Skip to content

The Indian Heritage: Handblock Printing Excellence Influencing Global Fashion And Empowering Artisans


Mexican Poet and Diplomat, Octavio Paz, once said, “A glass pitcher, a wicker basket, a tunic of coarse cloth. Their beauty is inseparable from their function. Handicrafts belong to a world existing before the separation of the useful and the beautiful.”

In the context of Indian traditional clothing, that quote sheds light on the fact that, owing to the useful and versatile nature of these garments, we end up ignoring their beauty.

Handblock printing is an ancient art. One that has stood the test of time and emerged as the timeless expression of the rich Indian culture. Hand block printing is meticulously done by hand using a block of wood to create what can only be termed the fabric for the best ethnic wear; it is in the name itself. Till today, local artisans toil to put their exceptional skills and ability to create something so magnificent manually, but now, those arts and skills are being recognised on the global fashion stage.

In this blog, we will understand how handblock printing works and how it is becoming a global phenomenon, empowering local artisans.

Creating the Timeless Art

Appreciating the art of hand block printing is simply asking yourself, how is the human hand capable of creating such a masterpiece?

Imagine buying a cotton Jaipur kurti. You hold it and feel the fabric against your skin, which is exceptionally soft, and then you notice the prints. Each motif is marvelously printed with precision, with no overlapping or blurry lines, and this makes you wonder: how are these prints created?

Hand-block printing is multifold and requires top-notch artisanal skills and precision. Here’s how it is done:

The block:

The journey begins with artisans meticulously carving intricate patterns onto wooden blocks. Each pattern is an element that contributes to the final product.

The Fabric:

Then, the fabric, often natural fibres like cotton or silk, is pre-treated, washed, and then treated again for even absorption of the dye.

The Dye:

The dye used for the prints is oftentimes made of natural products like indigo, turmeric, or vegetables to create vibrant and enchanting hues.

The Process:

Once the main three components are ready, artisans dip the carved wood blocks into the dyes and press them onto the fabrics, block by block, to create the final design.

The Final Stage:

Lastly, the dyed fabric is air-dried in a shade that allows the colours to set in.

In the workshops around India, artisans are found with crinkled eyebrows and a laser-sharp focus, creating the fabric that creates the best ethnic wear for women. Each of these gradually makes its way onto the global fashion market with growing demands.

Block Prints Trends

While block prints are timeless and gaining unprecedented popularity in the global market, it is not just the fabric doing its victory laps. It is the different clothing made with these fabrics making the trends and gets recognised worldwide. Let us take a look at some popular hand-block print trends.

Kurta:

A kurta is versatile, it is comfortable, and what's more, it can be paired with several other clothing to add a creative flair to it. But wait, that’s not all there is to it. The best kurta for women gets crafted using block printing and is widely popular overseas.

Salwar Suits:

One of the most convenient and comfortable articles of clothing that was innovated is the Salwar suit. And to this day its popularity is on the rise worldwide. Add that to the allure of the exquisite hand-block prints of the modern world, and you get a dazzling trend.

Saree:

Without a doubt, we know the saree has been a global phenomenon since the dawn of time. The grace and beauty of the nine yards of sheer excellence are doubled when adorned with the art of hand-block printing. The evidence of that is the global fashion market popularity of a handblock printed saree.

Whether it is casual kurtis for daily wear or elaborate sarees for grand events, the popularity of hand-block prints is on a steady rise from the workshops of skilled artisans to the global fashion markets, paving the way to their empowerment.

Facts about Handblock Printed Fabric Exports

Textiles are India's most successful exports, so it should not be a surprise that India is, in fact, the largest exporter of hand-block printed fabric. This proves that block prints have gained significant popularity since they came into the limelight.

Did you know the earliest surviving examples of block prints were found in various sites in Egypt and along the Red Sea? These fragments of painted and block-printed cotton were part of the maritime trade between Indians and Arabs in the medieval period.

The spice trade in the early 17th century gave way to the European markets to be introduced to Indian painted and printed textiles when the craze for a fashionable commodity, the chintz took over.

During the mid-19th and the mid-20th centuries, four Bohra dynasties, the Maskati, Vasi, Baghwall, and Maalbari families developed affordable printed cotton textiles for the Siam (Thailand) markets. These were made by a concoction of design ideas by the Bohras based in Bangkok sent to agents in Gujrat; who then commissioned engraved wooden blocks by engravers from a village called Pethapur. Muslim Chippas and Astodia in Ahmedabad then printed these fabrics.

The first block print clothing fashion show in India was done by Anneth Arora in 2011 at the New Delhi Fashion Week, featuring the Ajrakh prints.

At Kahva, we embrace the historical and contemporary aspects of the timeless art of handblock printing. And with the help of excellent craftsmen, we bring you a collection worth cherishing. From the best kurta online to the best anarkalis, you will find with us a fine collection of exquisite handblock printed clothing.