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