Featured Object: Fabric Printing Block  overview image

Featured Object: Fabric Printing Block

  • Post Date11/15/2017
  • AuthorCora Low
  • Reading Time3 minute read

Hand block printing remains a popular way to create beautiful textile designs in countries in South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan. It is one of the earliest methods of textile printing, used mostly on silk and cotton fabric. The designs and patterns are usually inspired by floral motifs and geometrical shapes. Most traditional printing block designs are orderly, symmetrical, detailed, and intricate.

The printing block is made by carving the designs onto pieces of wood. First, the designs are drawn on paper pasted onto the blocks of wood. The wood is then carved following this template to a depth of about one-third of an inch, leaving the desired pattern at the surface. It is common practice to pierce tiny holes in the blocks to let air to escape from the cavities formed by the designs carved. Although the types of wood used vary, they must be firm and fine-grained, so that the material can hold up to the printing pressure and render the pattern details better. The printing block might also be fitted with a handle for easier handling during the printing process.

To print the pattern, the printer starts by prepping the fabric and stretching it across a flat surface. The block is then dipped into dye and stamped onto the fabric with swift and practiced precision. Blocks can be used in series and/or combined with others to produce a huge range of designs. This set of printing blocks from Pakistan represents complex technology, highly skilled workers, and the fine art they create.

  • rectangular wooden block, front view
  • rectangular block put vertically on the table
  • nearly square wooden block with floral pattern
  • nearly square wooden block with a handle
  • nearly square wooden block with a feather pattern
  • carved irregular shape wooden block

Ajrak Block-Printed Scarf

The images below show an example of fabric produced by printing blocks like those pictured above.

  • patterned rug with various folds and creases
  • square patterns with flowers and leaves on rug
  • close-up of small flowers and detail on rug
  • wide view of patterned rug

Images courtesy of Beth Watkins.