It is very common to have block printing units in a simple shed, instead of a properly constructed area. Often people start with whatever little space they already have or rent an existing unit. In recent times, most block printing units have been shifted to industrial areas in most parts of India. This helps in proper water and electricity management and many other related issues.
An ideal space has maximum natural light and temperature balance and at the same time a good amount of storage space.
A typical unit making 500 metres per day
The investment of a typical unit can vary between Rs 300,000 and Rs 500,000. Construction should be well ventilated and if possible with the ventilation in middle of the shed. This would provide both light and air circulation. In order to get best results, soft water15 should be used. Many factors need to be kept in mind when constructing a block printing unit. The most important being the circulation of chemical fumes inside the unit. Thus the height of the roof is usually high (over 12 feet). It is necessary to have a natural light where possible, which requires a number of windows.
Temperature variation has both good and bad implications at different stages of printing. While extreme heat spoils the mixed colours faster, very cold weather itself can cause problems in the results for example in rapid indigo or discharge printing. Sun and its heat are the most important factors for various stages of block printing. Heat does help in the natural development of colours as well as helps in making the colours fast.
Water is necessary at many steps –from pre processing of the fabric, dyeing and then post processing. Most of the bigger units have their own washing facilities called “Ghat”. Usually one requires 4-5 Ghats or water tanks to be able to wash the fabric thoroughly. The fabric is added in the first water tank and then is shifted after washing to the next tank. Thus it moves to more and cleaner water. By the fifth wash the water usually becomes clean.
Gain in the rains
Madhulika Singh and Manish Tibrewal from Rasa share with great enthusiasm, how they used the limitations of block printing during the rainy season, to make a special line in their work. Manish and Madhulika started using the defects developed during the rainy season as a design feature and started experimenting with the same – as it was impossible to replicate them this became a one of a kind collection, when they wait the entire year for the rains to come to create some new and exciting things.
A hand printer’s worst nightmare is the rainy season. When printing virtually stops, colours tend to spread when printed on the fabric. They do not dry if printing is somehow successful. As there is no natural heat, the colour does not develop properly, thus fastness as well as development of the colours is affected. Printing units need to employ heating in rainy and colder weather. Sometimes, heating is also used under the tables, to dry the fabrics as well as the colours at the earliest.
Thus a balance of natural as well as artificial resources helps improve the results very much. One requires considerable amount of practical know how and experience for the same.
Traditionally printing tables were of 2 feet wide and 3 feet in length and 1 foot high above the ground. These were known as ‘Paatiya’. Women and older people preferred the traditional ‘Paatiya’ for printing, as they could sit on the floor and print. Now-a-days bigger tables are used; these are about 5 feet wide, 5-6 meters long and 4 feet high and are helpful in faster production. The table usually has a shelf the same size of the table on the bottom of the table, where the blocks that are being used are kept and so are the various “Jotas” or fabric layers for the colour tray.
The printer moves with a trolley containing colours and blocks. The printing table is covered with 22 to 26 layers of Hessian cloth and finally covered with three-four layers of old cotton fabric known as ‘acharas’. Acharas are changed every time a fresh lot of cloth is laid for printing. For better quality of workmanship the printers have separate tables for printing different colours.
After tables, trolleys are the next important thing. Each printer uses his own trolleys in which he carries the basic requirements. Like the colour tray for printing, a few newspapers to avoid dripping of colour on fabric by any kind of accident. The tray for colour is normally made of wood, but sometimes can be plastic depending upon the kind of paste being used. The sizes of the trays also vary; there is the square design for normal blocks and an oblong one for border blocks. This size variation is meant for saving the wastage of colours. The tray once filled with colours needs to be layered with a metallic mesh and then various layers of fabric. The layers of fabric can vary between thick hessian clothes to fine voile. These layers are chosen by the artisan by his experience. He makes the decision according to the thickness of colour material, the fabric to be printed and the carving of the block. Simple brushes are used for cleaning the block after usage. Cleaning the block each day after printing is extremely important, as otherwise the colour will get struck on the block. Thus the block will become useless.
Colour kitchen- chemical storage, basic equipment needed
This is one of the important departments although very small in size, often the size of a small kitchen. A stirrer is used if quantities are large, but is considered ideal for making perfect colours. Natural dyes are an effective choice. Filters are required for filtering the colour pastes and containers of various sizes are present in the colour kitchen to keep the mother paste. It has many shelves for storage of colours and the first place to get active early in the morning. The master dyer comes early in the morning between 5 am and 8 am (changes with each unit), and prepares all the colours required that day.
Four descending concrete water tanks about 1000 liter water capacity are required in the washing area. The water should flow from first tank to the last with help of gravity. If one needs a recycling plant with aerobic bio-culture system. A pit to keep filtered solid waste which can directly be used as fertilizer or wormicuture is also possible.
Open air drying and ironing
Open air drying facilities with a huge criss cross of bamboos are very economical and make is easy to handle large quantities. Usually people create the bamboo stands; next to the Ghats. This is to avoid much transportation. The fabric can be sent to the top of the bamboo to be hung for drying. Hundreds of meters are stitched together and then dried on to theses poles.
Once dry then roll press methods are used by most printers for ironing. This is a very old method, but is considerably effective and economical. The fabric is stretched with the help of two people on the wooden stand and then a weak solution of starch is sprayed. The fabric is then rolled very tightly, on to the wooden stick, in the end it is tied with a piece of fabric so that it stays the way it is. The fabric is left on the roll for one to 2 days, depending upon the outer temperature and the thickness of the fabric. It is then removed, folded neatly and packed in plastic bags of the relevant size.