Searching for Printing Blocks in Old Delhi

Hand Block Printing Indian Bedspreads Indian Carvings

Rajasthan is famous for it's Forts and Palaces - and it's Hand Blocked Printed Fabrics.

First day in October and we're walking up and down the back lanes of Old Delhi looking for someone we met four years before. I can't remember his name, I don't have his address and it's becoming obvious I can't remember where he is.

We've just arrived from the cold weather and clean air in the mountains of Ladakh but here in Old Delhi it's very hot and very dusty. Where we are seems familiar but he's not here. Asking for directions in India doesn't always get you the right answer but I decide it's the only thing left to do. I show his photo to two old men standing nearby and amazingly they know him.

They direct us, he's there right where they said he would be and I discover I've got my mental map of the area completely upside down. Apparently that's not a good sign but he's delighted to see us, as is his wife. Who is he?

Wood block man

He carves wooden printing blocks and four years ago we bought some of his tree designs. We sold out a long time ago and this is our first chance to renew our shelves back home at the Silk Road Gallery.

I'm pleased to see he's still here. He relies on the tourist trade and I wonder how he got through Covid. Like many people we know he shut up shop and waited. Were he and his wife OK? Obviously, everyone had a bad time. They got through it. Now, that's all that matters. They're glad people are coming back though numbers are down.

Printing blocks

The first time we met him we had two young Ladakhi women with us and he demonstrated his other skill - he paints intricate henna designs. They last a few days - he explains that to make them last longer you should rub them with coconut oil once they're dry.

Henna designs

Now we're back home in Sheffield and we have his blocks back on the shelves and on the website. You can buy them here. We have different sizes; mostly, but not only, trees. They're carved from Sheshamwood, also called Indian Rosewood, a dense, dark and beautifully grained wood.
For about ten years, when we owned the Natural Bed Company, we made beautifully carved sheshamwood beds in a workshop in Jodhpur, a town in the semi desert of Rajasthan.

Tree printing blocks

Printing blocks

Old printing blocks, ones that have already been used for printing textiles such as bedpreads and quilts, have always been for sale in India and we have some you can buy here, but making new blocks that are a complete pattern in themselves is relatively new.

The old ones in the photo would have been just one component part of a complex pattern that could have 20 or blocks to make a finished article. You can use the new ones to print a decorative pattern on paper or fabric - or see them as a simple, beautiful and unique sculpture. And for someone who likes trees they make a great gift.

Old Printing Blocks

Sometimes metal blocks are used, thin strips of brass are inserted into the wooden block; the thinness of the metal enables finer liner work to be printed. We bought a few examples this autumn in Jodhpur, they're good examples and you can find them for sale in the Statues & Carvings collection.

Metal Printing Blocks

Rajasthan is rightly famous for it's hand blocked textiles and if you have any enthusiasm for this old tradition of decorating fabric, which almost died out in the mid 20th century because of cheaper machine prints, the Anokhi Museum at Amer, just outside Jaipur on the Delhi road, is a must visit.

It is extraordinary. A tribute the knowledge and skill of the craft people who made these beautiful fabrics and to the founders of Anokhi, John and Faith Singh. It's a truly breathtaking and inspiring experience. You can watch people making and using their delicate wooden blocks. Recommended!

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