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    Farrukhabad Block Printing

    Map Academy

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    Known for its distinct range of patterns, especially, butis and Tree of Life, Farrukhabad block printing emerged in the city of the same name in Uttar Pradesh. It is conjectured that the tradition dates to the late Mughal period, when the city was established by the first Bangash Nawab, Muhammad Khan, who fostered a guild of calico printers in the city. While little proof of activity comes from these dates, it is widely believed that the tradition is a thousand years old. Gazettes from the 1980s however mention that one of the most flourishing industries of the region is cotton printing, suggesting a long history.

    Block printing in Farrukhabad is carried out not only through blocks made out of wood but also brass. The woodblocks are traditionally made from the wood of sal trees, locally known as sheesham. The wood of the tree is both hard to find and hard to carve, but they were preferred because of their durability. Additionally, wood from mango and ebony trees was also used. The blocks were carved out from scrap pieces of wood, which would be emulsified and sealed by carvers. Sketches were drawn on these blocks with a free hand using pencil and the area between the pattern would be carved out using small, flat and pointed iron bars known as kalam. Each block would be finished with a wooden handle and a couple of cylindrical holes drilled across it to allow air passage to release excess dye and paste. To ensure the longevity of the patterned edge, the block would be dipped in oil.

    The artisans of the school practice two types of printing: block printing and screen printing where the former is the more traditional of the two. Before the development of woodblocks, the artists used to engrave potatoes and stamped the cloth using vegetable and natural dyes. With the woodblock, the designs became more stable and intricate, making the textile produced more decorative. Cotton and silk fabric were used, along with dyes derived naturally from plants, animals and minerals. The colour scheme was dominated with primary colours such as red, yellow and blue; using turmeric and tesu flower for yellow, iron filings mixed with jaggery for black, indigo for blue, red from madder, marigold petals for mustard, henna leaves for golden and pomegranate bark mixed with curd for green. These colour solutions were thickened with gum.

    A grey fabric undergoes intensive treatment before it is printed upon. Its protruding fibres are removed by singeing and it is treated with starch. It is boiled and bleached to release the colouring within and mercerised to give its surface uniformity. Thus, the fabric becomes even and ready to absorb the colour through blocks. When printing, the portions of fabric to be printed are raised in relief on blocks of wood, which are arranged together. Finer designs, which are not cut on wood, are transferred by inserting small pieces of copper strips and pins. For instance, coloured dots are produced by blocks bearing several pins (ten to forty in number). The entire fabric is stretched out and pinned over the printing table. The colour is laid out in a tray. The blocks are dipped in outline colours – usually dark, if not black. It is applied to the raised edges of the block and stamped by hand with a wooden mallet. Depending on the density of the pattern and the design, each successive stamp is adjusted accurately to the block and placed carefully. To ensure that correct spots are printed over, pitch pins are fixed on the edges of blocks which maintain precision and uniformity of the pattern. The fabric is ironed to pack in the colour, and then washed and dried. Among the designs and patterns common to the Farrukhabad school were simple butis in the shape of polka dots, paisley, kairi (mango) and the Tree of Life. Nearly fifteen different Tree of Life patterns are believed to have been developed by the printers of the school. Farrukhabad block printed shawls, sarees, suits, scarves, as well as domestic decorative fabrics such as bedspreads, blanket covers, curtains and cushions were popular in commercial markets.

    The wood printing technique has been on a steady decline since the arrival of mechanised methods. Many of the artists of the region migrated to Sanganer where block printing still enjoys a particular clientele. In Farrukhabad, newer methods and materials have become common, including screen-printing, digitally rendered carving, acid washes, synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon, chemical dyes and finishing techniques such as calendaring. In March 2013, Farrukhabad block prints received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag from the Government of India.



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