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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA 
FOR TEXTILES 



by 

Albert Buell Lewis 

Assistant Curator of Melanesian Ethnology 

24 Plates 




Anthropology Design Series No. i 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY 

Chicago 
1924 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



MTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PL. 



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BORDER DESIGN ON THE END OF A WOMAN'S CLOTH (iinvl. 

In this design the black and red have been stamped, wliile the yell.'w and green have been pnt in 
by hand. Ten different blocks have been used, separate impressions ..i nine of wliich are shown on 
Plates III and IV. That used for band i is shown in Fig. 5. Plate 1\': thi>se for bands j and 4 in Figs. 
I and 2, Plate III; for band 3, Figs, i, 2, and 4, Plate IV; for band 5. Figs. 3 and 4. Plate III; and for 
band 6, Fig. 3, Plate IV. The red dots of band 6 were printed by a narrow block which is not shown. 
This border is a fair example of the ordinary work done in cotton printing, neither the best nor the 
worst. In most cases the places where the impressions join can be readily seen. | natural size. 



BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA 
FOR TEXTILES 



by 
Albert Buell Lewis 

Assistant Curator of Melanesian Ethnology 

24 Plates 




Anthropology Design Series No. i 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY 

Chicago 
1924 



Prefatory Note 



With this issue Field Museum of Natural History inaugurates a new series 
of publications calculated to render accessible in convenient form primitive and 
oriental designs from material in the Museum collections. It is hoped that this 
series will render good services to teachers and pupils of public, high, and tech- 
nical schools, as well as to professional designers, craftsmen, manufacturers, and 
any students interested in decorative art. The series will mainly consist of 
collections of designs accompanied by one or two pages of explanatory text, 
but without scientific discussion. 

B. Laufer, 

Curator of Anthropology 



BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA FOR TEXTILES 

The use of wcxDden blocks to print or stamp designs on cloth, especially 
cotton, is still quite common in India, though by no means so general as in 
former years. The designs used vary considerably from place to place, but the 
method is much the same ever\nvhere. The designs are first drawn on paper, 
which is pasted on blocks of wood. The wood is then cut with a crude engraving 
tool to the depth of about one-third of an inch. Holes are often cut through the 
block to allow the air to escape from the cavities formed by cutting out the 
design. This allows the dye to penetrate all the parts without danger of air 
bubbles. Such holes may be seen in Figs. 1 and 2. The wood used must be firm 
and fine grained. Different woods are used in different parts of India. Teak and 
ebony, though not the ones most commonly used, are said to be preferred in 
certain regions. The making of these blocks is a special industry-. Occasionally 
iron wire i see Plate IX ) or iron strips may be set in the block to give the pattern. 

The old native dyes have been largely displaced by the aniline colors, but 
are still used in many places, especially since the war. Black, reds, and blues are 
the most common and permanent of the colors used. The fabric, which must 
first undergo special preparation, is laid on a low bench on a pad formed of 
several thicknesses of cloth (see Plate II). The printer squats in front of this, 
with the dye in a pan or earthen vessel at his side. In this vessel is a frame which 
is covered with one or more thicknesses of heavy cloth or blanket forming a 
pad which becomes saturated with the color, and on which the blocks are pressed 
before stamping. Besides being used for applying the dye, blocks may be used 
for the mordant, and, in some places, especially southern India, wax or some 
resist is often stamped on the cloth. 

The designs herein illustrated are all full-sized impressions of blocks obtained 
by Dr. George A. Dorsey at Ahmadabad in the Bombay Presidency. Many of 
the blocks are old and somewhat imperfect, but the impressions have not been 
retouched. As they were made with ink instead of the fluid dye, the effect is not 
quite the same as it would be on cloth, ^\^lere it was intended to print a solid 
color, the blocks are cut out and filled with a fibrous mass ( see Fig. 1) which takes 
up the fluid dye better than the smooth wood, but gives only a stippled effect 
with ink I as in Plates III, Fig. 3; IV, Fig. 5; V, Figs. 1 and 6; M-VH; XVHI- 
XX). The block illustrated in Fig. 1 has lost this fibrous filling from one 
compartment. 

Borders sometimes show several colors, as in Plate I, but, as a rule, not more 
than two colors are used, black and some shade of red being the most common. 
Other colors, such as green and yellow, are often put in by hand, as in Plate I. 



Paired blocks for printing in two colors are shown in Plates III, IV, VII, XIX, 
XXIII and XXIV. Many of the others, such as those on Plates VI, X, XX, 
etc., are intended to be used in combination with other blocks. 

The finest and most elaborate of Indian colored cloths were hand-painted, 
though certain parts, such as the borders, might be stamped. Good illustrations 
of such cloths and designs may be seen in the colored plates of the expensive 
work on "Calico Painting and Printing in the East Indies in the Seventeenth 
and Eighteenth Centuries," by George P. Baker. The coarser cotton fabrics 
in common use were either plain dyed or stamped, and this industry is still 
quite prevalent throughout the country, though factory-made cloth has largely 
replaced the hand-made. Saris or woman's cloths, wall hangings, and covers for 
cotton quilts are some of the articles still colored in this manner. 

Illustrations of print designs from other parts of India may be seen in 
"Cotton Painting and Printing in the Madras Presidency," by W. S. Hadaway, 
and in several numbers of the "Journal of Indian Art," especially Volume VII. 





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This block shows the same design as Fig. ,l, Plate III, but 
is a different block from the one from which that impression 
was made. The holes at the bottom of the cut-out design go 
through to the top of the block. The design is bordered by a 
thin wood partition, which shows lighter tlian the rest of the 
surface. This part of the block has also been hollowed out, ex- 
cept for partitions every so often, and a fibrous mass firmly 
packed into the cavities thus formed. One of the cavities has 
lost its packing. 



The design on this block is shown in Fig. i, Plate XX. A 
row of holes has been bored through the block from end to end, 
and another from side to side, and into these the small holes 
from the cut-out design open. The depth to which the design 
is cut is clearly shown on the side. The handle is part of the 
same piece of wood, as is usually the case, though occasionally 
it is cut out of a separate piece and pegged on. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE II. 



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A COTTON PRINTER AT WORK. 
(From the Journal of Indian An. Vol, II. No. 23. PL 6.) 

On the ledge behind are shown two large blocks and several smaller ones. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE 



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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA- 
Fig. I is tlie red and Fig. 2 the blacl< design of band 5. Plate I; Fij 



BORDER DESIGNS. 

;. ,! is the red and Fig. 4 the black of bands 2 and 4. Plate I. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 





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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-BORDER DESIGNS. 



Figs. I, 2, and 4 are seen in band ,;. Plate I. Fig. i being the black and Figs. 2 and 4 the red. The color used for Fig. 4 
is a darker red than that used for Fig. 2. Fig. 3 is band 6, Fig. 5 band i, Fig. 6 is a separate design. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE V. 




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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-BORDER DESIGNS. 

these were intended to be used with other blocks in a two or more color design. Figs, i and 2 show single 
of the blocks, that from which Fig. 2 was taken being somewhat broken at the ends. In Fig. 3 one end 
4 both ends of the impression have been cut off. Figs. 5 and 6 show one impression of the block and a portion 



impressions 
and in Fjg. 
of a second. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE VI. 



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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDiA-BORDER DESIGN. 

This shows two impressions of the block. With the fluid dyes, the line of jinicture would not 
show extra heavy as it does with ink. Other blocks and colors would also be used with this design. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE VII 




BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA— BORDER DESIGN. 

This shows the impression of two blocks. The one above would be printed in black and the larger one probably in 
red. The block that should go with these for the foliage is unfortunately missing. Other colors might also be added, 
either bv block or by hand, as in Plate I. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE VIII 




BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 



Single impressions of two blocks. Another block, printing a different color, should go with Fig. 
giving a diagonal striped effect. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE IX. 













BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-BORDER DESIGNS. 
In these blocks the design is formed by short pieces of heavy iron wire set on end in the wooden block. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE X. 




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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-FLORAL DESIGNS. 
All these would be used with supplementary blocks for other colors. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XI. 




BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGN. 

Fig. la shows a single impression of the block, slightly separated from Fig. i above, which 
gives four impressions. Fig. 2 is a small unit probably used to fill in a larger design. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE XII. 





BLOCK PRINTS FROM INQIA-ALLOVER DESIGNS. 
Fig. I is a single impression ot the block. Fig. 2 shows three impressions of a small block. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XIII. 





BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 
Fig. I is a single impression of the block; Fig. 2, a double impression. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE Xl> 





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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 
In Figs. I. .!, ami 4 only a portion of the impression is shown. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XV. 







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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE XVI. 



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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 



FIELD, MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XVII. 




BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-SPECIAL DESIGNS, 
■"ig. I is a centerpiece, formed by four impressions of the block. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XVIII 




BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-SPECIAL DESIGNS. 
Fig. I is a single impression of a block which would be used to form a circular design similar to Fig. i, Plate XV'Il. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XIX. 




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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 

iMgs. I and 3 go together the same as Figs. 3 and 4 of Plate III. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1, PLATE XX. 







BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE XXI. 




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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 
Except Fig. 2, these show only a portion of the whole block. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY. DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE XXII 




BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-ALL-OVER DESIGNS. 
Only a portion of each block is shown. 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



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ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE XXIII, 



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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA-SPECIAL DESIGNS. 
Figs. I a and lb go together as in Fig. 3. Plate XX1\' 



FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. 



ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN SERIES NO. 1. PLATE XXIV. 



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BLOCK PRINTS FROM INDIA— TWO-COLOR DESIGNS. 

While the colors used for these designs may vary, the fine-cut designs with narrow lines are usually printed 
in black, and the heavier masses in red. The lack of perfect registration of the two colors is in the original 
blocks, and the agreement is at least as close as in ordinary cotton printing.