Traditionally, in Rajasthan, Ajrak printing required various stages of dyeing with the help of natural material-based dyes. The most common colours used for Ajrak printing are Indigos and blues. These dyes are painted on carved wooden blocks which contain intricate designs and patterns. Earlier, this process required professional wood carvers, but over time and due to a larger demand for the product, a lot of men and women artisans have acquired the skill of wood carving and block printing.
- Step 1:
The cotton cloth is thoroughly washed to rid it of starch, by soaking it in a solution of camel dung, soda ash and castor oil. It is then spread out and kept overnight. By the next morning, the cloth is semi-dry and the process is repeated once again. The process takes place about 7-8 times until the cloth foams when rubbed. After this for a final time, it is soaked in water. This process is called Saaj.
- Step 2:
In order to ready the cloth for dyeing, it is necessary to make the material such that the dye remains stuck to the cloth after the block -printing process and ensures sustainable printing. To accomplish that, Myrobalan acts as the first mordant in the dyeing process. The cloth is dyed in a cold solution of Myrobalan (powdered nut of the harde tree). This process is called Kasanu.
- Step 3:
To get the desired pattern, the block has to be printed several times over the cloth; first, to create an outline and after that, to either alter the pattern by adding something to it or to change the colours and shades of the pattern. For the outline, a resist of lime and gum is printed on the cloth. This stage is called khariyanu. In order to make the wooden block, a master craftsman traces the chosen motif onto a wooden block, usually made of teak, a deciduous hardwood tree native to India. The wood block is oiled and sanded before the craftsman carefully chips away at the block, leaving behind the desired design for the stamp.
- Step 4:
Each colour dye is made out of natural ingredients. But since Indigo is the most commonly used colour, we can look into its making process. In order to establish an indigo vat, natural indigo, sagikhar (a salt), lime, casiatora (seed from kuwada plant) and water are mixed in a clay vessel, plastic barrel or concrete vat. The dye bath is left to ferment for about one month; sometimes jaggery is added to this to aid fermentation. It is ready to use when the colour of the solution is yellowish (best quality) or greenish (medium quality). With an established indigo vat, indigo dye, jaggery and water are added as required to maintain the strength of the dye colour.
- Step 5:
The carved wooden blocks are then dipped in this dye and carefully printed onto the cloth which already has an outline. The process of creating a stamp can take 7-10 days, depending on the complexity of the design. Most of the motifs are nature-based patterns such as moons, stars, birds and flowers.
- Step 6:
Once the printing is done, the cloth is washed in running water and laid flat to dry. This stage is known as vichharnu.
- Step 7:
A solution of turmeric and lime is then sprayed on to the cloth, in order to ensure sustainability of the print and to enhance the colour dyes.
- Step 8:
The cloth is dyed in alum solution and then washed in plain water and dried after which it is ready to use.
This process is extremely tiring and time-consuming. One small glitch in the pattern could make the entire piece look less appealing. The artisans working on this are fiercely dedicated to their craft and make sure that their love for this ancient craft is not compromised in any manner. There are about 14-16 different stages of dyeing & printing which take 14-21 days to complete. The resulting cloth is soft against the skin and jewel-like in appearance, pleasing to touch & appealing to the eye.
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By Naqiyah Hasan