Block printing is a centuries-old method of printing that has been used in the state of Rajasthan in India since at least the 12th century. A design, either traditional or modern, is drawn onto paper and then transferred to a smooth block of wood. Master carvers work with hand tools to carve out each intricate design. A separate block must be made for each color to be incorporated into the design.
Cotton fabric is soaked in water for 24-48 hours in order to remove the starchiness of the fibers. When using natural dyes, the fabric must be soaked in harda, a mordant that allows the dye to adhere onto the fabric.
The artisans then beat the lengths of cotton to make them softer, and then lay them out to dry by the sun in the drying field.
Once the fabric has been prepared, it is pinned to a long, padded printing table. A master printer dips the wooden printing block in a dye tray, then stamps the block on the fabric with a hard pound of the fist at the center of the block, ensuring even printing.
This is repeated this from left to right, aligning the blocks by eye from years of experience. If there are multiple colors in the design, the artisan allows each color to dry before applying the next, each with a new stamp. It is a time consuming process and requires extreme precision so that there are no breaks in the motif.
Once the printing is complete and the color has set, the fabric is spread out in the communal drying field and left to fix in the sun for up to three days.
The fabric is then boiled in a large copper pot in a bath of alum and dried flowers for softness and colorfastness.
Each and every piece reflects the hand of the artisan, and no two pieces are exactly alike.