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The Art of Block Printing in Sanganar & Jaipur, Rajesthan, India

Terrapin Trading is always keen to keep traditional crafts alive and so while on another Indian opus looking for new products I learned of the famous block printing traditions in Rajesthan.

Basing myself in the Pink City in Jaipur and explored its labyrinthine streets, heaving with talented craftsmen making everything from you can imagine. During my early morning runs (before the sun gets too high and the heat hits) I was sometimes accompanied by elephants and camels although more usually dogs.

Block printing is practised in the Jaipur area and it the technique of printing patterns onto fabric by means of a dye and a hand carved block of wood which is pressed onto the material. This art has been practised here for 300 years and despite huge competition from modern printing techniques it still endures.

Before going to the centre of the industry in Sanganer I wanted to learn more about the technique and its history so we took a visit to the excellent Anhoki Museum of Block Printing where you learn all about the fabrics, the patterns and what they mean to each area. Its an excellent resource and we even got to watch a craftsman making a block for printing and to try our hand at the printing itself. You are able to buy a tshirt or piece of blank material in the shop so you can have a go yourself. After the museum I had a relaxing chai in the museums shady garden cafe.

The Sanganeri printing technique developed between the 16th & 17th century. During colonial times it became one of the major export items for the East India Company, and its trademark was the original dye used for printing designs. Sanganer was a far less sanitised experience than the polished presentation of the museum. Real in-the-field production!  I walked along a whole street of tiny little shops with craftsmen, chisel in hand, carving out blocks in the traditional way.

I was told that down by the river I could see the textiles produced by these blocks being washed and dried in the sun.  I had to pay my way in to this area by means of a little baksheesh to the foreman of the little outdoor dyeing factory.

Here, men and women were up to their knees dying the printed fabrics and hanging them up on huge bamboo drying lines.  This was a fascinating day.  I had been asking all the people i met how to get a hold of some antique blocks that i could buy and finally i struck gold!

chiselling a design

A man made a call to his brother in Jaipur and on my return to the pink city I was taken on a mystery tour on the back of a moto to the  basement of a residential area east of the Pink City.  I had been taken to a the store of a retired block printer and he was willing to sell me some of the beautiful blocks he had carved over the years.  You can see these and maybe even buy one here.

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