The History of Carving Printing Blocks in Bagh

A brief history of printing blocks, an accessory craft to Bagh printing from Madhya Pradesh, India

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Blocks used together (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Wood blocks and Bagh printing

Many handmade cultural objects and textiles in India have other craft forms and skills required to complete their own production. With new technologies and a growing distaste for strenuous or tedious manual work, some crafts persons are stymied by the unavailability of those associated with providing a tool or fitting they require for their own work.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Typical Bagh printing blocks (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The purity of the Bagh tradition is maintained as much by its choice of motifs as it is by its technique and colours.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Typical Bagh printing block (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

While there are several printing centres across India, the printing of Bagh is recognisable from its distinctive floral and geometric designs.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Block maker Shyam Prasad Rathore at work (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Carving the blocks

The block maker is a valuable ally and accessory to a block printer. The work involves good carving skills, a sensibility for design and an understanding of how the block would be used. The quality of wood, the finest of cutting, carving skills and the depth of the pattern are all important in creating a long-lasting printing block.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Block making (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Shyam Prasad Rathore is a block maker, who is associated with the Khatri community of printers in Bagh.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Skilled art (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

It was printer Yusuf Khatri who supported the block maker’s training under expert artisans in Pethapur, Gujarat.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Skilled art (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An opportunity to learn from experts in another state was a turning point in Shyam Prasad’s life. It was also the foundation of a lasting partnership between the printers and the block maker.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Traditional tools (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Shyam Prasad Rathore uses simple tools to cut and carve the fine wooden blocks that are used in printing. His chief tool is a hand drill that involves a bow and a variety of chisels.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Khatri Muhammad Rafiq's printing blocks (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Storing the blocks

With the growth of machine printing, screen printing and now digital printing, the existence and preservation of hand block printed textiles are treasures worth valuing.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Buying the wood (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Teak, being strong and resistant to distortion on exposure to water, is the wood of choice for making blocks. The block maker buys wood in bulk and stores it for use.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Dating of the block (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Each time a printer makes a new block he dates it so that he has a reference in case he needs to repair or replace it at a later time.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Khatri Muhammad Rafiq's printing blocks (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Printing blocks are precious for printers, and the Khatris take good care of their blocks.

Besides the blocks in use they also look after old blocks, as these are a repository of designs.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Quality check (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

References

Today, a hand-carved wooden block is valued as a piece of art worthy of display on its own. The Bagh block maker is a proud member of the entire community engaged in creating a very special textile craft.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Record of the blocks (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The block maker too keeps a printed reference of the blocks that he has made.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Quality check (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

This reference helps him in producing new blocks.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Typical Bagh printing block (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The block maker needs to have a knowledge of both making new blocks and of repairing old or damaged pieces.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Typical Bagh printing block (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

He has to ensure that the block will form a perfect repeat when used on a length of fabric.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Blocks used for a layout (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Printing way

Today, a hand-carved wooden block is valued as a piece of art worthy of display on its own. The Bagh block maker is a proud member of the entire community engaged in creating a very special textile craft.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Printing process (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A karigar demonstrates how the fabric is printed with the help of these blocks.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Hand block printing (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Each block must have inbuilt guides that will enable the printer to achieve accuracy during printing.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Blocks used for a layout (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The block maker’s knowledge needs to extend beyond his own skill set, to include an understanding of the vocabulary of printing.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Blocks used for a layout (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

He must have a sense of what combinations of blocks are used together, and the proportionate size and fineness required for matching the designs.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Blocks used for a layout (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

He needs to know about the layout, the use of border, accessory and main motifs used in printing.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Printing process (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

This video clip shows how the karigar prints very fine designs on the fabric with wooden blocks.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Typical border blocks (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

As the Khatris of Bagh have flourished, so has Shyam Prasad Rathore. In fact, he has trained two other local youth who also make blocks for printing.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: Local artisan becomes famous (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The block carving artisans are as much stakeholders of Bagh printing as are the Khatri printers, who use their blocks to produce Bagh printed textiles.

Bagh Weaving and Printing: New developments using indigo (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Credits: Story

Text: Aloka Hiremath, Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Suleiman Merchant
Artisans: Ismail Suleiman Khatri, family and co-workers
Ground Facilitator: Charu Verma
Documentary Video: Suleiman Merchant
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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