John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

Woodblock Printing

Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images, or patterns that originated in China in antiquity as a way of printing on textiles and then paper. With a wood plank that has been carved in such a way to allow inking and subsequent printing, it continues to be widely used throughout East Asia. The earliest surviving instances of this type of printing on fabric are from China, dating from before CE 220, and from Egypt, dating from the 4th century. The most well-known type of Japanese woodblock art print technique is called moku hanga which employs watercolour pigments rather than oil-based inks. The term ‘woodcut’ covers the majority of European usage of the technique on paper.

The technique of Wood Block Printing:

The woodblock is prepared as a relief matrix, which means that the portions that will be shown in ‘white’ are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or picture that will be shown in ‘black’ at the original surface level. The wood grain was followed when cutting the block. To get a good print, all you have to do is ink the block and bring it into a firm, even contact with the paper or fabric. When printing text, the content would naturally print “in reverse” or mirror-image, adding to the intricacy. Though the name xylography is rarely used in English, the skill of carving the woodcut is officially known as xylography. Multiple blocks, each for one colour, are used in colour printing, while overprinting two colours may result in additional colours on the print. By keying the paper to a frame surrounding the woodblocks, multiple colours can be accurately registered and printed.

Stamping in Wood Block Printing:

Many fabrics and early European woodcuts use it (1400-40) The paper or cloth was placed on a table or other flat surface with the block on top, and the back of the block was pressed or hammered.

Woodblock to be inked and pressed onto fabric repeatedly to create a pattern.

Rubbing in Wood Block Printing:

Far Eastern printing on paper appears to be the most common at all times. Later in the fifteenth century, it was frequently used for European woodcuts and block books, as well as textiles. In frottage, the paper, fabric or thin paper is laid on top of the block. A “hard pad, a flat piece of wood, a burnisher, or a leather frotton” is used to rub the back thereby transferring the image. Or a crayon or soft pencil is rubbed carefully over the surface to pick up the image as in the example shown here.

In frottage, the artist places a piece of paper over an uneven surface, then marks the paper with a drawing tool (such as a pastel or pencil), thus creating a rubbing. The drawing can be left as it is or used as the basis for further refinement. While superficially similar to brass rubbing and other forms of rubbing intended to reproduce an existing subject, and in fact sometimes being used as an alternative term for it, frottage implies using this rubbing technique to create an original image.

Frottage was developed by surrealist artist Max Ernst in 1925. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. He captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil.

Thin paper fixed to a stone carving showing how a rubbing is made.

Printing in a press in Wood Block Printing:

Presses do not appear to have been utilized in Asia until recently. In Europe, simple weighted presses may have been employed, although there is no solid evidence. Printing presses were afterwards used (from about 1480).

Jiaxie (clamp-resist dyeing or Jiaran), one of the oldest Chinese dyeing techniques, dates back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Two symmetrical carved concave blocks are traditionally used to clamp the folded cloth and dip it into a dye vat using a huge lever. As a result, the fabric has the same pattern coloured on both sides. The cloth is rinsed after it has been dyed and removed from the woodblock clamps. Jiaxie was utilized to make a variety of multi-coloured silk items throughout the Tang (618-907) and Song Dynasties (960-1279). To distinguish themselves, authorities and troops wore Jiaxie as a symbol on their service uniforms. Tang Dynasty writers commonly used Jiaxie as a theme for their poems because of its beautiful colours.

Development in Wood Block Printing:

The usage of spherical “cylinder seals” for rolling an impression into clay tablets dates back to before 3,000 BCE in early Mesopotamian civilization, and they are the most numerous works of art to remain, with complex and beautiful images.

Enuma Elish clay tablets

Small stamps were used for seals in both China and Egypt before larger blocks were used. The printing of cloth almost always predates the printing of paper or papyrus in Egypt, Europe, and India; this was almost undoubtedly also the case in China.

The process is essentially the same in Europe special presentation impressions of prints were often printed on silk until at least the seventeenth century. The earliest woodblock printed fragments to survive are from China and are of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han dynasty (before 220 CE). The earliest Egyptian printed cloth dates from the 4th century. But the dry conditions in Egypt are exceptionally good for preserving fabric compared to, for example, India. It is not clear if the Egyptian printing of cloth was learned from China, or elsewhere, or developed separately.

It is clear that the Chinese were the first by several centuries to use the process to print solid text, and equally that, much later, in Europe the printing of images on cloth developed into the printing of images on paper (woodcuts). It is also now established that the use in Europe of the same process to print substantial amounts of text together with images in block-books only came after the development of movable type in the 1450s.

Woodcut of an early European printing workshop.

The technique has traditionally been most important in India as a method of printing textiles, which has been a huge industry for millennia. Throughout the Modern Period, large amounts of printed Indian silk and cotton were exported to Europe. The woodblock, which contains the relief design, dye or ink, which was widely used in the ancient world, and either cloth or paper, which was initially established in China about the 3rd or 2nd century BC, are the three essential components for woodblock printing. Although it is possible, woodblock printing on papyrus appears to have never been done.

Because the Chinese have such an extensive character set, printing from a woodcut suits them rather than movable type because the characters better reflect the original text. The Chinese invented a form of movable type using baked clay in the 11th century, and movable metal type was introduced in Korea in the 13th century. Although woodblocks remained the preferred method of Chinese printing text due to the daunting challenges of typesetting 40,000 or more characters. Ceremonial literature (such as the Buddhist canon Tripitaka, which required 130,000 woodblocks) continues to ensure the integrity of approved content.

Korean monk holding a Tripitaka woodblock

The original block could simply be pulled off the shelf again when another text sheet needed to be printed. In contrast, moveable type entailed the error-prone composition of multiple “editions.” In China, Korea, and Japan, the government became involved in printing. They had the financial means to fund the cutting of the blocks for extended works. The differences between East Asian woodblock printing and Western printing presses significantly impacted the evolution of East Asian and European book cultures and their marketplace.

Early Books in Wood Block Printing:

Woodblock printing in China is strongly associated with Buddhism, which encouraged the spread of charms and sutras. In the Tang Dynasty, a Chinese writer named Fenzhi first mentioned in his book “Yuan Xian San Ji” that the woodblock was used to print Buddhist scriptures during the Zhenguan years (627~649 AD). The oldest known Chinese surviving printed work is a woodblock-printed Buddhist scripture of the Wu Zetian period (684~705 AD); discovered in Turfan, Xinjiang province, China, in 1906 now stored in a calligraphy museum in Tokyo, Japan.o, Japan.

A woodblock print of the Dharani sutra dated between 704 and 751 AD was found at Bulguksa, South Korea in 1966. Its Buddhist text was printed on a mulberry paper scroll 8 cm wide and 630 cm long in the early Korean Kingdom of Unified Silla. Another version of the Dharani sutra, printed in Japan around 770 AD, is also frequently cited as an example of early printing. One million copies of the sutra, along with other prayers, were ordered to be produced by Empress Shotoku. As each copy was then stored in a tiny wooden pagoda, the copies are together known as the Hyakumanto Darani.

Diamond Sutra scroll.

The world’s earliest dated (868 AD) printed book is a Chinese scroll about sixteen feet long and containing the text of the Diamond Sutra. It was found in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein in Mogao Caves in Dunhuang and is now in the British Museum. The book displays a great maturity of design and layout and speaks of a considerable ancestry for woodblock printing. The colophon, at the inner end, reads: Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [i.e. 11th May, CE 868 ].

Wood block printing in Eurasia:

The technique is found through East and Central Asia, and in the Byzantine world for cloth, and by 1000 AD examples of woodblock printing on paper appear in Islamic Egypt. Printing onto cloth had spread much earlier, and was common in Europe by 1300. Woodblock printing on paper of images only began in Europe around 1400, almost as soon as paper became available, and the print in woodcut, later joined by engraving, quickly became an important cultural tradition for popular religious works, as well as playing cards and other uses. Many early Chinese examples, such as the Diamond Sutra contain images, mostly Buddhist, that are often elaborate. Later, some notable artists designed woodblock images for books, but the separate artistic print did not develop in China as it did in Europe and Japan. Apart from devotional images, mainly Buddhist, few “single-leaf” Chinese prints were made until the nineteenth century.

Woodblock-books in fifteenth century Europe:

Block-books, where both text and images are cut on blocks, appeared in Europe in the 1460s as a cheaper alternative to books printed by movable type. A woodcut is an image, perhaps with a title, cut in a single block and used as a book illustration with adjacent text printed using movable type. The only example of the block book form that contains no images is the school textbook Latin grammar of Donatus. The most famous block-books are the Speculum Humanae Salvationis and the Ars moriendi, though in this the images and text are on different pages, but all block-cut. The Biblia pauperum, a Biblical picture book, was the next most common title, and the great majority of block books were popular devotional works. All block books are fairly short at less than fifty pages.

While in Europe movable metal type soon became cheap enough to replace woodblock printing for the reproduction of text, woodcuts remained a major way to reproduce images in illustrated works of early modern European printing. Most block books before about 1480 were printed on only one side of the paper if they were printed by rubbing it would be difficult to print on both sides without damaging the first one to be printed. Many were printed with two pages per sheet, producing a book with an opening of two printed pages, followed by openings with two blank pages (as earlier in China). The blank pages were then glued together to produce a book looking like a type-printed one. Where both sides of a sheet have been printed, it is presumed a printing press was used.

Colour in Wood Block Printing:

The earliest woodblock printing known is in colour. Chinese silk from the Han Dynasty printed in three colours. On paper, European woodcut prints with coloured blocks were invented in Germany in 1508 and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts. Colour is very common in Asian woodblock printing on paper; in China the first known example is a book on ink-cakes printed in 1606 and the technique reached its height in books on painting published in the seventeenth century.

Notable examples are the Treatise on the Paintings and Writings of the Ten Bamboo Studio of 1633, and the Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual published in 1679 and 1701. In Japan, a multi-colour technique, called nishiki-e (“brocade pictures”), spread more widely, and was used for prints, from the 1760s on. Japanese woodcut became a major artistic form, although at the time it was accorded a much lower status than painting. In both Europe and Japan, book illustrations were normally printed in black ink only, and colour reserved for individual artistic prints. In China, the reverse was true, and colour printing was used mainly in books on art.

Wood block printing in Japan:

From 764–770, an Empress commissioned one million tiny wooden pagodas with short printed scrolls (usually 6 × 45 cm) to be sent to temples. Apart from the printing of Buddhist scriptures, which became prevalent in Japan in the eleventh century, the method was only used for secular books unexpectedly late in Japan, with the earliest documented example being a Chinese-Japanese dictionary from 1590.

Though the Jesuits possessed a moveable type printing press in Nagasaki, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s soldiers brought back printing technology from Korea in 1593, which had a considerably bigger impact on the medium’s growth. Even before becoming shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu constructed the first native movable type, utilizing wooden type-pieces rather than metal, four years later. He was in charge of the production of 100,000 type-pieces, which were used to print a variety of political and historical documents.
Emperor Go-Yozei ordered an edition of the Confucian Analects to be printed in 1598 using a Korean moveable type printing press.

This is the oldest surviving piece of Japanese moveable type printing. Despite the appeal of moveable type, it was quickly recognized that woodblocks would better imitate the calligraphic script style of Japanese writing, and woodblocks were once again accepted; by 1640, they were being used for practically all purposes. It immediately became popular among ukiyo-e artists and was used to create small, inexpensive art prints and booklets. This form of woodblock printing of artwork is called moku-hanga. Japan became the first country in the world to experience mass literary output.

Kibyoshi script

Travel guides, instruction manuals, kibyoshi (satirical novels), sharebon (urban culture books), art books, and play scripts for the joruri (puppet) theatre were among the literature included. Within a genre, such as joruri theatre scripts, a particular style of writing would often become the standard; in other words, one person’s personal calligraphic style would be chosen as the pattern for printing plays.

Further development of woodblock printing in East Asia:

In East Asia, wood block printing proved to be more enduring than in Europe, continuing well into the 19th century as the major form of printing texts, especially in China, even after the introduction of the European printing press. Jesuits stationed in China in the 16th and 17th centuries indeed preferred to use woodblocks for their own publishing projects, noting how inexpensive and convenient it was. Only with the introduction of more mechanized printing methods from the West in the 19th century did printing in East Asia move towards metal moveable type and the printing press.

On materials other than paper:

Block printing has also been extensively used for decorative purposes such as fabrics and wallpaper. This is easiest with repetitive patterns composed of one or a small number of motifs that are small to medium in size (due to the difficulty of carving and handling larger blocks). For a multicolour pattern, each colour element is carved as a separate block and individually inked and applied. Block printing was the standard method of producing wallpaper until the early twentieth century, and is still used by a few traditionalist firms. It also remains in use for making cloth, mostly in small artisanal settings, for example in India.

Woodblock printing on textiles:

Wood block printing on textiles is the process of printing patterns on textiles, usually of linen, cotton or silk, by means of incised wooden blocks. It is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of textile printing. Block printing by hand is a slow process it is, however, capable of yielding highly artistic results, some of which are unobtainable by any other method. Printing patterns on textiles is so closely related in its ornamental effects to other different methods of similar intention, such as by painting and by processes of dyeing and weaving, that it is almost impossible to determine from the picturesque indications afforded by ancient records and writings of pre-Christian, classical or even medieval times, how far, if at all, allusion is being made in them to this particular process. Hence its original invention must probably remain a matter of inference only.

As a process, the employment of which has been immensely developed and modified in Europe in the nineteenth century by machinery anti the adoption of stereotypes and engraved metal plates, it is doubtless traceable to a primeval use of blocks of stone, wood, etc., so cut or carved as to make impressions on surfaces of any material; and where the existence of these can be traced in ancient civilizations, e.g. of China, Egypt and Assyria, there is a probability that printing ornament upon textiles may have been practiced at a very early period.

Nevertheless, highly skilled as the Chinese are, and for ages have been, in ornamental weaving and other branches of textile art, there seem to be no direct evidences of their having resorted so extensively to printing for the decoration of textiles as peoples in the East Indies, those, for instance, of the Punjab and Bombay, from whose posterity 16th century European and especially Dutch merchants bought goods for Occidental trade in Indiennes or printed and painted calicoes.

As in the case of weaving and embroideries, specimens of printed stuffs have of recent years been obtained from disused cemeteries in Upper Egypt (Akhmim and elsewhere) and tell us of Egypto-Roman use of such things. A few of them are now lodged in European museums. For indications that earlier Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were likely to have been acquainted with the process, one has to rely upon less certain evidence. Of textiles painted by Egyptians there are many actual examples. Apart from these there are wall paintings, e.g., those of Beni Hassan–about 2100 B.C. in which are represented certain Afro-Asiatic people wearing costumes irregularly patterned with spots, stripes and zigzags, which may have been more readily stamped than embroidered or woven.

A rather more complicated and orderly pattern well suited to stamping occurs in a painting about 1320 BC, of Hathor and King Meneptha I. Herodotus, referring to the garments of inhabitants of the Caucasus, says that representations of various animals were dyed into them so as to be irremovable by washing. Pliny describes a very remarkable process employed in Egypt for the colouring of tissues. After pressing the material, which is white at first, they saturate it, not with colours, but with mordants that are calculated to absorb colour. He does not explain how this saturation is done. But as it is clearly for the purpose of obtaining a decorative effect, stamping or brushing the mordants into the material may be inferred.

When this was finished the cloth was plunged into a cauldron of boiling dye and removed the next moment fully coloured. It is a singular fact, too, that although the dye in the pan is of one uniform colour, the material when taken out of it is of various colours according to the nature of the mordants that have been respectively applied to it.

Egypto-Roman bits of printed stuffs from Akhrnim exhibit the use, some three hundred years later than the time of Pliny, of boldly cut blocks for stamping figure-subjects and patterns on to textilesAlmost concurrent with their discovery was that of a fragment of printed cotton at Arles in the grave of St Caesarius, who was bishop there about A.D. 542. Equal in archaeological value are similar fragments found in an ancient tomb at Quedlinburg. These, however, are of comparatively simple patterns. Museum specimens establish the fact that more important pattern printing on textiles had become a developed industry in parts of Europe towards the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century.

According to Forrer (Die Kunst des Zeugdrucks, 1898) medieval Rhenish monasteries were the cradles of the artistic craft of ornamental stamp or block cutting, although it is now recognised that some of the examples he relied on are modern forgeries. In rare monastic manuscripts earlier in date than the 13th century, initial letters (especially those that recurred frequently) were sometimes stamped from hand-cut blocks; and German deeds of the 14th century bear names of block cutters and textile stampers as those of witnesses.

Between the 11th and 14th centuries there was apparently in Germany no such weaving of rich ornamental stuffs as that carried on in Spain and Italy, but her competitive and commercial instincts led her to adapt her art of stamping to the decoration of coarse textiles, and thus to produce rather rough imitations of patterns woven in the Saracenic, Byzantine and Italian silks and brocades. Amongst the more ancient relics of Rhenish printed textiles are some of thin silken stuff, impressed with rude and simplified versions of such patterns in gold and silver foil. Of these, and of a considerable number of later variously dyed stout linens with patterns printed in dark tones or in black, specimens have been collected from reliquaries, tombs and old churches. From these several bits of evidence Dr. Forrer propounds an opinion that the printing of patterns on textiles as carried on in several Rhenish towns preceded that of printing on paper. He proceeds to show that from after the 14th century increasing luxury and prosperity promoted a freer use of woven and embroidered stuffs, in consequence of which textile printing fell into neglect, and it was not until three centuries later that it revived, very largely under the influence of trade importing into Europe quantities of Indian printed and painted calicoes. Augsburg, famous in the 17th century for its printing on linens, etc., supplied Alsace and Switzerland with many craftsmen in this process.

After the revocation of the edict of Nantes, French refugees took part in manufacturing of both painted and printed cloths in Holland, England and Switzerland; some few of the refugees were allowed back into France to do the same in Normandy: manufacturers were also set up in Paris, Marseilles, Nantes and Angers; but there was still greater activity at Geneva, Neuchtel, Zurich, St Gall and Basel.

The first textile printing works in Great Britain are said to have been begun towards the end of the 17th century by a Frenchman on the banks of the Thames near Richmond, and soon afterward a more considerable factory was established at Bromley Hall in Essex; many others were opened in Surrey early in the 18th century.

At Muihouse the enterprise of Koechlin, Schmatzer and Dollfus in 1746, as well as that of Oberkampf at Jouy, led to a still wider spread of the industry in Alsace. In almost every place in Europe where it was taken up and followed, it was met by local and national prohibitions or trade protective regulations and acts, which, however, were gradually overcome. Wood blocks for textile printing may be made of box, lime, holly, sycamore, plane or pear wood, the latter three being most generally employed. They vary in size considerably, but must always be between two and three inches thick, otherwise they are liable to warping, which is additionally guarded against by backing the wood chosen with two or more pieces of cheaper wood, such as deal or pine.

The several pieces or blocks are tongued and grooved to fit each other, and are then securely glued together, under pressure, into one solid block with the grain of each alternate piece running in a different direction. The block, being planed quite smooth and perfectly flat, next has the design drawn upon, or transferred to it. This latter is effected by rubbing off, upon its flat surface, a tracing in lampblack and oil, of the outlines of the masses of the design. The portions to be left in relief are then tinted, between their outlines, an ammoniacal carmine or magenta, for the purpose of distinguishing them from those portions that have to be cut away.

As a separate block is required for each distinct colour in the design, a separate tracing must be made of each and transferred (or put on as it a termed) to its own special block. Having thus received a tracing of the pattern the block is thoroughly damped and kept in this condition by being covered with wet cloths during the whole process of cutting. The blockcutter commences by carving out the wood around the heavier masses first, leaving the finer and more delicate work until the last so as to avoid any risk of injuring it during the cutting of the coarser parts. When large masses of colour occur in a pattern, the corresponding parts on the block are usually cut in outline, the object being filled in between the outlines with felt, which not only absorbs the colour better, but gives a much more even impression than it is possible to obtain with a large surface of wood.

When finished, the block presents the appearance of flat relief carving, the design standing out like letterpress type. Fine details are very difficult to cut in wood, and, even when successfully cut, wear down very rapidly or break off in printing. They are therefore almost invariably built up in strips of brass or copper, bent to shape and driven edgewise into the flat surface of the block. This method is known as coppering, and by its means many delicate little forms, such as stars, rosettes and fine spots can be printed, which would otherwise be quite impossible to produce by hand or machine block printing. Frequently, too, the process of coppering is used for the purpose of making a mold, from which an entire block can be made and duplicated as often as desired, by casting. In this case the metal strips are driven to a predetermined depth into the face of a piece of lime-wood cut across the grain, and, when the whole design is completed in this way, the block is placed, metal face downwards in a tray of molten type-metal or solder, which transmits sufficient heat to the inserted portions of the strips of copper to enable them to carbonize the wood immediately in contact with them and, at the same time, firmly attaches itself to the outstanding portions.

When cold a slight tap with a hammer on the back of the lime wood block easily detaches the cake of the type-metal or alloy and along with it, of course, the strips of copper to which it is firmly soldered, leaving a matrix, or mold, in wood of the original design.

The casting is made in an alloy of low melting-point, anti, after cooling, is filed or ground until all its projections are of the same height and perfectly smooth, after which it is screwed on to a wooden support and is ready for printing. Similar molds are also made by burning out the lines of the pattern with a red-hot steel punch, capable of being raised or lowered at will, and under which the block is moved about by hand along the lines of the pattern.

In addition to the engraved block, a printing table and colour sieve are required. The table consists of a stout framework of wood or iron supporting a thick slab of stone varying in size according to the width of cloth to be printed. Over the stone table top a thick piece of woolen printers blanket is tightly stretched to supply the elasticity necessary to give the block every chance of making a good impression on the cloth. At one end, the table is provided with a couple of iron brackets to carry the roll of cloth to be printed and, at the other, a series of guide rollers, extending to the ceiling, are arranged for the purpose of suspending and drying the newly printed goods.

The colour sieve consists of a tub (known as the swimming tub) half filled with starch paste, On the surface of which floats a frame covered at the bottom with a tightly stretched piece Of mackintosh or oiled calico. On this the colour sieve proper, a frame similar to, the last but covered with fine woolen cloth, is placed, and forms when in position a sort of elastic colour trough over the bottom of which the colour is spread evenly with a brush. The printer commences by drawing a length of cloth, from the roll, over the table, and marks it with a piece of coloured chalk arid a ruler to indicate where the first impression of the block is to be applied. He then applies his block in two different directions to the colour on the sieve and finally presses it firmly and steadily on the cloth, ensuring a good impression by striking it smartly on the back with a wooden mallet.

The second impression is made in the same way, the printer taking care to see that it fits exactly to the first, a point which he can make sure of by means of the pins with which the blocks are provided at each corner and which are arranged in such a way that when those at the right side or at the top of the block fall upon those at the left side or the bottom of the previous impression the two printings join up exactly and continue the pattern without a break.

Each succeeding impression is made in precisely the same manner until the length of cloth on the table is fully printed. When this is done it is wound over the drying rollers, thus bringing forward a fresh length to be treated similarly. If the pattern contains several colours the cloth is usually first printed throughout with one, then dried, re-wound and printed with the second, the same operations being repeated until all the colours are printed. Many modifications of block printing have been tried from time to time, but of these only two tobying and rainbowing are of any practical value.

The object of tobey printing is to print the several colours of a multicolour pattern at one operation and for this purpose a block with the whole of the pattern cut upon it, and a specially constructed colour sieve are employed. The sieve consists of a thick block of wood, on one side of which a series of compartments are hollowed out, corresponding roughly in shape, size and position to the various objects cut on the block.

The tops of the dividing walls of these compartments are then coated with melted pitch, and a piece of fine woolen cloth is stretched over the whole and pressed well down on the pitch so as to adhere firmly to the top of each wall; finally a piece of string soaked in pitch is cemented over the woolen cloth along the lines of the dividing walls, and after boring a hole through the bottom of each compartment the sieve is ready for use.

In operation each compartment is filled with its special colour through a pipe connecting it with a colour box situated at the side of the sieve and a little above it, so as to exert just sufficient pressure on the colour to force it gently through the woolen cloth, but not enough to cause it to overflow its proper limits, formed by the pitch-soaked string boundary lines. The block is then carefully pressed on the sieve, and, as the different parts of its pattern fall on different parts of the sieve, each takes up a certain colour that it transfers to the cloth in the usual way.

By this method of tobying from two to six colours may be printed at one operation, but it is obvious that it is only applicable to patterns where the different coloured objects are placed at some small distance apart, and that, therefore, it is of but limited application.

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  1. Jan Armstrong July 26, 2011

    Hello John, Over many years I have been searching for information about a woodblock which I have and your website is the only one which mentions woodblock printing in St. Gallen (St. Gall) Switzerland. About 35 years ago I lived in Zurich, Switzerland and during that time a good friend gave me an old woodblock which he had hanging on a wall. I was quite curious about the block and he told me it was used as a silk press in St. Gallen in the old days. I just love the pattern of tiny flowers etched on the rectangular block which measures approx. 14 inches x 9 inches. It is 1.5 inches thick. The etched panel is about .25 inches thick. It is attached (glued?) to 2 other pieces of different type timbers. There are 2 semi-circular slots carved out on the back of the block which seem to be large enough to hold 4 fingers in each slot to lift the block up. The only information on the block consists of 2 numbers – 2941 is cut in on the side edge and 1091 is written on the back. That is about all the information I have and I would really appreciate it if you could tell me a little about it or lead me in the right direction to discover its history. Many thanks and I look forward to hearing from you, Best wishes Jan Armstrong, Sydney, Australia.

  2. rk September 22, 2011

    Interesting site and info. Odd that you make no mention of centuries old wood block printing on fabrics in India. Take a look at the hand printed gorgeous fabrics from Rajasthan, India. It’s an ancient art and has amazingly intricate designs, no comparison to the simpler ones from some other places.

  3. Angel July 14, 2013

    Hi John.
    I live in Florida USA and have a Wood Block Printing that i want to sell to get funds for my son college ! here are are the link with the pictures of the art work.
    Can you please advise how much this beautiful art will cost ?
    Thanks, Angel

  4. John Steins July 14, 2013 — Post author

    Hi Angel, That’s a very nice Batik. Unfortunately it’s difficult to appraise since I don’t really know anything about the artist, etc. Have you considered offering this artwork to buyers on eBay or some other auction site?

    Hope you raise all the money you need for your son’s college.

    Best wishes,

  5. Angel July 14, 2013

    I’m Think to put on ebay , but i have no idea what i’m going to asking for !

  6. Marianne December 26, 2014

    Could you tecommend a way to duplicate a woodcut block itself? My sister created an iconic woodcut in 1971 and she would like to produce a copy (mould) of the original to hang in her home. She gave the original away many years ago and she can no longer create art due to a stroke. She would also like to do more editions from the original, but wants to preserve the current patina. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  7. Linda August 28, 2020

    I love this

  8. Kathryn April 4, 2021

    Could you tell me if it was the sycamore wood and what fasteners were used to create a seamless pattern on calico prints in Great Britain – 1815?

  9. Kathryn April 4, 2021

    Very valuable research for a long forgotten skill.

  10. John Steins April 5, 2021 — Post author

    Thanks so much for your visit and for your query. I don’t have an immediate answer but will find one for you.


  11. Esther Trible June 16, 2022

    Have woodblock print of horse on tissue. Think Indian, black color. Trying to research origin.

  12. Patricia Bruno December 12, 2023

    I am an artist who has rekindled my interest in doing wood block printing
    What is the proper way to sign my works on paper-
    PS love your site!!!!!

  13. John Steins December 12, 2023 — Post author

    Hi Patricia, Thanks for checking out my site! So great to hear about your renewed interest in woodblock printing. Would love to see your work sometime. So, in answer to your quetion, I just sign in pencil on the lower right hand side just under the image, with the title roughly in the middle and edition info on the left. Hope this helps.

  14. Megan January 25, 2024

    Are you familiar with copper engraved wood block stamps? Trying to find some information on several I have before trying to use them.

  15. John Steins January 26, 2024 — Post author

    Hi Megan, Without a picture I’m assuming they are those small blocks that used to be printed along with lead type on a printing press. If so, you can totally ink them up and stamp them on paper or whatever.

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