Ajrakh:The Ancient Art of Block Printing
Ajrakh is a complex artisanal technique of block printing and resist dyeing that dates back as early as 2000 BC. Excavations at sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation have revealed cotton that was printed using this technique, supporting the fact that Ajrakh is probably one of the oldest printing methods in the Indian sub-continent. The word ‘Azrak’ means ‘blue’ in Arabic and the craft is characterised by exquisite, intricate patterns in a vibrant indigo and crimson palette.
The blocks used to create Ajrakh are hand-carved from teak and about seven sets of blocks, with each set comprising three to five blocks, are required to print one piece. A separate block is required for each pattern and colour. The original technique requires that both sides of the fabric were printed by a method called resist printing. One colour is printed and then the artisan must wash the fabric and wait until he can print the next one. The impressions must match exactly on both sides, making it a reversible fabric. This requires exceptional skill and patience. Many believe that the word ‘Ajrakh’ is actually derived from the phrase ‘Aaj ke din rakh’ or ‘Keep it for today’ – a sentiment quite opposed to today’s fast-paced world!
Dyes are made from natural materials like indigo, henna, turmeric, pomegranate, jaggery, iron and mud. Alum is used to fix colours and make them fast. There are nearly sixteen steps in the printing, dyeing, washing and treating process and it can take up to three weeks to create a small length of beautifully printed Ajrakh fabric.
Varana’s collection for 2018 features an Ajrakh-inspired capsule. The motifs typically associated with the technique have been redrawn in our studio and then imagined afresh on bespoke textiles like satin, chiffon and silk jacquard. The result is a set of contemporary, luxe styles with an unexpected, artisanal twist.