The Ancient Art of Batik Block Printing

December 29th, 2022
The Ancient Art of Batik Block Printing

The art of Indian block printing has been in existence for centuries, passed down through generations of artisans. It is seen in different processes like Kalamkari, Ajrakh and Dabu printing in India as well as in Indonesia, Japan and other parts of the world. It is a labor-intensive, exacting process that has survived the test of time because of the beauty of the resulting fabrics.

Wooden Printing Blocks

Above are the bunta, the wooden blocks that are used for printing. These teak wood blocks are hand carved by skilled artisans with a variety of designs/motifs and range in size/shape. On the reverse side of the carved design is a wooden handle for the artisan to hold while stamping the cloth. Block printing consists of dipping the design side of the block in dye and stamping it on the fabric. In Batik block printing, the design is stamped on the fabric using wax as a resist, which blocks the dye. The following outlines Batik block printing.

Spreading Sand On Printing Table

The printing table is prepared with approximately 3" of wet sand, carefully leveled. This provides a soft bed for the fabric which allows a smooth and unbroken impression when the fabric is stamped with the blocks.

Fabric stretched on table, and stamped

The fabric to be printed is washed to remove any starch and then bleached and dried. Once completely dry, the fabric is stretched onto a printing table and secured to it with pins.

Block dipped in wax

For Batik block printing, wax is melted on a stove and the design side of the blocks are dipped in the wax.

Fabric being printed

Once the block is dipped in wax the block is used to stamp the design on the fabric.

Printed fabric with wax

(Wax-stamped fabric)

The fabric stamped with the wax is dyed. The wax acts as a resist and the dye does not penetrate the waxed areas. The dye bath is usually hot and care has to be taken when dyeing that the wax does not melt. If it does, the design loses its definition. The wax is then removed by dipping the dyed fabric in very hot water to melt the wax. This has to be done very thoroughly to get all the wax off. The wax floats on the hot water and is scooped out and reused. Afterwards, the fabric is dried.

Model wearing Usha Jacket and Kavya Pant

(Usha Jacket and Kavya Pant)

The above styles are an example of a single-color Batik printing. The off-white areas were printed (stamped) with wax, then the fabric was dyed black. After the fabric was dyed the wax was removed, resulting in the tan design with a black background.

Model wearing Kimaya Top

(Kimaya Top)

The Kimaya Top above is an example of an over dyed single Batik printing. In this process the fabric was dyed before and after the wax was removed. The print showing in the lighter purple color was first printed (stamped) with wax on the un-dyed fabric. Then the fabric was dyed a darker purple shade. The wax was removed and then the fabric was dyed again in the lighter purple color.

Printed fabric with wax

Some designs require the fabric to be stamped with wax twice. This is more intricate as the second printing in wax has to be very precise. After the first dyeing and removal of wax, the fabric is stamped with wax a second time using a different block design. It is then dyed again and the second wax print is removed. In this process, the color in the first dyeing has to be very precise, as it will change when interacting with the color of the second dye color.

Model wearing Rima Shirt and Rajni Dress

(Rima Shirt and Rajni Dress)

The Rima Shirt above is an example of Double Batik which consists of multiple waxing and dying steps. The smaller tan flower design is first stamped with wax on the un-dyed fabric. The fabric is then dyed in the lighter green color (the color of the larger flower), once dyed the larger flower design is stamped on the fabric with wax and then the fabric is dyed again in brown. Lastly, all the wax is removed, and the fabric has two different colored Batik prints.

The Rajni Dress is also a great example of Double Batik. The darkest colors of this fabric are the first dying process and absorb the dye (change and get darker) with every subsequent dying step. In batik printing the background color is always the darkest and the prints are lighter.

Artisan handprinting printed fabric with wax.

Model wearing Irla Dress

(Irla Dress)

The fabric on the Irla Dress above is a combination of Batik block print and Hand paint with wax. The blue print in the Irla Dress is Batik printed and the green line is then hand painted.

MarketPlace thrives on combining techniques and designs. Here are some innovative ways in which we have combined techniques resulting in interesting designs without changing the tradition of the technique.

Mysore Top, Models wearing Sharda Dress and Rima Shirt

(Mysore Top, Sharda Dress, Rima Shirt)

The Mysore Top and Sharda Dress are Batiked and then block printed resulting in a complex and fascinating pattern. In the Rima Shirt, the fabric is Batiked and after the wax is removed, it is hand painted with pink.

From the hand carving of the blocks through all the steps involved in hand block Batik, this clearly is a technique which depends upon the skill and knowledge of all the artisans involved. When it is done well, the result is a fabric which is uniquely beautiful.

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The Ancient Art of Batik Block Printing
Jun 8, 2023
By Maruschka
I do Batik and I thought this was a pretty good explanation of the process, other than it doesn't explain how long the entire process can take, which can be very time-consuming, with the waxing, dying (often multiple colors), drying, and removal of the wax process.