Stories that inspire

Block Print Fabrics of Gujarat

Textiles from Gujarat are very popular throughout the world. It is not just the weaving, but Gujarati textiles are known for their varieties created using different techniques of dyeing, printing, and embroidery. The Sabarmati river has been an integral part in the life of textile makers of Gujarat. Besides being an important source of water, its wide riverbed and riverbanks were used extensively to launder clothes and dye textiles during the dry season. This is the rich history of beautiful printed fabrics from Gujarat like the Batik, Saudagiri, and so on.  

Even the people in the Indus Valley Civilisation used cotton clothes, hence the textile tradition from the state dates back to that time. Historical records note that the textiles from India especially from Gujarat were exported to the Arab kingdoms, Egypt, Africa, and South East Asia. 

Now the Sabarmati River has been transformed due to the efforts of the ‘Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited (SRFDCL)’ and the Gujarat Government. Nevertheless, the famous block prints and textile industry of Gujarat continues to thrive among the artisans in their hamlets along the Ahmedabad and Kachchh regions.

Block Printing

A man doing block printing
Img Source: Wikipedia

It is an age-old craft where the craftsmen use specialized wooden blocks to hand print intricate patterns on clothes. In Gujarat alone, there are six different types of block printing techniques.

  1. Ajrakh printing
  2. Saudagiri printing
  3. Khadi printing
  4. Dabu – mud resist block printing
  5. Batik – wax resist block printing
  6. Mata Ni Pachedi 

Block Making

Wooden blocks/ Wikimedia commons

The elaborate floral and geometric designs we see on hand-printed cotton clothes are done with the help of wooden blocks. The carved blocks are works of art. The traditional block makers of Gujarat belong to the Suthar carpenter community. Block making is a rigorous process and is done relentlessly by the artisans from Pethapur in Gandhinagar, and from Dhamada and Ajrakpur in the Kachchh districts.

Blocks are made in series according to the number and colours the final print will have. Teak, Sisam, and Saal woods are used for block making. The process involves seasoning of wood, after which a chalk-like paste is applied to the surface and allowed to dry. The design is later traced on the block and the negative portion is carved out with a chisel. There are 3 types of blocks – Gadh (big block), Rekh (outline block), and Data (filler block).

Ajrakh printing

Img Source : Wikimedia Commons

This technique has been widespread in Gujarat and the Sind region (now in Pakistan) for centuries. The Dhamadka village in Kachchh is the main centre for this Ajrakh resist printing. Artisans from the Khatri community are well versed in this type of printing. Ajrakh printed clothes are very popular among Muslim men and women. They use it to tie turbans or use them as veils. Treated vegetable and mineral dyes are used to dye these printed fabrics.

Saudagiri printing

Pic is taken from the book ‘Handloom and Handicraft of Gujarat’

Ahmedabad is known for Saudagiri block prints. Hand printed from the wooden blocks made from Pethapur, these prints are popular among people in South East Asia. The motifs used for these prints are derived from the fauna and flora of Gujarat.

Khadi Printing

Golden khadi prints
Img Source: Meta

These are block prints made with gold and silver colours. The Khadi paste is a mixture of zinc oxide and glue. In this type of printing, the fabric after a wash is block printed with the khadi paste, and later gold or silver powder is sprinkled on top of the paste to give its colour. People buy khadi print clothes for special occasions.

Dabu – mud resist block print

Img Source: Meta

The fabric is first washed and printed with a paste made from mud and a local gum called baval. Then sand is sprinkled on the prints. Later, the cloth is dyed in dye pits and washed several times with water, and dried.  The end-resulting fabric is the dabu printed fabric. This kind of print is very popular among the tribal and rural communities of Gujarat. 

Batik –  wax resist block print

Batik print
Img Source: Meta

The batik print with its non-uniform lines is very popular. The areas of Mundra and Bhuj in the Kachchh region are popular for their batik prints. This type of print is done primarily by artisans from the Khatri community. The process behind batik printing is very interesting. At first, the cloth is washed and hand printed with a special wax mixture made from bee and paraffin wax. Later the cloth is dyed in pits. The dyed cloth is soaked in a solution of naphthol. The resultant cloth after a final set of washing and drying will have excellent wax-resisted lines on them. 

Mata Ni Pachedi

Pic is taken from ‘Mata Ni Pachedi’ cloth book

The word ‘Mata’ or Goddess describes a print variety means… Maybe a cloth with prints of goddesses? The answer is even more fascinating. The ‘Mata Ni Pachedi’ is a votive cloth invoking the mother goddess, made especially for the purpose of worship by a set of craftsmen belonging to the Vaghari community in Ahmedabad.

This type of cloth is created for the purpose of worship by people from marginalized and impoverished communities. The tradition goes back 3oo years, where the textile makers painstakingly wash and dye the cotton fabric and print the image of the goddess on it. They print images of people, flora, and fauna, like people moving to the temple as if to make offerings to their mother. The fabric is block printed and later painted with a distinctive colour palette of red, black, and white. Since each image is hand-painted with great care, each ‘Mata Ni Pachedi’ cloth is unique. This sacred piece of cloth is used only for the purpose of worship and can be given as offerings during festivals like Navaratri.

Bibliography:

  1. Mata Ni Pachedi – From Ritual Art to Cloth Book by Tara Books
  2. Handloom and Handicraft of Gujarat by Govt. of India. Thanks to DakshinaChitra Reference Library for the books.
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