There is archaeological evidence that an early form of block printing on textiles existed in India as far back as 3000 BCE, during the period of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. It was not until the 12th century that the traditional art of block printing began to flourish. The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan are particularly renowned for manufacturing and exporting magnificent printed cotton fabrics. The art is not traditional to eastern India and was introduced to West Bengal in the 1940s. Highly skilled local craftsmen quickly mastered the textile art form.
Today, as in the past, the main hubs for the manufacture and export of block printed fabrics and garments are Ahmedabad, Surat and the Kutch district in Gujarat and Jaipur, Bagru and the Barmer district in Rajasthan. Today, Serampore city in West Bengal continues to be prominent in the production of block printed silk sarees and fabrics. As in the 20th century, motifs and patterns from West Bengal are market driven, thus block printing from this state is young. West Bengali block printed patterns adapt to contemporary fashion trends while Gujarati and Rajasthani block printed patterns perpetuate its tradtional motifs
The art of block printing begins with designs hand-carved into wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes called bunta, usually using teakwood. To soften the wood, blocks are soaked in oil for up to two weeks.
The fabric is washed, dried and treated so that it is able to consistently absorb the dye before being laid out in preparation for printing and is always worked from left to right. The wooden block is dipped into dye before being printed onto the fabric with great force in order to make a perfect impression. This is a meticulous process with three variations: