Tucked away in Rajasthan’s Pipar City is a rich, 200-year-old block-printing tradition. The craft and its tools have been handed down through generations—even the water in one workshop’s indigo pots has remained unchanged for more than 60 years.
Many years ago in Pipar City, there were 100 or more families involved in the art of hand block-printing on textiles using natural dyes. These dyes are made organically using a traditional process resulting in beautiful color—think of the deep purple-blue of indigo or the vivid yellow-orange of turmeric. Because the dyes are natural, none of the craftspeople are exposed to toxic chemicals. They are, however, exposed to painstaking work. Block-printing is intensive labor, requiring a specialized skill set which includes a reverent mind, a brilliant eye and a steady hand. Unfortunately, the need for such particular abilities in its workers, plus the exodus of the next generation to more modern places with more modern jobs, has meant a decline in this method of block-printing.
Only a handful of families still use the traditional block-printing process in Pipar City. First, a resist paste made of earth, lime, gum and fine powder is stamped onto the fabric. This paste will prevent the dye from penetrating the block-printed design. Then, the stamped fabric dries in the sun before a dip in the dye pot. To achieve deeper color, fabric can be dipped several times, always with a chance to sun-dry between each dip. Once the desired shade is achieved, the printed fabric is washed to remove the resist paste and dried on last time in the sun.