Monday 25 March 2013

Traditional Indian Craft of Hand Block Printed "Bagh" Fabrics

In my recent short trip to India, I came across the 'Bagh' block printed fabrics in beautiful traditional patterns. I was amazed to learn the laborious process involved in 'creating' this handmade fabric. And I just had to share this with you. I refer to these as 100% handmade fabrics as all the processes involved are undertaken by hand, right from the creation of fabrics to designing the stamps, printing, dyeing and finishing. This amazing art, carried down from father to son as part of family tradition and legacy, is slowly dying as it cannot possibly compete with mass production and globalisation. Please help preserve and promote this unique dying art!

The unique traditional Indian techniques of hand printing the fabrics have always interested me. In my earlier posts, I had talked about the batik and block printing techniques. The process used in printing the 'Bagh' block printed fabric is very different from the regular Indian 'block print' fabrics. This not only involves 'block' printing the fabrics using hand carved wood block stamps but also several cycles of dying the fabrics.

 Bagh Block Printed Fabric, 100% cotton available at:


This process which is very tedious and time consuming, originated about 700-900yrs. ago and is exclusive to the small town of ''Bagh'', located in Madhya Pradesh, India. Bagh printed fabrics are printed manually with hand carved wood blocks using vegetable dyes, derived from natural plant and mineral sources, using water from the ''Baghini'' river  ( in Madhya Pradesh, India) which is said to have properties/minerals which bring out the distinct bright colors that Baghprints are famous for.  

Paisley Bagh Block Printed Fabric, 100% cotton for sale at:


The fabrics used for Bagh printing are all natural - 100% cotton, silk, or jute blends, usually woven on hand looms. The long process is divided into different sections for easy understanding.

Preparation of Fabric:

First the cloth is washed to free it of any starch or surface treatments and dried in sun. It is then dipped repeatedly in a solution of castor oil, centura and goat droppings [natural manure]. These substances react with each other to generate heat, which makes the fibers more absorbant. After the
cloth dries, it is kept in a solution of tarohar and harada powder (types of Indian plants) and left to dry in sun. It is necessary not to dry it in shade because the background color of the cloth becomes green rather than the desired yellowish. After completion of this process, the cloth is now ready for printing.

Beautiful Paisley Bagh Block Printed Fabric, 100% cotton for sale at:


The designs are printed using hand carved wood blocks (discussed in previous posts). The two main dye used are red & black. The 'dye' paste is made by mixing the dye with dhavda gum. The color of the printed design is light at first, but it darkens immediately after as the fabric soaks it in. After the printing is finished, the fabric is left on pebbles to dry in the sun. The idea is to dry it from both sides, outer as well as inner. After this, it is again washed, this time in river water, and left to dry.


To achieve the 
characteristic contrast and finishing, the fabric passes though another process of dyeing. 
For this alizarin and dhavadi flowers are boiled together in big copper containers, concealed in a cement structure under which a fire using wood, leaves, etc. is made. The printed cloth is put in these vessels and is left to boil there for five to six hours. The red
printed portion, which has alum, takes its color by reacting with alizarin. At the same time, the dhavadi flower works like bleach on the unprinted portions, which have been dyed with harada to make it white after boiling.

The dyes used are prepared from natural sources. Here are a few:

􀂃 Red: For making red dye, a solution of alum and the powder of tamarind
seed is boiled and left to cool in a plastic vessel. This solution is then filtered
through fine cloth. For deep color dye less viscous solution is used and for
fine printing thick solution is used.
􀂃 Black: Black dye is prepared by mixing alum and iron ore.
􀂃 Violet: For this indigo is used.
􀂃 Yellow: For this turmeric and harada are used.

After this process, through which the cloth gets clear red, black and white colors, it is 
left to dry in sun.

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