Recently, we set off on our long-pending trip to Jaipur to learn about various block printing techniques.
On our first day, we visited Sanganer, checking out Sanganeri block printing. Sanganeri prints are famous for the delicate floral and leaf motifs. And, the prints have a white base.
Our next stop was Bagru, a small town near Jaipur known for Bagru and Dabu printing. It was our last day at Jaipur and after checking out from our hotel, we were on our way to Bagru. We met Mr. V at his shop and spent some time at the shop collecting indigo hand block printed sarees – the all-time favorites, we were ready for the factory visit.
Mr. V was kind enough to take us to his factory. The first thing we saw were block printed sarees and fabrics drying in the hot summer sun.
Fabrics with mud resist print being dried
There were two printers busy at work. One of them was printing the second set of designs on to a dyed saree using the Dabu technique.
Dabu printing in process
The other printer had laid out a cream-colored cloth and was just about to begin his work. So, we waited in anticipation. He was dipping his block in a clay-like mixture and placing it on to the spread-out fabric. It was fascinating to watch him print a block and move on to the next. He explained that he was also using the Dabu technique of block printing.
Dabu or mud resist printing
Dabu is an ancient mud resist hand block printing technique. This technique became almost extinct in the last century. However, the art was revived and is a flourishing business in many villages. The Dabu printing technique is very labor intensive and involves several stages of printing and dyeing.
As the first step in the Dabu technique, the fabric is washed to remove impurities that might hinder the dyeing process. Then, a mud resist is printed on to the fabric using blocks. The mud resist is a mix of:
- Finely sieved clay
- Naturally pounded wheat chaff (beedan), which improves the adhesion quality of the mud resist
- Gum Arabic (gound), which is the main ingredient in the print paste to provide adhesion
- Lime water or calcium peroxide (chuna), which prevents the cracking of the printed designs
The clay is dug out from dry ponds. This mud is soaked in separate tanks overnight. Before every printing, the mud resist is prepared freshly.
Freshly prepared mud resist
The freshly prepared mud resist is printed on to the fabric using wooden blocks. We saw hundreds and hundreds of blocks at the factory; some of them haven’t been used in ages. Some patterns require more than one block.
Four blocks for a single pattern
After the mud resist is applied on to the fabric, it is covered with saw dust. Now, why would you need saw dust? Well, saw dust acts as a binder and prevents the color from penetrating while dyeing. Also, saw dust makes sure the that the sections of fabric with mud resist does not stick to each other. The fabrics are then let to dry. The hot summer sun is perfect for these fabrics to dry.
Saw dust being applied on mud resist print
After the Dabu printed fabrics dry, they are taken for dyeing. Natural colors are used for dyeing. Traditional Dabu prints use colors like Kashish (grey-brown), indigo, and yellows and reds extracted from fruits like pomegranate. We saw four vats used for indigo dyes.
After the fabrics are dyed, they are let to dry. In the huge ground, we saw different sections for drying different colors of fabrics. Well, different colored fabrics are dried in separate areas to prevent colors from rubbing on to each other.
Dyed fabrics being dried
After the dyed fabrics completely dry, they might go for the second Dabu process. If you notice in the picture, there is a white print and a bluish print. Wonder how that difference happened? Mud resist is applied on to a dyed fabric and the same process of Dabu printing is repeated to achieve the lighter shade. Some fabrics are subjected to third Dabu printing too.
Double Dabu in process
Finally, the fabrics are thoroughly washed to remove the mud resist and excess dyes. You will notice that the areas with mud resist remain white, while the rest of the fabric has caught the color of the dye.