The Art of Woodblock Making

The traditional form of printing involves numerous types of wooden blocks and the extraordinary talent of the artisans. Printing blocks have been used in India roughly since 3000 BC, although no such blocks or textiles carrying their imprint have survived the ravages of time. Some scholars believe that India is the birthplace of the first printed textiles. Another school of thought contends that, since China was the first country to manufacture printed books, they might have invented block printing.

Printing blocks are also known as buntas, buntis, pur, biba or bibal and are made from well-seasoned wood. Wooden hand blocks, copper blocks, cast metal blocks, and nail blocks are the four most often used forms of blocks. Each block has its own merits and demerits and is employed in accordance with the pattern to be printed. The copper and brass blocks are ideal for carving intricate and dotted designs.

Wooden blocks are further classified as Rek, Gadh and Datta based on their usage.

Rekh or Masa

Rekh is known as the outline bloc and is craved depends upon the shape of the design needed. It is the first block that gets printed and serves as a guide for the placement of subsequent blocks. Since these blocks are the primary blocks, they need to be carved intricately and even.

Gadh or Kappu

The function of a Gadh block is the polar opposite of Rekh blocks. These blocks are employed to create colours in the background of the cloth. The designs are carved in intaglio style on these blocks.

Datta or Tapki

The filler blocks are called Datta blocks and they are curved in bold relied depending on the colours used in the design.

Using a combination of these three blocks, patterns are created based on the design requirement.

Tools for Block Making

At every stage of the design process, a distinct tool is required depending on the design to be carved. All these tools are still operated by hand, and no machines are employed. The variety of tools used in woodblock making are listed below.

  • Cutting Tools
  • Smoothening Tools
  • Drawing Tools
  • Carving Tools

Block-making process

Purchasing wood

Buying the wood is the first stage is block making. Teak is the best wood for carving intricate motifs since it is less prone to flaking and cracking.

Preparing the wood

The wood is now cut into smaller pieces and seasoned, scrapped using a plane to get a smooth finish. The logs are then washed with Riverstone, sand and water to give the woodblocks a glossy finish. The woodblocks (kaplo) are scrubbed with wet balls of khaddi (white chalk made by block-makers) which leave a white covering on the block.

Designing

Before the khaddi dries out, the designs are sketched symmetrically on paper and then pasted on the woodblock. The logs are then left to dry in the sun.

Carving

Carving is the most time-consuming process and takes about three weeks to complete. The traced designs are carved using different chisels. Firstly, the registration point or mokh is fixed by nailing the block on its four corners. The big designs are engraved first. After that, the holes are broken and bigger unwanted portions are removed. Once the excess wooden particles are removed, the block-makers concentrate on achieving a more refined appearance.

Finishing

This is the final step in the woodblock production process. Handles are affixed to the blocks to make them easier to manage. Each weaving family has its own handle that can be used to identify who carved the block. Subsequently, air holes are drilled to allow trapped air to escape. If otherwise, air bubbles will cause smudging and spreading of the colour while stamping. The wood is seasoned and soaked in til oil for 10-15 days. Finally, impressions of the block are stamped on waste cloth or paper to ensure that they are accurate and precise.

Each block print is distinct and holds a special place in our history and heart. As torchbearers of India's rich cultural legacy, it is our obligation to honour, safeguard, and nourish these crafts. Sundari Silks takes great care in ensuring that these beautiful patterns are cherished. You can find our collection of beautiful block printed sarees on our website.

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