Teaching tradition, block by block

2009-07-24 00:00

HEMANT Doraya runs his family’s hand block textile printing business, Saksh, in Sanganer, a small town near Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan State in India. Last week he was in Pietermaritzburg giving workshops at the Midlands Arts and Crafts Society (Macs).

Doraya had met Jutta Faulds of Macs and other members several times when they attended workshops in India and they subsequently invited him to give a workshop in Pietermaritzburg.

His workshops in Sanganer draw around 3 000 students a year and they are recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook, which is probably responsible for the 200 to 250 international students.

Doraya’s family has long been associated with the ancient craft of using hand-held inked pattern blocks to print fabric.

“There are no written records but we trace ourselves back seven or eight generations,” says Doraya. “We have been doing block printing for 300 years in Sanganer.”

His factory employs 200 people who create the blocks, the inks and print the fabrics. The printing blocks are hand carved and are works of art in their own right.

“If they are made to make souvenirs then we use mango or acacia,” says Doraya. “While teak, because of its hardness and durability, is used for making the blocks that we use for textile­ printing.”

There are 146 traditional printing motifs used in India, explains Doraya.

“We create another 20 to 30 motifs a year. Motifs can be abstract, geometric, floral or animal. The traditional motifs are influenced by the natural world.”

The blocks can consist of a single design using one colour or several blocks can be used to create a more complex motif consisting of seven, eight or nine colours. The printing ink is made using oxides from horse shoes.

“We have a special method of fixing the colours,” says Doraya.

The ink is applied to jute or wool pads on a metal mesh that is placed in square wooden pallets. These provide the printing pads for the blocks. Correctly inked they are placed motif- down on the fabric and given a smart tap to impress the ink evenly on the cloth.

There was an array of colours on show at Macs, where Doraya and his assistant Shantanu Kumawat were teaching workshop attendees how to manufacture blocks, how to use them to print fabric and the correct methods of placement to use when applying the print blocks.

“The method of placement is different for a tablecloth as opposed to a scarf or dress material,” says Doraya.

Hand block printing is “like creating a painting,” says Doraya. “You can print just one item, something that is special for yourself, or do a short run. It is uneconomic for modern machine printing to do just one tablecloth or one shirt.”

Doraya says that while the use of hand block-printed fabrics was once exclusive to royalty and the rich, they have now become well within the reach of ordinary people.

Doraya says that clients make their designs which are then made up.

“A boutique shop does not want a big stock. It will order 50 metres of a particular design and then 10 curtains will be made from it.”

Whether it be curtains, tablecloths, scarfs, dresses or shirts, the final product, a hand block-printed textile, is an option.

“It is used not only for traditional wear but also for modern outfits,” says Doraya.

Despite it being an ancient craft, hand block textile printing is very much a living one, one that is constantly changing and adapting.

“Even today I am a student,” says Doraya. “You suddently get a new idea, something that you have never thought of before.

“So every day is a learning experience.”



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