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Block & Screen Printing In Sanganer: A Photo Essay

by Sofiya Deva

The scarves in our Intuition Series are created in partnership with artisans in Sanganer, near Jaipur, India. Many of our artisans have inherited their knowledge and know how through their families, and their art and skill have been passed down over multiple generations.

While working with them, we’ve had the pleasure of learning more about their techniques and traditions, the two primary ones being: block and screen printing.

As part of our mission to increase appreciation for artisan craftsmanship, we wanted to break down each technique and describe its process in detail.

While both screen printing and block printing are done by hand in our line, screen printing allows for more intricate designs.

Screen printing entails pushing dye over a screen to transfer a design, while block printing uses wooden blocks.

Traditional designs are often inspired by nature and floral themes, but as artisans collaborate with designers from around the world, we see more and more varied themes and designs, with minimalist yet bright geometric motifs being the most common.

Screen printing is done in workshops with long wax tables and plenty of natural light. The wax helps secure the fabric to the table and the natural light supports the keen artisan eye in color matching and blending.

Most workshops for both screen and block printing have an inside and outside space. The outside space is used for drying, mixing, washing, and occasionally, simply relaxing.

Dyes are prepared in buckets or large vats, depending on the order size, and though artisans will use Pantone shades to guide, much of the fine tuning is done by eye.

Every design to be screen printed requires several pre-made screens (one for each color in the design) that are a combination of a digital print made porous with small holes, and a wooden frame.

Once the screens are made, the ink is pressed through the screen onto the fabric, using a squeegee to pull the ink along the full length of the screen.

The screen is washed and reused, sometimes over many years, while the printed fabric is dried, cured, and washed multiple times to ensure a smooth colorfast finish.

The preparation for block printing requires blocks carved out of Sheesham, or Indian Rosewood, or teak to the appropriate specifications, and wooden color trays (with layers of net and voile) for dipping. 

Block carving is its own art, and can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on the intricacy of the design. The wood is pre-soaked in oil for several days, sanded smooth, and whitened with chalk. The carvers trace designs onto the surface and then, with hammer and chisel, nimbly whittle patterns into the wood.

You may be wondering at this point about where the base cloth comes from. Every workshop has stacks of white fabric that are bought in bulk and then dyed and printed. Our line uses only natural fibers, like cotton and silk to prevent costs to marine life, and dependency on petroleum.

Machines are used to roll the fabric on electronic washers that soften the fabric and remove any starch or dirt that’s accumulated.

The fabric is then dyed outside in natural sunlight. Through the process, it becomes light and supple.

All these individual makers and kinds of expertise come together to produce our one-of-a-kind scarves. Throughout our process, we honor traditional wisdom, as well as modern innovations and strive to be ethical, inspired, and sustainable. 

Over the next few years, with your support, our goals will be to reduce water waste and identify the best ways to give back to the communities that make this work possible.