa’ (“to leave something to bask in sun”). The latter theory feels especially true as you walk through the vast communal drying fields that connect the Chhipa Mohalla —the village printers’ quarters. The air here is redolent with the fragrance of drying fabric; The ground and the concrete walls are covered in resplendent oranges, blues, and pinks.
Everywhere you turn in Bagru, it seems, is a scene which will stop you in your tracks.
Carving the Block
A pattern is first hand-drawn or computer/tablet drawn, then printed on a paper after which it is transferred to the tracing paper. A piece of Sheesham/North Indian Rosewood is painted with white chalk, so when the pattern is traced on the wood piece, it can be seen clearly, which makes the job of a wood carver easier.
Color Mixing and Preparing the Dyes
Once the wooden stamps are ready to print, an expert hand block printer (generally called "The Master") mixes the basic colors to obtain the desired complex color for final printing.
Preparing the Printing Tray
The printing tray is a multi-story tray made of wood. It is similar to the wheeled-tray that a hotel room service strolls around to serve breakfast. Block Printing table also has wheels on it for easy movement and carrying it from one side of the long table to the other.
The first tray is to keep the color paste which is spread on a fabric made with marino wool. Marino wool basket weave fabric is the best suited for spreading the color paste on it. The second tray is for keeping the wooden blocks as block printers use multiple blocks in cycles when making a pattern on a fabric.
The third and the lowest tray is used for keeping the rags and brushes to clean the spills etc from time to time.
Depending on the number of colors, more than one block is required for printing. These blocks have names. The outline blocks are called Rekh and the filler blocks are called Dutta.
Washing and Processing the Fabric
Once the fabric is printed, it is dried in shade. It's not sent for washing until it is completely dry. Once dried, it is sent to the washers, who exclusively engage in post processing of printed fabrics.