Hand block printing evolves from the dye painted fabrics of Coromandel Coast referred to as Machilipatnam paintings. These paintings were renowned trade items of seventeenth century mainly to European countries and Iran. The fabrics were referred to as Kalamkari because earlier the mordant was painted with a kalam (pen). Eventually the kalam’s were replaced by blocks in the nineteenth century. The border patterns and a field of floral pattern in a repetitive fashion displaced the early designs.
Locally the printed fabrics were used as prayer mats, tents and canopies. The European market brought the fashion for printed home furnishings and home linens etc.
Block printing is a labour intensive process that is done in several stages. The cloth is prepared by bleaching, washing and dipping in myrobalam solution. Fabric is then printed in black and red colour; the black is produced by iron nails and red that is obtained from alum. The fabric is then dyed in alizarine and starched. The starched fabric in the last is painted with yellow colour. Earlier natural dyes were used but due to the increased prices of raw material craftsmen have shifted to chemical dyes.
There has been degradation in the type of quality of craftsmanship now. Bigger block with large patterns have replaced the fine delicate foliage.