Block printing – an artistic legacy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 23, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 23, 2019

Block printing – an artistic legacy

Woodblock printing is a quintessential example of art transcending history and border throughout the South Asian subcontinent. It originated in China, and remained to be the most non-communal method of printing books, text, and images. The earliest and most fashionable use of woodblock printing began with the Han Dynasty, where silk fragments were printed with flowers in three colours.

Indeed, it has been many years since that time. The technique has well diffused into Eurasian countries, and has since then thrived in the textile industry of Bangladesh.

The traditional art of woodblock printing has seen many shifts in our country. In the late eighties, block printing arrived here. To begin with, people hardly expressed any appreciation towards it. At the time, it was a novel medium of art for artists to highlight their talent and establish appreciation towards this medium of art.


Woodblocks for textile printing maybe made of box, lime, sycamore, plain, or pear wood. The block size varies largely, due to the fact that different designs are embedded on it. The block surface is initially smooth, and perfectly flat. The design drawn upon it is done by tracing an outline of the design in lampblack and oil. The areas that are to be kept are then tinted with ammoniac carmine and magenta. Once that is done, the woodblocks are covered with wet cloths during the whole process of cutting. Afterwards, the block cutter commences carving off the heavier pieces of the wood at first, and then the lighter ones, to create an intricate design for the woodblock.


Today, block printing has gone far from the traditional form of wood dipped into colour. Prints are an innovative way to bring a special touch to any collection of designs or attire. In fact, in the past few seasons, runways have adopted this traditional form of artwork and imbued many innovations. Starting from handmade, in-house, a recycled vintage piece, or re-interpreted in digital form, block printing has inspired a number of looks in fashion.


Block printing in our fashion industry commenced with printing silk saris, mainly the Balaka silk. Today, we have come quite far with block printing and it’s all thanks to the contribution of the initiative that was taken by a multitude of fashion designers and boutique houses in Bangladesh.

Nowadays, the sari is not the only comfortable thing that women like to wear, but also shalwar kameezs, fatuas, and kurtas, which are all essential daily wear.

Keeping that in mind, designers and fashion houses have a wide variety of motif and designs for different attires. Discharge block printing is often designed on apparels where the entire fabric is dipped in colour, including the specific areas on which design is to be created. It is then reacted with a chemical to make it faded from that particular area, and later, the faded portion is coloured with a different dye.

Hand block printing is still a classic, but not only on silk saris, but also in Muslin. Muslin fabric is block printed with floral patterns, and such elegant collections are extensively available in our country.

If we look at our local boutique houses, we are likely to experience block printing not just in our outfits, but also in our daily commodities integrated in our lifestyle. Aarong is renowned for its wide variety of colourfully designed block printed bedsheet, dining/side/centre tablecloth, cushion cover, sofa back cover, and pillow covers.

Fashion houses have truly outdone themselves when it comes to versatility in fashion. If you look at Sadakalo, you will observe the classic black and white block or screen printed skirts and palazzos for comfortable wear. However, it is not just the women who are relishing in the fashion industry. Even for men, boutique houses such as OG, Aarong, etc. have brought diversity in panjabis, kurtis, and fatuas. These collections are mostly in cotton, with block prints and embroidery to create a wholesome outfit for a festive mood.

Block prints are not merely an ensemble of our clothing but can also be an integral part of our home. With advanced technology, this city also offers a plethora of block printed wallpapers to decorate your wall. These can be of any colour or motifs, and can be customised according to your taste. If you want to look, there are a variety of numerous interior decoration stores right under the Mohakhali flyover all the way to Kuril.

Jatra — a journey into craft can also come to aid when it comes to accessorising your home further with placemats that are hand loomed and block printed. Jatra also offers furniture such as block printed two-seat sofas. Last, but not the least, one must also embellish their outfits along with their homes. This can be best done with the jute bags with block prints and handstitched patchwork, or if you favour a more casual style, you can also carry block printed cat backpacks from Jatra.

Irrespective of the modern technology, wood block printing remains relevant in fashion and textiles. Whether a designer is using the technique as a muse for a digital print or carving a hallmark herself, the look remains elegant and timeless.


Photo: LS Archive/Sazzad Ibne Sayed

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