(For Block Printing, scroll down past Block Carving)
Photo taken by Niko Echebarria in Sanganer at Vikas Carving Shop
A block on the verge of completion with the carvers most essential tools.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.