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Block Printing, Types of Blocks, and How to Block Print Fabric

Eman is a writer and textile engineer. She obtained her bachelor's degree in textile sciences from the Faculty of Applied Arts.

Hand Block Print Fabric.

Hand Block Print Fabric.

Block Printing

Textile printing is a way to produce attractive designs on fabrics. These designs constitute artistic arrangements or motifs in various colors and patterns. The two main methods of printing on fabric can be classified as coloring and patterning. The first technique is the direct application of color to the fabric, while the second is applied by using patterns before coloring or dyeing the fabric.

Block printing is a technique for applying color in the form of design on fabric by the use of a block where the design is carved. This sculpted design is transferred by pressing the block onto the fabric. This process is the slowest method in all textile printing techniques.

Textile printing block.  Date: 10th-century.  Geography: Egypt Culture: Islamic Medium: Wood; Carved.

Textile printing block. Date: 10th-century. Geography: Egypt Culture: Islamic Medium: Wood; Carved.

A Brief Hitory of Block Printing

Hand-printed textiles in India started from Gujarat and the surrounding states of Sind (Pakistan), Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.

In China, the earliest printed wood-block illustration was made in 868 AD, at the time of the Tang dynasty (618 AD-907AD). Then wood-block printing was expanded to produce books on the classics, literature, and illustrations.

Prominent woodblocks appeared in Egypt at the beginning of the Fatimid period (909 AD-1171 AD). The wood-blocks contained repetitive geometric, plant, and animal motifs used in textile printing.

In Europe, Printing on fabric with wooden stencils was common for centuries. Wood-block printing started with the beginning of paper production in 1390. Around 1514, the Book of Hours printed in Arabic types in Italy.

In 1890, color block printing began in America. Later the methods of making color block prints advanced. The earliest method was the use of multiple blocks. This is a process is where the craftsman sculpts the area of the block that is not intended for printing. The resulting pattern is then inked and printed. Each color requires a new block, which must be printed exactly above the previous color. This requires skill and perfect practice.

Some regions around the world still use the art of block printing even today, like India.

Wooden Block Print.

Wooden Block Print.

Types of Blocks

There are many types of blocks used for block printing:

Wooden Blocks

In this method, the logs of wood are sliced horizontally and cut into pieces according to the size of the design on the blocks with maximum size: 6 inches in diameter, 1½ inch thickness. It should be noted that the horizontally cut logs are suitable for the chisel blocks due to the annual rings on the top surface of the cut log are easy to chisel when cutting horizontally and provide consistent and systematic designs.

Linoleum Blocks

Linoleum is softer than wood and free from grain. It's easy to cut, but it doesn't produce fine lines. The advantages of linoleum are that it is cheaper than cut wood. It is also faster to work on. The technique of making linoleum blocks is similar to the method of making woodblocks.

Matchstick Blocks

Matchstick block is a simple form of printing. Matchstick printing is an easy way to handle blocks. Also, it is an inexpensive method of printing, which can be pursued as a creative hobby by children. Geometric patterns can be produced mostly in this way.

The required materials for this method are pencil, design (geometric forms), scissors, cardboard sheet to make the base of the block, matchsticks, flat plate, brushes, and fabric colors.

Carved Block

Carved Block

How to Block Print Fabric

To apply the colors on the fabric by block printing you should follow the next stages:

1- Making of Blocks

The surface of the wood-block must be polished before drawing the design on it so that the design can be uniformly traced on the surface. You do not need to polish the surface when using the lino block. Design can be moved onto the surface by using carbon paper. Another way to transfer the design onto the surface is that after the design is placed on the wood-block, holes are made and coal dust is sprayed over it and pressed.

The maximum single block size is 6 x 6 inches with a thickness of ¾ inch cut design.

2- Materials Required for Textile Block Printing

  1. Wooden table: A polished top table.
  2. Woolen cloth: For covering the wooden table and form a flexible, stable base.
  3. Jute fabric: To form the base on the table.
  4. Spoon: Tablespoon to pour the color on the pad.
  5. Toothbrush: To clean the blocks.
  6. Foam sheets: For making pads for colors.

3- Print Paste Formulation

The print paste formulations for block printing are based on the use of pigment colors or dyes.

The different ingredients should be added as follows:

  1. Reactive dye (depending on shade depth): 1-4 parts.
  2. Hot water (70°C-80°C): 20 parts.
  3. Salt resistance (mild oxidizing agent): 2-3 parts.
  4. Urea (auxiliary dye solution): 5 parts.
  5. Sodium bicarbonate or Sodium carbonate: 1.5-2 parts.
  6. Sodium alginate (thickener paste, concentration 4% to 6%): 65-70 parts.

Process of Hand Block Printing

4- Printing Process

  1. Place 3-4 layers of jute fabric on the table, then cover the jute fabric with 3-4 layers of woolen fabric and spread a couple of the bedsheets over it. Then spread the fabric to be printed without creasing on the table.
  2. After preparing the printing paste on the basis of pigment or dye. The printing paste is brushed evenly on the surface of the block containing the design with the help of a brush. Then pressed the pad lightly so that the dye paste cannot enter the internal parts of the block. The printing paste will interfere with the design in case there is an excess of paste in the block, so care should be taken while pressing the block on the pad which contains the printing paste.
  3. The block is then moved one step ahead and the process is repeated to maintain the design continuity. To fill various parts of the design, separate blocks are used according to the design and the process.

5- Drying and Fixing the Printing Colors

When the printing paste formulation depends on the reactive dye, treatment could be steaming at atmospheric pressure for 5 to 10 minutes. Also, to fix pigment printing, the recommended heat treatment is the dry heat at (140°C - 150°C) for 4-5 minutes in the drying room. After drying and fixing the colors, the fabric is washed and dried.

Advantages of Block Printing

  • Beautiful effects can be obtained.
  • Bright prints are obtained.
  • A number of blocks can be used not only for different colors but also for different shades of the same color.

Disadvantages of Block Printing

  • Low production and high cost.
  • The placement of the blocks is rarely ideal, leading to a slight imbalance of the design.
  • No accurate shading and gradient.
Tools Used for Fabric Block Printing.

Tools Used for Fabric Block Printing.

Safety Tips

During the block printing process, keep in mind the following points:

  1. Use personal protective equipment such as hand gloves, boots, and headgear.
  2. Do not handle chemicals with bare hands.
  3. Try to store the used materials and equipment at their designated places.


© 2020 Eman Abdallah Kamel


Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on May 05, 2020:

Thanks, Mary. I remember the only time I printed the fabric with the block when I was in college. The most difficult stage was sculpting the block, but the stage of applying colors on the fabric was very enjoyable.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 04, 2020:

It was when we went to India that I saw block printing and the beautiful fabrics that are printed. I even brought back some blocks but I never found the courage to do it.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on May 04, 2020:

Thanks, Liz. Block printing is one of the oldest methods of printing. It deserves attention, especially since some countries still use it to print textiles.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on May 04, 2020:

Thanks, Lorna. I agree with you that block printing gives bright colors. Carving blocks require precision and applying on fabric as well. I also love reading the historical aspect of any article. Block printing has a long history, but I wrote a brief about it.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on May 04, 2020:

Thanks, Linda for reading the article. You are right, block-printing gives beautiful and attractive effects and it requires high skill as well.

Liz Westwood from UK on May 04, 2020:

This is a fascinating hub I was vaguely aware of this type of printing, but you have given me a much better grasp of the technique through your informative article.

Lorna Lamon on May 04, 2020:

Such a fascinating article and the designs and prints are beautiful. I also enjoyed reading about the history of block printing and I'm so glad that this form of printing is still used in India today. An enjoyable read.

Linda Chechar from Arizona on May 03, 2020:

I love these wonderful colors and design images of block prints that are ancient and current trendy images!

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