The contrast of parched sceneries against the clusters of vibrant craft villages in Kutch, India is unforgettable. The striking colors of textiles, jewelry, lacquered wood and leather compensate for the unvarying panorama, and offer some relief from the harsh and barren landscapes. A textile from this region that has drawn global attention and admiration is Ajrak (derived from “Azrak”, meaning blue in Arabic). Resist-dyed and printed with natural dyes and especially known for its characteristic use of indigo, Ajrak dates back thousands of years, with archaeological evidence suggesting 2500 BC - 1500 BC.
A craft that is intricate and formidable, Ajrak demands a high level of skill and brings out some of the most exquisite innovations in textile printing and dyeing. While the entire process of creating an Ajrak textile is best observed in person or explained by artisans themselves, here is a simple and simplified understanding of the craft.
Raw cloth is washed to remove oils, dirt and other impurities that it encounters during the manufacturing process, whether that is hand-woven or mill-made. The cloth is then treated with a solution of camel dung and castor oil. It is washed and dried several times with plain water before being subjected to a solution of myrobalan. Myrobalan acts as the first mordant and turns the cloth light-yellow. It is now ready to be printed on.
Traditionally, Ajrak printing is done on both sides of a fabric with intricate, hand-carved wooden blocks making repeating patterns across the body and along the borders of the fabric. Ajrak printing does not employ direct dyes to print. Instead, the fabric is first printed with a resist paste of lime and gum arabic and then dyed in a bath. The paste inhibits absorption of a dye in areas that are printed and allows absorption in others. This process is repeated several times to acquire the desired pattern and colors. In fact it is the use of various combinations of dyes and mordants that determine the final outcome. Dyes can be extracted from various natural sources such as plants - madder, pomegranate; animal - lac; and minerals - iron etc. Mordants come from myrobalan, lime, alizarin, alum and iron salts. Dyes like indigo are in a league of their own - they do not require a mordant. In addition, pH and mineral composition of water can also affect the final colors.
The fabric undergoes several involved steps of washing, mordanting, printing and dyeing, with several factors such as the above influencing the final outcome. Often it takes upto 2 weeks for artisans to transform the raw cloth into the beautiful textile that Ajrak is. The rise of chemical dyes, quicker (and lower-quality) methods has been replacing this treasured craft. But the silver lining is that there is an increasing number of craftspersons, craft-based organizations and designers that are recognizing the need to keep Ajrak alive and helping the cause.
Our offering of Ajrak textiles is a delicate blend of old and new - long-established techniques and beloved motifs integrated with contemporary aesthetics - to honor the craft as well as to cater to evolving preferences of patrons. See our collections here and here.