Eid celebrations bring with them colourful clothes of all kinds from the flow of chiffon dupattas to the elegance of silk kameezes. The women of Pakistan celebrate colour, style and fashion as much as they do Eid.
As with fashion, there are trends that come and go yet some are timeless – block printing is one such trend, and in recent years, screen printing too has become mainstream.
There are quite a few designers and stores that provide block printing and screen printing services to Karachi’s clientele. The most popular of these shops is housed in a surprisingly spacious back gali of Karachi, a well-known store that has been providing women with some creative block and screen prints for the last twenty years.
Twenty years however, is just a dot on the timeline of this fibre art.
Block and screen printing both have their origins in East Asia with the earliest block printing device dating back to the year 220 in Ancient China.
Block printing was used for printing on cloth and paper both as a form of printing books, images and designs for linens. Screen printing was invented about 800 years later, also in Ancient China, and introduced to the world around the late 18th century.
In Pakistan, signs of block printing date back to the Indus civilisation, where the famous Sindhi ajrak is printed. In modern day India block printing traces its roots to Gujrat and Rajasthan. This method since its creation in China, moved west through the Indian sub-continent, finally reaching Europe and becoming a developed industry, especially in Germany. In Britain, the artist William Morris’s block print designs are still popular today.
Block printing technique is often executed as it was 4000 years ago. Although dyes, types of cloths and designs may have changed, the carving of the wooden block and process of stamping roughly remains the same in some Pakistani and Indian regions.
The craft of intricate block carving in Pakistan is slowly dying complained a block maker from Hala, who visits Karachi to sell his designs. There are fewer and fewer craftsmen in Pakistan who make traditional designs as modern patterns inundate the market. The block maker said his designs only sell for about two thousand to three thousand rupees whereas the making of the block takes him more than a week.
The owner of the block printing shop in Karachi explained that he already had artists around Karachi that made more popular designs.
Screen printing on the other hand is a relatively newer form of 'fibre art', its takeoff as a mainstream tool for fabric printing was a slow one, until silk mesh became more widely available in the world.
Today, it has become more popular in Pakistan as compared with block printing explained the store owner, stating that it allows for versatility in design.
In modern western culture, screen printing is popular in the underground scene and with many subcultures, it has a D.I.Y culture associated with it. Artist Andy Warhol popularised the technique in the late 60's with his now widely printed silk screen painting of American actress Marilyn Monroe.
In this media gallery Dawn.com visits a block and screen printing store to bring viewers the process of this ancient craft.– Photos by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com, text by Sara Faruqi/Dawn.com
Bottles of paint lined up waiting to be used.
A rag lies discarded to the side amongst barrels of colour. The owner only buys imported dye and paint, explaining that Pakistani materials don't make the cut anymore.
A colourful rack where dyes, after removed from the barrels into more practical bottles, are kept for usage.
An artist mixes paint to get the right colour, the apprentice explained that mixing of colours is not that common anymore as almost "every type of colour imaginable" can be bought on the market.
An employee at the block print shop sits next to barrels of dye used in the printing process.
An example of screen printing where two colours are used to create the design. Multiple colours can be used in a screen print but usually more than one frame is utilised.
An area outside the store where screens are washed and set to dry for re-use.
An apprentice is seen washing the colour out of a frame.
An artist with his apprentice removes a silk mesh frame after applying dye to it. The apprentice's job is to hold the frame steady while the artist or craftsman carefully applies the paint with what is known as a 'scarper' locally and is often a squeegee.
A craftsman selects a screen for printing, the tape in his hand is used to line the frame and the mesh.
Frames lined up for use in the shop. Most frames are made elsewhere and then delivered to the store. The owner either asks for specific designs to be created or will take custom made designs from clients.
The apprentice applies paint onto the screen. Screen printing is popular, amongst many reasons, for its flexibility in the different paints and dyes, which can be used on the same mesh. As is the case in this photo where a purple dye was used before the green.
More colours being mixed. Often, the artist or his apprentice will thin the colour to allow for easier 'pulling' or 'pushing' on the mesh. The colour needs to be thick enough to not fall through the mesh, but thin enough for maneuverability, explained an apprentice.
Here the artist is testing the colour he has mixed, both for result on the cloth as well matching it to the thread in front of him.
A print screen waiting to be 'scraped' over. Often the artist will use more paint than needed in case it does not seep through the mesh and needs another 'scraping'.
A popular store in Karachi where block and screen printing are done. The owner mentioned that many designers have visited the store, which is also popular with textile students from the Indus Valley School and Iqra University.