Block Printing in India

Katie Urban, St. Catherine University ‘17

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Visiting the fair trade design house of Mehera Shaw in Jaipur, and the company’s block printing facility in a small village outside the city was an amazing experience. Driving through the countryside we saw beautiful mustard seed fields, the process of paper making, and brightly colored fabric drying in the sun.

The design house of Mehera Shaw and its block printing facility employ a variety of locally skilled people. With the location of the design house and block printing facility being outside of the city, the employees are able to continue living in their local villages while working outside the home. It is also a great way to encourage the local people to keep the tradition of block printing alive.

There may be various interpretations about the process of block printing. Some people may feel the method of block printing is inefficient as it takes a lot of time and very skilled labor compared to mass printing methods. On the other hand, block printing sustains a traditional artistic practice during a time when many art forms are becoming extinct and being replaced by machines. With so many processes becoming automated, the skills and jobs of highly skilled artisans become jeopardized. Another interpretation could be that block printing adds quality and value to a garment because it is done by hand. Thus catering to a niche market for fair trade handicrafts. I feel it is important for the fashion industry to continue to sustain these practices, which employ so many people and keep traditions alive.

My favorite part of the day was being able to try out my block printing skills. It was such a great feeling to see my design come to life. The block printers were very helpful with explaining how to line up the blocks to create a uniform design. I had learned about the process of block printing in my Textiles course, but the process became clearer once I was able to witness it action and try it out myself.

Mehera Shaw employees working in the sunshine.
This is my first attempt at block printing drying in the sun.

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