How to Hand Block Print a fabric?

The art of hand block printing has been practised for centuries in India.

Beautiful traditional textiles are created by craftsmen using wooden blocks that are generally dyed with mineral and vegetable dyes.

To create a beautiful block printed fabric, it takes:

a. Wood Carving

Kolka artisans at work - wood carving                          

Kolka block carvers

Block carving is the first step in the block printing process. Like several other crafts in India, this is also an ancestral skill, passed down from one generation to the next. Block makers are equipped with tools such as small hammers, chisels and drills to carve elaborate patterns into wooden blocks. After the carving process, these blocks are put into mustard oil and allowed to rest for about a week. This helps prevent cracking of the blocks upon exposure to dry conditions. The carvers also drill miniature holes into the wooden blocks to allow the wood to breathe. 

b. Colour Making


Kolka colour expert

The colour making process is a precise art of preparing the colour paste for printing. It requires the right consistency and viscosity to achieve the desired shade of colour. Once the blocks are carved and ready to be used, the colour paste is applied to the wooden block surface with the help of a ‘sieve’. The wooden block is gently patted onto the paste before being pressed onto a fabric.

c. Hand Block Printing Process


Kolka block printer at work

To start the block printing process, the fabric is first washed to remove starch. The craftsman then lays the fabric on a printing table, stretching it across the entire length and fix it with tiny pins.
Printing always begins from left to right. A separate block is carved for each colour on the motif. The craftsman dips the block into a dark outline colour and applies it to the fabric. A strong slamming action using the fist on the handle’s back helps achieve a beautiful impression. This is done repeatedly along the length and breadth of the fabric.

d. Wash and Cure


Printed and washed fabric

The printed cotton fabric is then put out in the sun to dry and cure. When the fabric is dry, it is steamed over a fire of rice chaff to fix the colour. Workers next haul the cloth to a stream and rinse the fabric to remove excess dye. Colours emerge from different streams in different tones – nature’s little magic!

Hand Block printing is a slow process, however its delivers highly artistic results, some of which aren't achievable using any other way.


The Kolka team of artisans



Leave a Comment