Hand Print Techniques

Indian traditional textile

After the process of fibre collection and spinning, traditional artisan techniques often begin with hand weaving and frequently followed by embroidery, block printing, or dying.


This method of printing with blocks (or clay tablets) dates back as far as 3000BC in Mesopotamia. The introduction of woodblock printing on fabric began in China in 220AD. The woodblock is carefully carved into a desired pattern by a block maker or chippa. It is then immersed into a dye resist such as mud, iron black, or pigment ink. This is then applied to a fabric.


Kutch in Gujarat is renowned for ajrak style block printing but the technique originates from Sindh in Pakistan. It is used to create tradtional saris (woman’s garment) and lungi (men’s garment). Contemporary versions can include women’s wear, home furnishing and kid’s wear. Ajrak is produced with natural dyes and each region has its own style of design. The intricate process involves scouring the fabric, mordanting, printing, applying lime resist, multiple dying in either indigo, madder and/or iron black, and is finished with a washing process. Tools of the trade include wooden blocks, a padded printing table, a tray for the colours, bamboo lattice, cloth, brushes and a furnace for fixing the cloth.

Contemporary design by student designer and ajrak block print artisan.
Contemporary design by student designer and ajrak block print artisan.


Block making for print purposes originated in Rajasthan and is one of the earliest printing techniques (Bhandari 2005). The art has been passed down from generation to generation, and to this day chhipa families are still carrying on the tradition within their communities.

Block maker preparing a block design.
Block maker preparing a block design.

Pigment ink

A much simpler process than ajrak printing in that it has less processes. The same blocks are used but with pigment style ink, rather than natural dyes.

Nandu Kanwar and student using pigment ink block technique.
Nandu Kanwar and student using pigment ink block technique.

Mud resist

mud resist
Sawdust sprinkles after mud print.

This practice of block printing relies heavily on water. Areas that traditionally have a reasonable water resource, such as Bagru and Sanganeer, have had most commercial success with this technique. Different villages have developed their own unique designs over time. For example, Bagru is famous for large, bold floral designs produced though the mud resist technique known as dabu. After printing the fabric in mud, sawdust is sprinkled across the top (see firgure 46) and set in the sun to dry. Once dry it is dipped into a natural indigo vat to produce tones of blue. All students participated in a four hour workshop with artisan Mr Om using this technique.