Block Printing on Chanderi Sarees

The traditional garment worn by Indian woven is called the saris or sari. While the exact origin of saris is not known, yet researches have shown existence of saris way back in 3000 BC in the Indus Valley civilization. The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is Renowned for its Chanderi saris.


Madhya Pradesh has not only rich deposits of monumental heritage, green woods and abundant wildlife but it also has created a niche for itself though the art and crafts of the region. This is because of the people and their age old traditions that have been besieged upon them by their ancestors. The contrast variety of handicrafts that add charisma and uniqueness to Madhya Pradesh prevails amongst the ebullient festivity.


Chanderi is one of the best-known handloom clusters in India. It is particularly famous for its saris and is made with mix of silk and cotton. But if we look history, Chanderi has been adapting itself as per needs. Sari is the product of second half of twentieth century only.


In the heart of India beyond forests and valleys, is famous weaver’s town of Chanderi in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh. Dacca muslins were comparable to Chanderi cotton long back. The weavers of Chanderi created the present form of Chanderi saris when the British introduced mill-made fabrics to compete with Indian handlooms. They used a silk warp with a fine cotton weft without compromising on the intricate gold borders and jewel like butties. Ever since then the weave continued to remain as delicate and exquisite as it was.


Colour was introduced into chanderi weaving about 50 years ago. Before that only white saris were woven and to give them their characteristic golden hue and fragrance, they were washed in saffron. Flowers were also used for dyeing these saris into soft pastel colours. Now saris are available in a range of light and dark colours with and without the gold borders and butties. Plain colours are also woven to be used as a base for embroidery, printing and other embellishments.




India hand woven fabric or handloom, as they are popularly known for centuries reflect the multicultural aspect of India. India is one of the oldest textile centres of the world. India hand woven fabric have been inspiring the interior designers the world over. Known for their aesthetic appeal and multi- utility aspects of India all the arts and crafts

in India handloom have glorious tradition of creativity and craftsmanship to the Vedic period, nourished by the highly skilled and innovative artisans and weavers of India.





Sari is originally known as ‘chira’ in Sanskrit which means cloth. The 6 yards, fluid garment over and around the body, unstitched, adjusted with little tucks and pulls is one of the most graceful pictures ever. The most sensuous garment ever is undoubtedly the sari. And the best thing about it is that it conceals as much as it reveals. The quintessential Indian female garment is the sari as nothing identifies a woman as being Indian as strongly as the sari.


Saris comes in every shapes and sizes, from textured handloom fabrics created in remote mountain areas to sheer luxurious silk, once exclusively royal.


One of the most feminine outfits ever is the saris. And that’s the secret behind its survival through various fashion eras like drainpipe, bell-bottoms and now low – rise jeans. Due to lack of proper historical records in India, the origin of this fabulous garment is a bit obscure. But one thing’s for sure that the sari boosts the oldest existence in the sartorial world. It is mentioned in the Vedas and is more than 5000 years old.


History of Saris


The origin of Indian textiles can be traced to the Indus valley civilization. India has a diverse and rich textile tradition. The people of that civilization used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. Excavations at Mohan jodaro and Harappa, have unearthed household items like needles made of bone and wooden spindles. This suggests that the people would have spun cotton at home to make yarn and finally garments. These sites also revealed fragments of woven cotton.


The first literary information about textiles in Indian is available in the Rig-Veda, which refers to weaving. The ancient Hindu epics mention a variety of fabric in vogue during those times. The rich garments worn by the aristocracy and the simple clothes worn by the commoners and ascetics are seen in the Ramayana.


The sari’s origins are obscure, in part because there are so few historical records in India compounded to most other major civilizations yet we know that long before tailored clothes arrived, Indians were weaving length of unsewn cloth draped around their bodies. One of the earliest depictions of a sari- like drape covering the entire body dates to about 100 B.C.


Museum collections amassed during the western region, the best resource, as well as the often- extensive private collection of many south Asian women through the subcontinent.


Mention must also be made of tailored women’s clothes, be they the Ghaghara (full gathered skirts) of the western region, the salwar kameez (gathered trousers and loosetailored top) once associated with western- region Muslims but now popular among young urban women throughout India, or the choli (blouse) worn under the sari.


Saris have always been a passion for Indian women. It had lost its charm and attraction over centuries. Saris never change even as fashion may come and go. Saris only gain modifications with the changing times and trends.


Indian woven in the past centuries used to wear only ordinary plain saris with fabrics more or less the same and hardly any designs on them. Various fine fabrics with delicate designs and embroidery works have developed in today’s sari. There are saris embellished with semi-precious stones and embroidery works done with expensive gold and silver threads. Lavish Zari work is also seen is certain costly saris.


The accessories that you need with a sari are a matching blouse or choli and a petticoat. Many parts of the blouse are visible while petticoat is completely hidden by the sari. The blouse could be quarter sleeved, half-sleeved, full-sleeved, or even sleeveless. One that is flowing and silk, embellished with embroidery work, mirror work, semi-precious stone or beads is the perfect blouse that goes well with the modern sari. The blouse also has undergone a series of changes and modifications.


The Textiles of Madhya Pradesh


The textile of MP is a part of the rich heritage of India. The weaving, printing and colouring of textiles of MP have been influenced by the bordering states of Orissa, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, but at the same time they have developed their own distinctive style and individuality. MP is famous for its delicate weaves in chanderi saris.


In chanderi, traditional craftsperson’s used fine cotton as weft and silk as warp. Usually in subtle hues, they have sophistication hard to match. The chanderi cotton saris are ideal summer wear. In the “Zari” saris, crafts influences of the Varanasi style are bands on the pallav. The more expensive saris have gold checks with lotus roundels all over which are known as butties.


Local name Color
Kesari Saffron
Badami Almond with a hint of Saffron
Angroori Pale grape green
Morgardani Blue green of the peacock’s neck
Totai Parrot green
Mehndi Henna green (a more recent color)
Chutni Sap green (a more recent color)
Anandi Turquoise
Rani Indian pink
Phalsa The reddish mauve of the Phalsa
Katthai Purplish brown of the catechu


Color and Design


The fame and the romance of the soft chanderi colors lay in their constant reference to nature- fruits, flowers, leaves and birds, such as following table:


Block printing




Block Printing is an ancient craft form of Rajasthan that is being practiced since time immemorial. Rajasthan is well known for the art of block printing that is hugely practiced there even till date. Natural colors are used in Block Printing. The process of doing block printing flourished since the 12th century when the art received a royal patronage from the kings of the era. Rajasthan is an important centre in India where block printing has gained a good prominence and the designs of the block printing that originated in Rajasthan are considered the most popular and best of all other designs. Block Printing is done on cotton fabrics.




The parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat became famous for the art of Block Printing that was hugely practiced, during the 12th century. The block printing of Rajasthan in India was exported in a large number from India.




Block Printing can be distinguished into two categories, namely:

  1. The Sanganeri Prints
  2. Bagru Prints.



The background color of the Fabric marks the difference between the two. The Bagru prints are essentially done on background of red and black and the Sanganeri prints are done on a white background. Block printing is done on rich and vibrant colors and this aspect has given prominence to Block Printing as a craft of Rajasthan. Block Printing of Rajasthan in India is known for the intricate designs and the details that are made on the block prints.


The wooden blocks of different shapes and sizes used for block printing are called bunta. The fabric is washed free of starch before printing is done on it. The base of the block has the design carved on it. Standard colors used for block printing are black, brown, orange, red, and mustard. Printing is done from left to right. The fabric is dried out in the sun after the block printing is done.



Basic Equipment


  • Printing table
  • Printing color tray
  • Blocks
  • Wooden net
  • Net
  • Dye tray
  • Sponge
  • Blanket
  • Brush
  • Color trolley
  • Gum basket
  • Cambric cloth


Process of Block Printing



  • First, the fabric to be printed is washed free of starch and soft bleached. If dyeing is required (as in the case of saris where borders or the body is tied and dyed) it is done before printing.


  • The fabric is again washed to remove excess dye and dried thoroughly.


  • The fabric is treated by harda and dried.


  • The fabric is stretched over the printing table and fastened with small pins. This in an important stage as there should be a uniform tension in the fabric with no ripples.


  • The color napthol to be used are kept in a tray on a wheeled wooden trolley with racks which the printer drags along as he works. On the lower shelves printing blocks are kept ready.


  • Under the napthol tray is another tray containing a thick viscous liquid made from nepthol binder and glue. This gives the color tray a soft base which helps to spread color evenly on the wooden block.


  • The printing starts from left to right.


  • When the block is applied to the fabric, it is slammed hard with the fist on the back of the handle so that a good impression may register. This job is usually done by an expert printer who ensures the effect is continuous and not disjoined.


  • The fabric is sun-dried, which is part of the color-fixing process.


  • At last we will dye the cloth into Naphthol dye.



“Chanderi will mainly offer its unique high value added fabrics among exporters and niche retail stores to suit the high end of the domestic and international market by the year 2005.”


Indian handloom fabrics constitute a unique chapter the history of human endeavour. Among the techniques which are regarded as traditional in India in the sense of their ancient practices are; weaving natural dyeing and printing. Keeping the above point in mind following objectives was framed:


Major findings of the study are as follows:-


Raw material:


The yarns used are cotton and silk of 100 and 200 counts. The silk is of denier 13/15. The cotton yarn was purchased from Mumbai, Ahmadabad, Chennai and Madurai and the silk yarn was purchased from Bangalore.


Manufacturing process:


The dyeing process in Chanderi is undertaken mainly for the silk yarn by the dyers, many of whom have been in this skill since long. The silk yarn dyeing takes about 45 to 60 minutes depending on the colour. After dyeing, the yarn is loosened on wound on reels or swiftness.


For the weft, the yarn is wound on prints with the help of a charka, usually carried out by the members of the weaver’s family. After warping, they are passed through the reed and the healds. With a deft twist of the hand of the women folk, the warp threads are then joined to the old warp threads. This process takes about 3-4 days.


Before the actual weaving begins, the weavers set the design of the border and the pallu. A vertical harness called jala is used to tie the respective ends of the design. This process takes 3-4 days depending on the complexity of the design. The figured effects are produced with the help of an extra weft and the number of tills. Higher the number of the wefts, more times will it takes. However, with increased number of ply, the weaver can move faster, but the output is less fine. Similarly, higher the reed count, higher would be the production time.

The weaving is performed by skilled weavers. Traditionally, the looms used had been largely pit looms with throw shuttle. Today, the magic of the master weaver is not lost, though modern fly shuttle looms are being used. The chanderi fabric does not require any post-loom process. However, these used to be sometimes given a final calendaring finish with a kundi, making the warp and weft more compact giving it a surface sheen. Addition of fine gold, silver or mica dust at this stage was also practised.


Colour, Designs and Motifs


The chanderi colours always show a preference for harmony between the borders and the body of the saris. Chanderi saris favours subtle shades, and are occasionally considered being a little more flamboyant than its traditional cousins. The traditional colour palette has kesari (saffron); Badami (almond with hint of saffron); Angoori (pale grape green); Morgardani (blue green of the peacock’s neck); Totai (parrot green); Mehndi (henna green- a more recent colour); Chatani (sapgreen); Anandi (turquoise); Rani (Indian pink); Phalsa (the reddish mauve), and Katthai (purplish brown of the catechu).


The looks of chanderi sari is often compared with thousands stars twinkling in the sereneness of the vast sky- we find hazar buti very common. The most common combination com that can found is the off white colour on the body and various colours on the borders.


Chanderi designs are heavily drawn from nature and so hunting scenes, the tree of life, human forms, birds, fruits, flowers and heavenly bodies are frequent motifs on these saris- with exquisite detail far surpassing their role models.


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