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Ajrakh - The Art of Beautiful Natural Prints

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Ajrakh prints are very popular among women these days and are available in various women wears such as Kurtis, ethnic tops and short kurtis, ethnic and fusion dresses , sharara suits and sarees. These days, markets are flooded with imitations of ajrakh patterns that are created using chemical dyes and are very cheap. The original art of ajrakh needs skilled craftsmen and is time consuming. This makes it expensive but it is environment friendly.


What is ajrakh ?


Ajrakh is a block printing technique with symmetrical geometric or floral patterns. Earlier, Ajrakh composed predominantly of two colors, indigo blue and maroon red, although people are experimenting with more colors these days and use twenty different colors.


It is believed that this art originated in Indus Valley Civilization more than 3500 years ago. The tradition has been kept alive by craftsmen of Sindh province in Pakistan, Ajrakhpur in Kutch district of Gujrat and Barmer district of Rajasthan in India.


There are two different versions of the origin of the word Ajrakh. One is the Arabic word ‘Azrak‘ which means the blue color of the sky and this probably represents the dominant color indigo in Ajrakh. The other one is that it comes from the Kutchi expression “aaj rakh” which means “keep it aside today”. The second version probably captures the long drawn and tedious process of Ajrakh printing.


Techniques


Generally, Ajrakh is printed on both sides of the fabric using resist dyeing methodology. The printing is done by hand using hand carved wooden blocks. The process of making of Ajrakh is laborious. Craftsmen work together with the environment where sun, river, animals, trees and mud are part of its making. After dyeing the cloth in a mordant, it is block printed using resists to form patterns over the fabric. The cloth is dried in the sun.



Stages of Ajrakh


Ajrakh products are made with natural dyes that are derived from plants, animals or minerals. Ajrakh printed on one side of fabric is called ekpuri whereas if printed on both sides it is called bipuri. The resist and colors are printed on the cloth using intricately carved wooden blocks.


The process of 'Ajrakh' is a long drawn process with some stages taking days to complete. The various stages are as follows:


Saaj or Washing

Cotton fabrics coming from mills are treated with starch for crisp look. The fabric is soaked in castor oil, soda ash and camel dung overnight and washed in water to remove starch. This is repeated multiple times after drying.


Saaj or Washing in Ajrak

Kasano

Then the fabric is washed in a solution of harde nut (a nut of tree Haritaki). Harde nut acts as a mordant.



Khariyanu

Lime and gum arabic mix is used to prepare a resist. The resist is applied on the fabric using wooden blocks. It marks the white outline of the design portion that will not be dyed in any color.


Kat

A solution is prepared by mixing Iron, jaggery and water. This is used to print black color.

Ajrak Block Printing process

Gach

Another stage of resist printing that uses alum, clay and gum arabic


Indigo dyeing The fabric is dyed in indigo color followed by sun drying. This process is repeated until the right indigo color is achieved.


Vichharnu

It is then washed thoroughly to remove all resist material except alum.


Rang

The cloth is then boiled with alizarine. This gives bright red color to the areas covered with alum.


sample of ajrak print


Patterns are mostly floral and animal figures such as elephant and peacock. Though, Ajrakh is mostly produced in cotton fabric but It is also available in other fabrics such as modal silk.


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