YOUR NAME AND POSITION AT STUDIO BAGRU?
My name is Jeremy Fritzhand and I’m the Founder and Managing Director of Studio Bagru.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT BLOCK PRINTING AS AN ART FORM?
Block printing is said to have a
2000 plus year history, originating from the Han Dynasty in China. In the 15th and 16th centuries block printed fabrics started showing up in Europe and India. In Rajasthan, the towns of Bagru and Sanganeer have histories of block printing dating from the early 17th century. Block printing was used on fabrics for special occasions, and as a way to differentiate between different cultural communities throughout the country. Since the 1970s, companies like Anokhi, Brigitte Singh, and Soma Textiles have taken block print to the global stage with modern styles and incorporating more vibrant pigmented colours.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE STORY BEHIND THE BLOCKS, HOW THE DESIGNS AND COLOURS ARE CHOSEN?
Traditionally, specific motifs and designs were used for special occasions, community meetings, and as a cultural differentiator. Something called a jajam is in an intricately printed floor covering approximately 10-12 feet long and 8 feet wide, which is used to decorate the floor of temples and homes for special occasions. Rekh blocks are outline blocks that act as a guide for the datta (accent) blocks. Gadh blocks are the background colour blocks which are used to print colour on the background instead of dye.
ARE THE CARVED DESIGNS SYMBOLIC?
Yes, most communities have their own specific bhuti (floral motif). You can often find these motifs on the turbans of village elders.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF CARVING A WOODEN BLOCK FOR PRINTING?
The most common wood used in Bagru for blocks is sheesham wood (similar to cherrywood). It is a hardwood that maintains its shape over time, and has good durability. After the wood is cut into 1.5-inch slices, it is stacked and aged in the back of a workshop for over a year, until it is thoroughly dried. After the wood has been dried, the surface is polished again, and then a thin layer of white paint is brushed on. From this stage, a block carver traces the motif onto a piece of transfer paper from a printout. The transfer paper is then placed on the top of the wood, and using a very fine steel chisel and wooden hammer, the outline of the design is carved onto the surface of the block. Once the outline is completed, the carver will remove the transfer paper, and fill the missing lines using a pen. From this stage, he will use various steel chisels to carve away at the block, and the design comes to life.
HOW LONG DOES THE CARVING PROCESS TAKE?
The carving process usually takes two days for a 6-inch moderately detailed block design – one day for the preparation of the block (stenciling, outline and beginning of carving), and one day for
completing the carving and finishing. After the block is carved it is soaked in peanut oil for 5-7 days in order to extend the life of the block.
WHAT WOULD BE THE USUAL LENGTH OF CLOTH WHICH IS PRINTED WITH A DESIGN OR WHAT’S THE LONGEST YOU’VE PRINTED AT STUDIO BAGRU?
Typically fabric is printed on 5-12 metre segments. 5 metres is for kurta pajama sets (2.5m each product), 6-metre segments are for saris, and 7-12 metre segments are for plain running material that will be used to make garments. Bedsheets and scarves are also printed at various sizes and lengths.
ARE THERE DESIGNS CARVED INTO THE WOOD WHICH ARE UNIQUE TO STUDIO BAGRU, JAIPUR OR THE REGION?
Most regions around Jaipur use floral motifs and tribal designs as cultural differentiators. Studio Bagru is currently only using our signature flower wheel design (phul chakra) on products we make. This is the same design that is incorporated into our logo.
DOES THE BLOCK CARVING SKILL TRADITIONALLY STAY WITHIN THE ONE FAMILY AND IS IT A COMMON PROFESSION IN JAIPUR? HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN?
Block carving is traditionally passed on from father to son. Apprenticeships commence around
the age of 12, and then they start working full time from 18. Similar apprenticeships happen in the block print community.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR VISITOR WORKSHOPS AT STUDIO BAGRU?
Our workshops are open to all people interested in learning more about block printing. Our one-day workshop starts at 9am in Bagru and for the first hour we walk around the town visiting the different places where parts of the block printing process occur – block carvers, the washing area, dyeing, printing, and packaging. From 10-12 participants get the chance to print their own scarves using our collection of over 200 designs, including geometric shapes. The one-day workshops finish with a traditional lunch served in Bagru. For participants interested in a more in depth experience we create custom tailored 2-7 day workshops.
HAVE YOU GOT A LOCAL’S TIP FOR VISITORS TO JAIPUR?
One of my favorite places is Cafe Quaint at JKK (Jawahar Kala Kendra, an art and performance space). Have a glass of kombucha and munch on some delicious bites with local ingredients. I also enjoy visiting Surya Mandir at the top of the Monkey Temple (Galta Gate) to watch the sun set over Jaipur.
THIS PAGE LEFT TO RIGHT Bhagwati Devi stands proud in front of a field of fabric she created; Printed fabric drying in the sun in Bagru.