Our big world of block printing. This Indian art has gained a huge amount of following, admiration and interest in the last century from in particular the apparel industry, and resulted in huge recognition and monetary advancements for the amazingly skilled artisans that practice this ancient tradition.
In India, hand and wood block printing artisans come from only a select few states where the artform has flourished, primarily Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Bagru is a small village of 30,000 people in Rajasthan, where the artform of block printing is still an inherited skill and artform inherited and passed down by generation. This town of 30,000 people is based around in-home workshops, with Chippas, a caste of printers who continue day after day to stamp lengths of fabric with color using hand-carved wood blocks. They are taught this trade by their parents, who were, in turn, taught by theirs - each generation working almost exactly as the one before, going back at least 300 years.
Perhaps the largest part of the art of block printing lies not in the art of stamping the print, but the actual dye itself and the colors and composition of it. Indians possess unparalleled expertise in the secrets of natural plant dyes, particularly with mordants (metallic salts that both create color and allow it to adhere to fabric). There is even a kind of mud resist-printing, called ‘dabu’, which allows areas of a design to be reserved from dye, also flourished here.
A series of combinations of mordant and resist stamping and dyeing enabled Indian printers to create uniquely complex designs, coveted from Southeast Asia and palaces of Mughal emperors to the far-flung capitals of Western Europe. Even after such popularity, for the past 200 years the industry has been on the precipice of extinction, doomed in part by the popularity that helped create it. Add technological advances, corruption from apparel agents that serve the foreign market, bungled policies and the greater income opportunities
in India’s cities, and the picture looks bleak.