Block printing is an ancient technique used to apply patterns to textiles or paper. As early as the 8th century, religious texts were being block printed in Japan and Korea. Block printing on paper is the oldest technique of printing in Europe. It was used in the 1440s by Johannes Gutenberg as he developed his method for printing books. Block printing has been popular with us at Gudrun Sjödén since the 90s. By continuing to use an age-old technique, we pay tribute to this traditional craft that might otherwise easily be forgotten.
The technique requires wooden blocks on which patterns are cut and carved. These should preferably be dense wood, like pear or cherry, that does not splinter. The number of blocks depends on how many dyes you’ll be printing with. There is usually a small alignment mark on the block to ensure the dyes are perfectly matched. Skilful artisans dip the wooden blocks into a dye paste and then quickly press them on metre after metre of fabric. Transforming it into a palette of designs, shapes and colours.
In Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan in north-west India, block printing has become an art form with roots deep in tradition and cultural history. This is where our block-printed products are made. In small workshops owned by families who also work on the land. All printing is halted when it’s time to harvest the crops – farming comes first. It also has to be suspended during the monsoon period because the products are placed outdoors to dry. The heavy rainfalls put a stop to that. In other words, fast, large-scale production is not possible. We get something far more valuable instead – unique, personal products, crafted by skilled hands.
Try block printing
- Some fabric
- Textile dye
- Paper plates
- Small roller
- Wooden blocks
This is how:
- Place the cloth on a flat surface, ideally with an old sheet or similar between to create a soft, slightly springy surface.
- Put some dye onto the paper plate.
- Transfer some of the dye onto the roller and then roll it over the patterned side of the wooden block. Apply a thin and even coat for best results.
- Firmly press the block on the cloth. Make sure the entire face of the block is pressed onto the cloth.
- Continue printing over the cloth like this until the pattern is the size you want.
- Et voilà! You’ve now created your own block print.
Where can you get hold of wooden blocks? We suggest shopping at well-stocked hobby stores, going to auctions and keeping an eye-out when you’re out and about. If you’re good at woodwork, try carving your own designs in blocks of wood – that is as unique as it can get!