Blocks & Prints – A love affair with block printing

There are several ways to acquaint ourselves with our national heritage – be it a road trip, learning a cultural dance form, music, visiting monuments and last but not the least block printing. As an art form, block printing dates back to the 12th century where plain fabrics are given a theme with certain motifs specific to a region.

Block printing is done in several parts of India such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Each state offers a distinct flavour, style and essence of block printing that is a signature in itself.

We’ve seen so many beautifully designed bedspreads, table cloths and even cotton saris come alive with the gorgeous art of block printing.

For instance, the famous Kalamkari style of block printing originates from the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh is the most widely seen art form on saris and salwar kurtas, as are the famous Jaipuri quilts (razai) and bed covers with the popular paisley block prints, or the Ajrakh prints from Gujarat that are the epitome of India’s textile heritage.

We caught up with 58-year-old Shyamala Rao a Bachelor in Sociology from St Xaviers’ College who runs a ‘Blocks and Prints’ studio in Mulund, Mumbai. For her block-printing is an essential part of our culture and customs.

Once on a visit to Ajrakhpur, Dr Ismail Khatri, the award-winning designer and block printer had explained to her how each village was self-sufficient.

She explains to us how cotton is locally grown and with a combined effort put in by the weavers, dyers, printers how these prints were essentially used by the local community, where the colour and motif denoted a complexity of caste, community and even marital status!  Now, of course, with connectivity, and the global village syndrome, times have changed forever.

When did it all begin?

“I have dabbled in textiles since the last 25 years.  A cousin and I used to design salwar-kurtas and hold exhibitions at various locations across the city. We used to embellish them with embroidery, tie-dye, hand painting – the works,” recalls Shyamala.

Shyamala also attended a block-printing workshop conducted by none other than Panna Dossa and she instantly fell in love with the craft. Watching the karigars print, was like ”poetry in motion”, and Shyamala was completely hooked on to this art form.

Panna Dossa designed Khadi saris for the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the ’70s and they were a rage. The designer had advertised block-printing classes in the papers and she conducted her classes in a huge workshop in an industrial estate in Wadala, which Shyamala attended in the 1990s.

Then to kick start her craft, Shyamala needed a printing table, colours and blocks. This initial investment was around Rs 25,000 and fortunately, she was introduced to an owner of a boutique, who was and even today, is extremely encouraging in all her endeavours.

“He encouraged my creativity, to step out of the mundane to try something new every time. He has stores in Pune and Nasik, so there’s always abundant work for me. Besides, I work with other designers and boutiques as well. They come over, select the blocks, decide the layout, the colours,” recalls Shyamala.

Armed with a karigar in Kurla from whom she gets all her bed sheets done, Shyamala books his table for the entire day to complete her orders. In fact, her passion for block printing has taken her to different parts of India especially in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh.

She recalls that during her trip in Bagru, she stayed with a family and was able to document the dyeing and printing process in detail.

“I went to Bagru, Jaipur in 2009 and again in 2011. Bagru is famous for ‘dabu’ printing where a local material just like clay is used for block printing, which acts like a mud-resist. Just like wax is used in batik, this mud-resist prevents colour from entering the parts that are covered, so it gives the design a layered effect,” explains Shyamala.

She further adds, “My travels and experiences allow me to show my students the various stages, right from the white fabric to the final finished product of block printing. For many, this is a revelation, they see how much effort goes into the making one-off print, and they look upon the unknown artist and his technique with a new found respect.”

She has also picked up blocks from Gujarat and Rajasthan, so the motifs are also different.  Of course, any design drawn on paper can be carved into a block; so geometric, abstract and floral designs, even African/Celtic/Greek patterns can be used on a bed sheet, table cloth or dress material.

Block printing can be done on all kinds of fabric such as crepe, georgette and silk; if done on cotton it should be starch-free cotton, otherwise, the starch prevents the dye from penetrating onto the fabric.

“I use pigment colours with a basic water-based binder. Big printing houses use various kinds of chemical colours, like Naphthol, Rapid and Procion dyes, but some of the Azo dyes have been banned because prolonged exposure is harmful to the karigars and the dye waste is harmful to the environment,” explains Shyamala.

Spreading the word

Shyamala had recently been to the US to meet her children and paid a visit to a textile museum that had held an exhibition on Ikat with only a fleeting mention about India.

“That inspired me to spread an awareness about our great textile crafts which include weaving, dyeing, embroidery, painting, and of course, my specific interest, block-printing. I had the opportunity to do a demo at two textile colleges in Lawrence, Kansas, and in Raleigh, North Carolina and various other textile hobby groups, boutiques and Craft outlets. I had also taken plenty of samples of Kalamkari, Dabu and Ajrakh printing and put together a slideshow, with pictures of my visits to Bagru and Gujarat which not only included the printing process, but pictures of their life and customs, and give it a context.”

Block printing workshops

“I received many requests to teach, and that is how the workshops came about. Typically, I conduct one-day workshops from 10 am to 6 pm, with lunch included. In the morning, I speak about the origin of this craft, how it evolved over the centuries, the different styles of printing, like Dabu, Kalamkari and Ajrakh,” explains Shyamala.

This is followed by a demo, after which the students try their hand at block printing. All of them enjoy the hands-on part the most.

Then, they can print on any small item they have brought along, most of the time it is a t-shirt, jhola-bag, or cushions. Shyamala takes 4 people in a batch, so there is enough place for all. The charge is Rs 1250/- per person for a workshop.

If at the end of the day, you want to print more, then you can visit her again and use the table, the blocks and colours for a fee.  Then she accepts only one person at a time, who can print a dupatta, a sari, whatever you want.

Get in touch:

If you’d like to attend one of the block printing workshops, get in touch with Ms. Shyamala Rao through her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BlocksnPrints

What’s your Story?

If you have a similar story to share just like Shyamala where you’re single-handedly doing your bit to spread the pride and art form of our national heritage, do write into us to get featured on The Lifestyle Portal.

Write to us with a short bio and profile about yourself and your work to tanya@tanyamunshi.com today!

33 thoughts on “Blocks & Prints – A love affair with block printing

  • July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm
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    I admire Shamala’s grit,persistence, originality and passion in her art. I hope to be in that next photo of Shamala the teacher with her students.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm
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    I am residing in Chennai and want to learn the Block Printing. Can you help me out?

    Reply
  • June 9, 2013 at 6:49 pm
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    i want to learn block printing can u guide me

    Reply
  • June 12, 2013 at 11:17 am
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    Hi i am very very interested block printing pls send me details. Pls tell me valuable suggestions.

    Reply
  • June 14, 2013 at 6:31 am
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    Hi—– Very happy to know of your interest in block-printing. Please get in touch at meenakari@gmail.com

    Looking forward to hearing from you,

    Shyamala Rao

    Reply
  • June 30, 2013 at 7:38 pm
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    Aunty,
    I would love to learn block printing. can u give the details.

    Reply
  • July 4, 2013 at 6:36 am
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    Dear Subha,

    I am very happy to know of your interest in blockprinting. Please write to me at meenakari@gmail,com for workshop details, or call at 98697 12888.
    Regards,
    Shyamala

    Reply
  • September 12, 2013 at 8:21 pm
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    pls send your contact no

    Reply
  • September 21, 2013 at 4:06 pm
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    Dear Mam,

    I am interested in learning block printing .
    Do you conduct on line classes also?
    I am from Shimoga, Karnataka.

    Reply
  • September 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm
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    Mam,
    Im from chennai, im interested in attending your block printing workshop, Please do let me know if you are conducting classes in Chennai or either through online.

    Reply
  • February 28, 2014 at 3:37 pm
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    Do u teach block printing I’m interested to learn

    Reply
  • April 28, 2014 at 10:21 pm
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    hello mam..i have seen ur page in FB..actually iam looking for block makers in Hyderabad,but couldnt find any of..so please guide me where can i serach for block makers or else is their any online store for block designs..as iam interested to do block printing..thank you mam..

    Reply
  • May 6, 2014 at 7:16 pm
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    Jehil, please write to me at meenakari@ gmail.com re a block printing workshop.

    Keerthi, sorry, I have no idea re H’bad. I think you can buy blocks at indiamart.com, just try. Or you can come to Mumbai for a workshop and buy blocks in Mumbai!

    Reply
    • December 13, 2019 at 11:26 am
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      Want to do block printing pls send contact numbee

      Reply
      • December 19, 2019 at 12:35 pm
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        Hi Nidhi,
        You can get in touch with Ms. Shayamala Rao, Founder of Blocks N’ Prints, in Mumbai. Her email address is: meenakari@gmail.com.
        Kindly give her our reference when you contact her.
        Regards,
        The Lifestyle Portal

        Reply
  • September 29, 2014 at 4:42 pm
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    . This blog impressed me and over exceeded my expectations. You know how to involve a reader and increase his curiosity to read more. Many congratulations!
    Thanks

    Reply
    • October 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm
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      Thank you, we browsed through your website and loved the collection. If you’d like to get featured on our website, please drop us an email to tanya@tanyamunshi.com
      regards
      tanya

      Reply
  • February 24, 2015 at 11:07 am
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    I would like to learn block printing.I would like to attention workshop.pls give details.as soon as possible

    Reply
    • February 28, 2015 at 7:05 pm
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      Hi Kavitha,
      We have sent your request to Ms Rao, the founder of Blocks & Prints. Hope you have connected with her.
      Regards
      Tanya

      Reply
  • March 14, 2015 at 12:15 am
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    hello mam, I am from Mumbai I am very interested to learn block printing. I would like to attend your workshop. Plz give me some details.

    Reply
  • October 5, 2015 at 11:36 am
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    Hi , would like attend d workshop pls share details , I am from Mumbai .

    Reply
  • October 9, 2015 at 11:49 pm
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    Hi,

    I am Shyamala Rao, and I hold one-day workshops on blockprinting. Please contact me at meenakari@gmail.com for more details.

    Reply
  • February 16, 2016 at 2:33 pm
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    i done blockprinting course. i want to buy colors plz help me madam.

    Reply
  • July 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm
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    I’m uma from bangalore I’m willing to learn block printing I would like to atten the work shop wat is the procedure

    Reply
  • July 17, 2016 at 6:54 pm
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    I am fro Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh.I would love to learn this course.Kindly suggest how to learn.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2016 at 3:46 pm
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    I would like to learn the art of block printing. Let me know the details of the classes as Iam Chennaiaite. Kindly leave the details to my mail id.

    Regards
    Sarah Poornima

    Reply
  • January 17, 2017 at 11:26 am
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    Where can I buy printing blocks in Mumbai? Thank you

    Reply
  • April 7, 2017 at 8:40 pm
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    Dear Ms Rao,
    Am based in Chennai, do keep me infromed if u conduct a cass here, how long is the duration of the curse if i need to come down to mumbai? which State has the best karigars in making blocks ? Thanks a lot.

    my number is 8056101113,

    Regards

    Manju

    Reply
  • April 19, 2017 at 1:26 pm
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    I am ajrakh block hand print febrick manufacturer in barmer rajasthan for ambey hand print barmer

    Reply
  • November 20, 2017 at 11:50 pm
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    Hi Ma’am, I would like to learn block printing. Please do let me know your next workshop in Pune.

    Reply
  • May 25, 2018 at 7:42 pm
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    Hi,
    I would like to take training from you.Please send your contact number.

    Reply

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