Bagru Block Printing
Bagru is a small village located near Jaipur, the capital City of Rajasthan. It’s home to the Chippa community who have been practicing a unique style of printing for more than 350 years. Colouricious holidays visited Bagru, running Bagru block printing workshops, working with traditional printers and helping support this ancient craft which faces threat from globalisation.
Bagru Block Printing Process
The traditional Bagru printing process can be described as follows:
Scouring– locally called ‘Hari Sarana’
The fabric that comes from mills of handloom sector contains natural and added impurities such as starch, oil and dust. To get goods and even penetration of colours, the fabric is boiled with soap and desizing agents. Traditionally cow dung was used for scouring. Cow dung contains a lot of alkali, Cow dung and water are mixed together and the cloth (running cloth ‘than’cut in required length) is then left dipped in that paste overnight. The process of washing is a long one, generally carried out by the ladies. The next day, the clothes are washed and spread on large open grounds. Before the clothes dry completely, more water is sprinkled on them and thus they are made wet again. This process of sprinkling water and drying is repeated 5-6 times a day. This procedure is carried out unit the cloth becomes white and bright. Generally, as per requirement, this process in done for 3 to 6 days. After this the cloth is washed with pure water. Since it is tedious and time consuming, soaps have replaced the cow dung in this process.
Tannin- locally called ‘Peela Karana’
‘Harda’Washed fabric is treated with myrobalan (harda) which contains tannic acid. Tannic acid attracts the mordants, which are applied with hand woodblock. ‘Harda’ powder is mixed with water, and the cloth is submerged in it, squeezed and dried flat on the ground. Once the fabric is dried, it is folded and beaten with a wooden mallet to remove excess ‘harda’ powder and open up the fiber to accept the dye. This process in known as ‘peela karna’. The tannic acid of myrobalam (harda) forms black colour with ferrous ( syahee )which is traditionally made by reaction of old rusted horse shoe nails with jaggery.
Printing (mordanting)- locally called ‘chapai’
The fabric is printed with two mordant- ferrous (‘syahee’) made out of rusted horse shoe nails, and alum (‘begar’). Usually ferrous is printed with the outline block (‘rekh’). As it immediately shows a black impression, it is easy for another printer to place the filler block (‘datta’) with beggar or alum. The background block (Gudh’) comes later.
Ageing-locally called ‘Sukhai’
The printed fabric is left hanging at the printing areas for at least three-four days so that the prints(mordant paste) penetrates into the fiber structure. Longer the ageing better is the result.
Washing- locally called ‘Dhulai’
The printed fabric is washed in running water. It is important to understand the need of running/flowing water. While washing the printed fabric in running water the excess mordants come out and get washed away with the flow of water without getting stuck back to the cloth. Water shortage has forced the printers to cut short this process due to which, the colors do not get fixed up properly and later “bleed” and people think that natural dyes are not fast.
Dyeing (fixing of color) – locally called ‘Ghan Rangai’
Dyeing is a process in which the dye reacts with two mordants at two different locations on the same print giving two different shades of colors. As mentioned earlier ‘alizarin’ is used as the dye throughout Rajasthan. The colours obtained in conjunction with the two mordants are red (with alum) and block (with ferrous). Dyeing is carried out in large copper vessels (‘tambri’) which are heated by wood fire. Alizarin is filled in small cloth-bags (‘potali’) and dipped in the vessel. The quantity of alizarin dye is calculated by the experienced dyer. ‘Dhawadi phool’, a local flower is boiled along with alizarin to avoid patches and staining. Once the dyed fabric is ready (usually it takes half-an-hour), it is taken out of the copper vessel and left on the ground for drying.
Sun-bleaching– locally called ‘Tapai’
Alizarin often”over dyes” the unprinted area giving an off-white or yellow tinge all over the fabric which makes the print look dull. In order to make the ground look ‘white’ again the fabric is sun-bleached. In this process the fabric is laid flat on a river bed, a mild solution of cow dung and water is sprinkled over the fabric. This process is repeated again when the fabric is dried. The interaction of alkali (of cow dung) and thermal heat (sun ray) bleach the ground color making it look white again. Sometimes this process in carried out before the tannin (‘harda’) treatment but due to shortage of water this process is cut short and these days the ‘off- white’ color of the background has become a part of natural dyeing process.
Colouricious Holidays – Bagru Block Printing Workshops
Colouricious holidays offer fantastic tours of India Japan and Bhutan and Uzbekistan where you can design your own fabrics, try out different printing techniques and take part in the wonderful Bagru block printing process. Please visit www.colourlouriciousholidays.com to find out more.
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