The Slow Craft of Block Printing

Posted by Mandy Abel on

"There is a kind of beauty in imperfection" ~ Conrad Hall

Origins and Processes

Block printing is a traditional art form native to Rajasthan, India.⁣ Artisans hand carve a wood block with patterns inspired by local flora and fauna, dip it into dye, and then carefully stamp the fabric, creating beautiful patterns. 

Traditionally, block prints were done by eye. Tell tale signs of the human hand - even imperfections - are part of the beauty of the craft. These days screen prints even have these kinds of mistakes designed into them - an imitation of humanity's imperfection.

It is an art thought to date back to the 12th century in India - a slow, laborious process with many stages. With each pattern, new blocks need to be designed and carved. First the design is drawn onto paper, then transferred on to a block of wood. Carving these intricate details onto the blocks takes mastery - a skill handed down through generations. Fabric block printing has even more stages - creating natural plant based dyes that India is renowned for and also treating the fabrics to hold the dyes. 

An artist carves a printing block for Aspirational International

Unfortunately, cheap mass production in England and abroad almost brought this ancient craft to an end in the 1970s. But there has been a revival in recent years - with a new appreciation and value placed on it, and many artists going back to their roots of hand made from start to finish.

Our printing blocks are crafted by two amazing organisations TARA Projects and Aspirational International - both have a strong focus on paying good wages, protection of the environment and creating safe working spaces for their employees. Going beyond fair wages, they provide affordable health care, medical insurance and education which benefits the artisans and their communities. They also provide access to international fair trade markets for their unique and beautifully crafted products.

Block printing onto fabric with natural, plant based dyes

Creative Inspiration

We absolutely love our range of traditional wooden printing blocks! With so many designs to choose from the possibilities are endless! They are perfect for decorating paper, textiles and clay - read on for some craft inspiration...

  • Use them with poster, tempera or acrylic paints
  • Stamp pads are an easy, low mess option. Children can use the blocks to practice counting or make one of a kind cards. They can also be combined with other mediums such as water colours to make beautiful works of art.
  • Grab some brown parcel paper or fabric offcuts and create your own decorative gift wrap
  • They can be coated with PVA glue and stamped onto card to then sprinkle over with ecoglitter or sand - so much fun!  
  • Make intricate prints in play-dough.
  • Air clay or salt dough can be used to create decorations, Christmas ornaments, gift tags, garlands and more
Clay creations ready to be baked - Image thanks to Kym O'Connor

      Tips and Tricks

      We've compiled a few tried and tested tricks below to make the crafting process and clean up a little bit easier. If you have any additional tips to share, let us know in the comments below!

      • When crafting with paint - apply a thin, even layer using a sponge or foam roller so you don’t flood the stamp. 
      • Press down firmly so all surfaces of the stamp connect with the paper, and lift up straight to avoid smearing the print
      • A light coating of olive oil prior to stamping makes for an easier clean up, particularly with sticky mediums like clay.
      • Reapply paint/ink between each printing to ensure an even print
      • If crafting with air clay or salt dough we recommend shaping the clay first and letting it set slightly before stamping. If the clay is too wet it will be difficult to remove from the printing blocks.
      Paint or dye stamped onto paper or fabric makes beautiful eco-friendly gift wrap

        Post Printing Care

        After you finish the printing process, it is very important to clean and dry them correctly. Remove as much of the excess paint/dye as you can by stamping ghost impressions onto excess paper.

        Depending on the medium used, they may simply need a wipe with a soft damp cloth and be left to dry. A few drops of vegetable oil on a paper towel can also be effective.

        With paint or other sticky mediums you may want to do the following:

        1. Take a bucket filled with water and dip all dirty blocks in it. Leave them in the bucket for a couple of minutes and if required, scrub the blocks gently with a soft brush that doesn’t harm the pattern (eg. a used soft toothbrush). 

        2. After you scrub the block, immediately dip it in another vessel filled with clean water. Repeat the same process for all dirty blocks.

        3. Wipe them with a dry cotton cloth.

        4. Put the blocks in the shade for drying - ensure they are fully dried before storing.

        The finished product! Image thanks to Kym O'Connor

        If you love these beautiful handcrafted printing blocks as much as we do, feel free to tag us on our social channels - we'd LOVE to see your creations!! #fairplaynz 

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