Learning to block print with Jai Texart
As Jaipur’s pink glow began to fade we went in search of something creative to do. We’d been fascinated by the process of block printing when we were in Gujarat so signed ourselves up to Jai Texart block printing course. Jai Texart is based in Bagru Village outside of the city of Jaipur. The town is famous for its block printing, specifically with natural dyes.
Our first challenge was getting there. Being seasoned travellers we decided to take the bus which is how we found ourselves standing at an unmarked bus stop on a busy three-lane highway on the outskirts of town, much to the perplexity of the locals who were curious why us westerners were not getting a taxi. While we knew the number of the bus we were looking for, Indian buses do not always bother to display it! Fortunately for us the locals proved very helpful in ensuring the correct bus was flagged down. We were on our way.
At last we had arrived and settled down to learn the theory of block printing. During the first part of the morning we learnt about dyes, both natural and synthetic, fixing colour and printing techniques.
Fact of the day: contrary to popular belief, wearing black actually protects you from the sun. You will only feel the heat if you are wearing synthetic rather than natural black colour. If you’re looking for an easy way to tell if that black top you’re considering is a synthetic or natural dye, the synthetic will have a blueish black colour and the natural will be reddish black.
We were shown around the factory where block printers effortlessly thumped intricate designs in a process that has been perfected over a thousand years. Their accuracy and efficiency was somewhat dazzling.
And then we were on to the main event – block printing our own sarongs!
First, our material had to be washed to remove any residue from its production. The fabric is then dyed with a mordant called harda, a fruit, which helps the dyes fix to the material, and left to dry flat in the sun. Side fact: Apparently a teaspoon of harda a night relieves constipation.
While the cotton dried, we rummaged through the many wooden printing block as we began sketching out our designs for our sarongs.
There were four colours available to us: black, red, yellow and brown. The recipes for the colours are mind boggling. How people came up with them must have taken a lot of trial and error, particularly the recipe for black: horseshoes, jaggery (sugar) and water. Why horseshoes? It’s a easy and cost effective way of pounding the iron, new metal doesn’t result in the desired black colour.
Once dried, the cotton was stretched out and pinned on to the printing table. We were ready to begin printing. We quickly found it’s not as easy as the experts make it look. It takes a lot of precision and is surprisingly physical. The wooden block has to be slammed hard on the back of the handle for a good impression to register on the fabric. Our hands were bruised for days.
We began the printing process with some trepidation. It took a lot of concentration and ours took longer than everyone else (we are perfectionists after all and were perhaps taking it a little more seriously than some!)
To achieve red, our sarongs were boiled with alizarin, one of the oldest natural dyes, which reacted with the dye already on our sarongs. They were washed again and left to dry in the sun.
Here are our stylish finished products – a great souvenir of our time in Rajasthan!
So there you have it, a day of much needed creativity thanks to the great folks at Jai Texart.
We’d highly recommend taking the one-day block printing course. If you have a second day you could go back and learn about indigo dye!