Ajrak Fabric - All You Need To Know!
Though Ajrak garments are famously worn by the women in our country, not many know about the origin and history of this traditional ethnic craft. Researchers inform that Ajrak art belongs to the ‘khatri’ community which resided near river Sindh in Pakistan.
Ajrak Goes to Kutch
It was in the 16th century that numerous Ajrak craftsmen moved to the Kutch region after they were invited by the King of Kutch who was absolutely smitten by the art! In fact, he also invited printers, dyers, embroiders and potters to the region in order to encourage the Ajrak craft. Ajrak flourished in Kutch and began to be associated with the Maldharis in the region.
The craft remained unchanged till the Industrial Revolution began to penetrate the villages. The 1940s saw the sudden bombardment of the market with synthetic fabrics and vibrant chemical colours and this led to the fading away of Ajrak’s popularity for nearly 15 years. Fortunately, the persistent efforts of some patrons and craftsmen helped revive the craft in the 1960s.
‘Ajrak’ is a word that has its origins in the Arabic language and comes from “azrak”, meaning ‘blue’. The word actually describes a cloth that stretches for about 2.5 to 3 meters and is highlighted primarily with dark indigo and beautiful crimson (red) colours. But one can also notice hints of black and white on the fabric as these are used for highlighting the classic geometric patterns. Ajrak is a very common printing technique used in the Sindh and you will find several men adorning Ajrak turbans and women wearing Ajrak shawls in this region.
How Ajrak is Made
Ajrak is a type of block-print textile craft that has a special connection with the Sufi culture that dominates the Sindh region. This is why there are numerous Ajrak makers close to the sacred shrines in the interior parts of the Sindh. There are usually 4 main themes used for making Ajrak:
1. Teli Ajrak
2. Do Rangi Ajrak
3. Sabuni Ajrak
4. Kori Ajrak
The key steps involved in making Ajrak include the following:
‘Churrai’ or Fabric Washing
Local communities used the word “Churrai” to describe the process of cleaning the fabric for making Ajrak. The cloth is first washed and beaten to remove all dirt and impurities. This is followed by the soaking of the fabric in a special solution of soda biocarbonate and oil. This is a slightly complex process and may take a couple of days.
Printing is the next step in the Ajrak making process. The printers print real Ajrak on either side of the cloth. This is also referred to as “resist printing”. Ajrak printing is done manually using wooden hand-carved blocks.
Finally, the Ajraks go through another washing process with water, soda and bleaching powder. This last step lends a lovely vibrancy to the fabric colours.
The Popularity of Ajrak
Ajrak printing has one outstanding feature: a combination of resist printing and other dyeing and printing techniques is showcased on a single fabric, using a common design. Skilled craftsmen repeat the entire process on either side of the cloth with perfect consistency. Ajrak makes use of mud-resist in several stages of the process and the superimposing of repeats is executed perfectly to sharpen the design clarity.
Ajrak printing was mostly seen on lungis and turbans in the ancient times, but contemporary designers are now using this technique to create stunning silhouettes such as kurtas, scarves, dupattas, skirts and pants. You will also find beautiful ornamentation on Ajrak garments including gota and sequence work. It is truly amazing to witness the innovative revival of the Ajrak craft in the last few decades. We highly recommend an exploration of this trend if you’re a fan of ethnic fashion!