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a primer



Gadh, rekh & datta


Gadh, rekh & datta are the foundations of block print and define the different types of wooden blocks used to create a design on cloth:

  • gadh - the background block

  • rekh - the outline block

  • datta - the filler block


A print design can use one, two, or all three types of blocks, each in one or more colours, to achieve very different appearances, depth & complexity in the end design.


Blocks are carved by hand by specialist wood carvers using small hammers & chisels, traditionally on teak wood, which is both sustainable & native to India. After carving, blocks are soaked in mustard oil for several days to ensure their longevity, and with careful maintenance and cleaning can last many decades. 


Blocks come in all shapes and sizes, though blocks larger than around 12" are not used as the handling becomes too difficult. Holes drilled into the blocks allow air to escape as the block is pushed onto the cloth, and allow the wood to breathe.


The various designs are printed one over the other: layers of colour, line & shape are perfectly positioned by the skilled & experienced eye of the printer. Screen and digital printing will aline perfectly without gaps; in contrast, block printing by hand, especially as designs become more complex and use more blocks, will show irregularities in the alignment.


This irregularity introduces a rich texture and liveliness to the printed cloth that speaks of the hands used to craft it. Our Samudree Collection prints use up to 12 blocks layered over one another to create a pattern of immense depth and detail!

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This deep blue design has been printed using a single, large gadh background block. A gadh print has the design elements carved out of it, creating negative space which the rekh and datta blocks will later fill in. In this case, the gadh block has been printed directly onto white cloth, though it can be printed over a base-dyed cloth, too. 


While it creates negative space, generally gadh wouldn't be used without adding rekh or datta as it can't achieve much depth or detail when used alone.

It can be challenging using a gadh block with large areas of colour: the pigment can become inconsistent or blotchy. In this print, we made sure to use scattered design elements across the entire block to avoid this problem. 


Gadh offers an alternative option to simply dyeing the entire cloth in a background colour. By leaving white space, it allows a broader range of colours to be used in the rekh & datta prints, as well as increasing the brightness of the subsequent layers.






Rekh is the outline print. It's very clean, with the details of the print design showing clearly. The word comes from the Hindi word for line, rekha. This kind of print is fun to use as a contrast lining to a quilt or jacket, or for a design which calls for less colour or more detail.


You might notice some Hindi written inside the rekh fish print in our Samudree Collection? This is the name of the wood block carvers we worked with to create our blocks: Yaseen Block Prints. We love adding the signature of the makers into our cloth designs!


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The handmade wooden blocks we sell online are rekh blocks. Instead of wood, the lines are made using hand-shaped brass stripes; this gives a sharper & crisper outline.


These are beautiful to use as a decorative item at home; a connection to the ancient craft of Indian block print. They can also be used by you creative types to print on paper & cloth.



Gadh & rekh


Here you can see two variations of a gadh background block - a lighter and a darker blue - and a rekh outline block used over them. The detailing of the rekh is enhanced by the added depth from the gadh. The filler block, datta, has been left out of this design.


We printed a few colourways in this technique: gadh & rekh only. Although they lack the depth of the multi-print fabric, they have a simple, crisp freshness to them.




Gadh & datta


One of my favourite effects is that of gadh background and datta filler, without rekh outlines. See how the motifs have a blurry edge and naiveté about them, like a child's drawing? I find it very whimsical! 

The absence of rekh outlines lets colours merge into one another, and leaves design elements with undefined, painterly borders. 





Gadh, rekh & datta


In the vast majority of our fabrics, we applied all three types of blocks using layer upon layer to create depth & complexity, as well as creating new colours by adding one colour on top of another.


Our block print fabrics use up to 12 blocks to create one colour way: it took days & days of colour sampling to achieve the perfect harmony and balance between gadh, rekh & many datta blocks!