A PEEK AT THE PROCESS: AJRAKH BLOCKPRINTING

  • Mata Traders
  • 13 Jul, 2016

Dating back many centuries, Ajrakh block-printing is a traditional Indian craft that uses vivid natural dyes and wooden blocks to print unique patterns on cotton fabric.  The process is elaborate and laborious, requiring numerous stages of printing, dyeing, and washing to achieve the gorgeous designs.

Ajrakh is said to come from the Hindi word ‘aaj rakh”, meaning “keep it today” or “making beautiful”.  Some also believe the word may have roots in the word, “azrak”, Arabic for “blue”.

Ajrakh was historically characterized by its symmetrical geometric patterns, with some floral designs.  As the tradition was passed down through generations, the Ajrakh printing technique developed to include a much wider variety of motifs and patterns.

Every layer of each design requires a different hand-carved wooden block for printing. This can add up to a lot of blocks!

The Ajrakh technique begins by washing the cloth numerous times, called Saaj, and treating the cloth, Kasanu, to make the cotton softer and more absorbent of the dyes. After prepping the fabric, the craftsmen start printing.  The multi-day, multi-step process includes many layers of resist printing and dyeing to achieve the final product.

The crafters start out by “resist printing”, which protects the areas where the dye is not going to be printed.  Before any colors can be added, the artisans define the outline of the pattern in a step referred to as Rekh.

Then, they can begin block printing with the colored dyes. While the Ajrakh printing process was originally limited to dark red and indigo with elements of black & white, there is a wider spectrum of colors that Ajrakh artisans use today.

If the pattern incorporates blue in its design, the cloth is dyed with indigo in a plastic barrel, clay vessel, or concrete vat.

The dyeing is followed by rinsing and drying the fabric in the sun, a step known as Vicharnu.
Next, the cloth is boiled in a solution during a stage called Rang (meaning “color” in Hindi), that reveals the black and red colors fully to achieve those truly eye-catching designs.

Depending on how deep the colors must be for the desired design of the fabric, Ajrakh printers must repeat the necessary dyeing and washing steps over many days.

This centuries-old practice is by no means simple, but the beautiful result is absolutely worth it!

Ajrakh printing is used for a variety of products such as tablecloths, blankets, and clothing – including our very own Jaya dress from the fall 2016 collection – coming soon!

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For a more detailed look at the steps in the process, check out The Hindu’s article on Ajrkah printing and for a more in-depth historical background of the tradition, this is a great read.

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