CHAPTER I . PRINTED TEXTILES
Dabu Block Print
Dabu is an ancient mud-resist hand block printing technique.
THE BAGRU FROM THE CHHIPA, IN BAGRU
Bagru, a town at the outskirts of Jaipur, in Rajasthan is one of the textile hubs of India. It is known for centuries for its natural dyeing, Syahi Begar printing, indigo dyeing and wooden hand block printing.
Since at least 400 years, Bagru has been home to the Chhipa clan. If combining two Nepal Bhasa words, chhi means "to dye" and pa means “to leave something to bask in sun”.
This etymological theory feels especially true as you walk through the vast communal drying fields that connect the Chhipa Mohalla (the village printers’ quarters). The air here is redolent with the fragrance of drying fabric, the ground and the concrete walls are covered in oranges, blues, and pinks.
Everywhere you turn in Bagru there is a scene that will make you stop!
In traditional Bagru block printting, the cloth has a cream-coloured or a dyed base, the prints use natural and organic designs, but also incorporate geometric shapes - such as leher (waves), chaupad (checks), kangura (triangles), and jaali (a grid trellis pattern that might has been adapted from Islamic architecture).
Very often, Bagru and Dabu printing techniques are grouped together, but they have clearly different styles: Bagru is a long process of dyeing and printing, using a variety of natural colours; Dabu printing is an ancient mud-resist hand block printing technique. The Dabu method is the most commonly practiced in Rajasthan, although there are several variations of mud-resist techniques; It is also said to be very similar to Batik print, but yet the process involved is very different.
By taking advantage of the fine desert sand of Rajasthan, artisans are able to create the Dabu - a mud-resist. A cold-water resist, Dabu is particularly effective for blocking out areas during an indigo bath. The character of Dabu and the wooden blocks used to apply it, go together to create the distinctive patterns known as “dabu” prints.
Until recently Dabu prints enjoyed a close relationship with local weaving communities. In line with tradition, certain patterns were printed only on certain weaves (either coarse or fine) of a set width and length depending on the communities that they were destined to serve. It was this close connection to ethnic niche markets that kept traditional printers in business. A craftsperson could always count on the people of a community needing the buy their traditional cloth.
Indigo is a highly admired dye among the craftsmen. They believe, for example, that if they eat with indigo-stained hands there won’t be any problems with the food or digestion, or that if a cow drinks the indigo solution it will become stronger.
They say that indigo has the power to turn anything natural. Wearing indigo dyed fabric is thereby considered auspicious.
Dabu printing is a very slow and meticulous art form - extremely skilled printers are essential to achieve highly artistic results.
Firstly, it's needed the mud-resist paste made with black clay from ponds. Wheat powder and Arabic Gum are then added, in order to improve adhesion of the print paste to the blocks and to the fabric. And finally, lime water is included in the mix, to prevent the clay to crack at the printed portion, and to improve the adhesion of the print to the fabric.
The Dabu paste is placed onto the fabric with a carved wooden block, but other objects or even hands may be used, depending on the creativity and desired design effects.
Saw dust is then sprinkled manually on the wet Dabu print and left for a few hours for drying. After, the fabric is dipped in a cold dye solution, usually indigo (the most common one) - in this case, it will result a white print effect against a blue background.
The Dabu printing and dyeing processes may be repeated till the desired design is obtained.
Blockmaking: the motifs are engraved onto a wooden block.
The mud resist Dabu is prepared.
The mud paste is poured into a tray and...
...block printed onto the fabric.