Block Carving

(For Block Printing, scroll down past Block Carving)

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Photo taken by Niko Echebarria in Sanganer at Vikas Carving Shop

A block on the verge of completion with the carvers most essential tools.

Wood Selection

 

First, the slab of Teak wood must be examined to ensure it is a specimen worthy of a detailed design that may be used for up to 50 years, and sometimes even longer. This involves checking for cracks, soft spots, flatness, etc. Once the slab is chosen it can be cut down to a workable size, and the surface is sanded and painted white so that the design can be easily followed by the carver.

Vikas, master tracer and carver, examining a large piece of Teak before cutting it down to workable sized blocks

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Vikas with a couple nice looking blocks made of Teak, or Shisham, as the locals call it in Hindi.

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Vikas showing off his strength and stoke

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Vikas, master tracer and carver, examining a large piece of Teak before cutting it down to workable sized blocks

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Vikas, tracing out one of my designs.

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The finished trace that Vikas was working on.

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Vikas, tracing out one of my designs.

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Tracing

 

Then the tracer nails the design on to the block, and using a thin, flat stick of tamarind wood, he begins to tap a thin iron tool with a rounded head along the lines of the design to make little marks in the wood beneath that resemble a dotted line. The amount of skill and concentration needed to trace complex designs usually requires one or two people per crew of carvers that are dedicated strictly to this part if the process. 

Carving

The block is then passed on to the carver. He has a set of about 20 iron tools with heads sharpened into of various shapes and sizes by hand, for whatever the design desires. He uses these tools along with his wooden hammer made of Tamarind or another hard wood to remove any material that is not part of the design, basically creating a large wooden stamp. The content usually being a repeating pattern so the block can be used to print thousands of meters of fabric with a seemingly endless design.  

 

Kahlil, in the Sanganer workshop, hammering out a very detailed block.

Adding Colors

Once the outline is carved, the tracer will rub black ink over the block so that it can be printed on paper. When it is decided that there are no corrections to be made, one specific color of the design is traced on to another block using the paper print, and is then carved out. This step is repeated for every color of the design. For example, 5 color design, 5 different blocks.

This block will be used to print the color of the seaweed and seahorses.

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A print of a recently carved block to check the clarity of the design.

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Vikas checking a color block to make sure everything matches up.

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This block will be used to print the color of the seaweed and seahorses.

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Block Printing

Ram Teerth printing the background color for the Byrds print.

Testing the Blocks

Before the printers can get to work, they must first test the blocks to check for mistakes, and make sure the blocks  match up properly with both color and design.

One of the printers tests out each block to make sure everything works.

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So far so good.

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Sometimes the blocks need a small correction so Vikas comes over to preform a little block surgery.

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One of the printers tests out each block to make sure everything works.

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Printing

Once the blocks pass the sampling stage, they are ready for action. Long sheets of fabric are pinned down on tables about 15 feet long. One printer starts with the outline first, unless a background color is needed, and then another printer comes in behind him with the next color in the sequence. And so on... The accuracy  and endurance, along with the keen eyes and steady hands of the printers is astounding. In a seemingly meditative state, they float between the tables layering colors until the design is complete.