Ajrakh, block printed fabric from Rajasthan

Traditional Indian cotton fabric using natural dyes

This Yorkshire World Collections object was one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

These three fabric samples show different stages in the dyeing and printing process of Ajrakh, a type of cloth from India. Ajrakh, (which means keep it today) is a traditional method of printing on to cotton fabric practised in Sindh, Kutch and Western Rajasthan.  

Fourteen stages are needed to achieve the pattern/design.  They include:

  • resist dyeing - using a paste which hardens to 'resist' the dye
  • mordanting - using an ingredient to fix the dye so it does not wash out
  • block printing - to achieve a repeat pattern  
  • direct block printing - the block is wood and the design carved into to it to produce a flat patterned surface to take the colour. When printed on the cloth a repeat design is built up.

Natural dyes rather than chemical dyes are used, with several soaking, drying and dyeing cycles. This requires a ready source of water. Plants are boiled up to produce the natural dyes. Indigo produces the blue dye used, and Alizarin (red) comes from the root of the Indian Madder tree. Mordants such as wood ash or stale urine were traditionally used to fix the colour. 

The design is geometric or floral, and may be printed on one or both sides. Ajrakh cloth is used for all needs: tablecloth, blanket, turban, even as a hammock, as well as for change-of-life ceremonies, births, marriages, and death. As a garment it is traditionally worn by Muslim men over one shoulder.

Young person's response to this fabric:

Itís important that you can see how the material changes and the pattern develops. Fatiha Alesinloye

Discussion Ideas:

  • Natural dyes fade over time but chemical dyes are easier to use in quantity. What factors do you think make this statement true?
  • Chemical dyes can be harmful to workers who come in contact with them. What factors do you think make this statement true?
  • How might the arrival of big business affect the working lives of printers in Rajasthan?
  • Many textile artists are now using natural dyes in their work. Why might they want to do this?

Activity Ideas:

  • Think about why dyes are used and what different materials can be dyed, then experiment using your own natural dyes. Onion skins boiled up with some white fabric in a pan will create a good yellow/orange.
  • Try boiling up leaves of different plants to see if you can extract some colour to dye with. Sometimes what seems a very bright colour does not necessarily make a good dye.

Document icon Learning article provided by: ULITA - an Archive of International Textiles | 
This content is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA

Accessibility Statement | Terms of Use | Site Map

Copyright © My Learning 2018. All Rights Reserved

Website by: Grapple