Hand block printing on textiles refers to the technique by which carved wooden blocks covered with dye are repeatedly pressed along a length of cloth to create patterns. It is the earliest, slowest and most labor-intensive of all methods of textile printing, requiring a tremendous level of skill.
Despite competition from faster and cheaper methods of textile design, block printing has resisted industrialisation throughout the years and is still done without any mechanisation. It remains popular because of its natural feel and its ability to achieve an artistic, three-dimensional feel, which is difficult to replicate in machine-made and mass-produced items.
Tightly woven fabrics tend to work better for printing, and materials like cotton, silk or linen are often used because they hold the dye better, meaning the pattern wont bleed once applied.
Designs are traced onto the surface of the teak blocks, which are then carved with a hammer and chisel by trained craftsmen. Each block is made with a wooden handle and several holes to release air and excess dye. It is then soaked in oil for four to five days to prevent breakage and to ensure preservation.
The outline of the design is first printed by the most experienced printer as it leads the whole process and must be very precise. The rest of the team fills in the colours with “fill” blocks. Once printed, the swaths of fabric are hung to dry in the sun before a final wash.
Tharangini Studio is one of the last heritage block print studios surviving in Bangalore. While learning art in Delhi, Lakshmi Srivathsa fell in love with the art of block printing. She returned to Bangalore and, in 1977, started Tharangini. The studio and its workings are now taken up by Srivastava’s daughter, Padmini Govind.
Over the years, Tharangini has upheld sustainability while block printing by hand and being fair trade. The common perception is that anything eco-friendly is instantly expensive, however the studio manages to maneuver its way around this with tailor-made techniques for each brand. Different colours are used, from pure organics to hybrid versions. Synthetic colours with eco friendly elements are also utilized to cater for individual client requirements. All of the colours used for printing at Tharangini Studio adhere to GOTS (Global Organic textile standard), which include fade resistance, rubbing fastness and wash fastness.
Tharangini's outreach programs are integral in their mission to provide vocational training to underprivileged groups. In order to preserve the block printing industry, Tharangini holds workshops. This ensures that others take this traditional artisanal skill forward into the future.