Indian Block Printing - Photos by Keith Rawling

Indian print
India has a long history of fine textiles, both cotton and silk. Traditional printing methods have influenced designers all over the world. Here are of some of the techniques used. My wife Tiggy has a passion for Indian textiles, Indian print and printing techniques, so we decided to track down some of the traditional textile printing methods and record them before they vanish.
Tiggy supplied the knowledge, I supplied the camera.
A traditional method going back hundreds of years - by purely using string or thread to bind the areas tightly to resist the dye getting to the fabric when it is fully immersed. Traditional tribal patterns are created this way.

As each item takes time and patience to prepare, each piece is unique.
Here in Udaipur this family have passed this knowledge down from generation to generation been making individual tie-dye items to a very high standard of workmanship for centuries

Traditional Tie-dye
Ileyas mixing hot dyes. His ability to match colour exactly is amazing.
Some small patterns require every knot to be tied by hand
The finished item
Tying the cloth
Block printing by hand
Indigo is a natural plant that grows well in India. These days a synthetic substitute is used as the demand is so high.
With this block printing technique you can either print a pattern on the fabric and over-dye the colour by immersing the whole cloth into the indigo vat thereby producing the subtle over dyed effect. Or by using a resist 'Dabu' paste (mud) they hand print a pattern that will prevent the dye getting to the cloth. When the resist is washed off the pattern is revealed.

This is the way cloth is prepared for some of the famous high street names.

The rust and red colour dye is made from iron soaked in water and jaggery (sugar).

The indigo plant
Old indigo pots
one of the original indigo vats
Preparing the the Dabu resist (mud) so it is fine enough for printing.
The dyed cloth is laid out in a field to dry in the sun
Block printing and Indigo
Even more sophisticated designs can be made by using multiple block prints with more than one colour - and a resist, before immersing the cloth in the indigo vat.

This family has really perfected this method and is high on fashion designers list

Traditional techniques are now being overtaken by screen printing. They can reproduce and repeat all the traditional designs as well as more complex patterns in a fraction of the time. As the cloth is printed outdoors, the dye dries quickly in the heat.
The above photos were all taken in Rajasthan. To find out more about these locations - or to book Tiggy for talks on India, Indian printing or sewing techniques with demonstration workshops contact
Tying the cloth
The prepared cloth - tied and stitched and pulled tight
After first dip the cloth is re-tied and/ stitched. The cloth is re-tied for each colour
The final dip, resting
A selection of finished items
Blue is not the only colour!
Making new wood blocks
Block printing with dye and a dabu resist.
Dyeing and washing the cloth
Cloth drying in the sun
Washed cloth
Old wood blocks
All photos are available as hi-res images. contact
The prepared cloth
Screen printed cloth is produced on a large scale. Fully printed cloth just tumbles off the press and is shipped out by the lorry load each day.
Old blocks
Block printing by hand. Setting the pattern on the cloth.
Block printing Indigo
As the popularity for tie-dyed fabric has grown, so has the need to increase production.
Most businesses are family run. Here they are producing tie-dye on a lot bigger scale. Not only binding with string, but also using rubber (inner tubes) or plastic to bind larger areas of the fabric. Using this method they produce much bolder, repeatable designs, and by using much larger pots they are able to produce cloth on a much grander scale.
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Washing the cloth in preparation for printing
The whole cloth is submerged into the indigo vat
Washing the printed/dyed cloth. The old water is channelled into the fields to water the crops
Old vats and dye pots
The dyed cloth drying in the sun
Some of the finished items
The washed white cloth is sorted
After the first dip the cloth is boiled to set the dye.
Now wrapped to resist the second dyeing.
Junior wrapper.
Finished cloth drying in the sun on the roof tops.
Plain cloth drying in the sun.
The whole family is involved.