Why We Love Ajrakh Print - And You Will Too!
At Tamarind Chutney, we’re in love with India’s rich craft heritage - and we want to share it! So we’re launching our Craft Diaries blog series to cover the fascinating stories behind these beautiful crafts. For our first edition of Craft Diaries, we bring you a primer on one of our favourite crafts - Ajrakh print.
Ajrakh print is a Tamarind Chutney favourite - and for good reason. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, inherently sustainable, and lovingly handcrafted. How could we not fall in love? Chances are you’ve met our sweetheart walking down the street as an ajrakh saree - or maybe a dress? But if not, let us introduce you.
Ajrakh fabric is created through a meticulous sixteen-step process of resist printing, dyeing, and washing. This stunning textile is made with hand-carved blocks and all-natural dyes. And since all good introductions demand a wacky fun fact, here’s one about ajrakh: it lives a long life if you shampoo it (more on this later).
Reader, meet ajrakh. Here’s why we fell in love, and we’re pretty sure you will too:
Why Ajrakh Print is a Sustainable Fashion Superstar
Ajrakh print is born through human hands but conceived in nature. The natural world provides both the inspirations for its beautiful designs as well as the materials used to create it. Visually, what makes ajrakh print unique is that it combines intricate floral and geometric patterns to represent the beauty of nature and the cosmos. The mark of an authentic ajrakh fabric is that the dye penetrates to the back, making the front and back identical.
Traditionally, ajrakh or “azrakh” - meaning blue in Arabic, uses four colours: red, black, and white on - you guessed it - blue, its namesake. These colours all come from vegetable dyes and their recipes can be really creative. As an example, the black dye used in ajrakh is created by mixing scrap iron with jaggery and tamarind, creating a unique kind of tamarind chutney (sorry not sorry).
Making ajrakh involves a water-intensive process, but not a wasteful one. At every step, water is reused until it's saturated with dye and then is released to water the fields in a parched land. In this way, creating ajrakh fabric is an inherently circular process that conserves natural resources. And it was around long before humans even started thinking about “sustainable fashion.”
Archaeological evidence suggests that ajrakh print is possibly as old as the Indus Valley Civilization. Take a ride along the Indus river into modern times and you’ll find ajrakh being handcrafted in present-day Sindh and Kutch by skilled and patient artisans like Ibrahim Khatri and Zubeir Luhar, who craft the beautiful ajrakh print fabrics used in many of our creations here at Tamarind Chutney.
The Modern Life of Ajrakh Print - and its Artisans
Fifteen kilometers from Bhuj in Gujarat is the small village of Ajrakhpur. On any given day, you can find craftspersons busy creating beautiful ajrakh prints. Somewhere in the village, you’ll find Ibrahim Khatri sipping milky chai or creating one of these beautiful designs that go into Tamarind Chutney clothing:
Ibrahim belongs to one of the older Ajrakh printing families. Craft is in Ibrahim ji's blood - his father worked extensively to perfect the natural dyeing techniques used for ajrakh and then set up his business in the 1960s, working with clients like Fabindia.
Growing up, Ibrahim has been privy to the transformation of ajrakh. Once, it was a caste-related craft worn only by the nomadic and pastoral Maldhari communities. Today, ajrakh print struts on the high fashion runway.
This change began in the 1970s with a variety of government initiatives that resulted in the introduction of artisan-designer collaborations and craft-led entrepreneurial ventures. Fabindia is one popular example. With these collaborations, urban designers took ajrakh fabrics to create clothing suited to the tastes of modern consumers. Over time, even the repertoire of available ajrakh prints that artisans create has expanded.
From ajrakh sarees to ajrakh dresses, tops, jackets, skirts, and even masks - you name it and you’ll find it. As a result, unlike the unfortunate fate of hundreds of other Indian handicrafts, ajrakh is blossoming.
In another gully in Ajrakhpur, a small unit of 5-6 ajrakh artisans is hard at work with Zubeir Luhar at its helm. Unlike Ibrahim ji, this group of artisans isn’t bonded by blood, but by friendship! Zubeir is twenty-four years young and does not belong to a family of ajrakh artisans. Instead, he entered ajrakh printing through his interest and love for the craft. A close friend introduced him to ajrakh right after school and ever since, Zubeir has been creating beautiful ajrakh prints. Our super-popular siyahi, dastaan, kokum, and kala namak are made with fabrics printed by Zubeir's unit:
All kinds of fashion brands love ajrakh, whether they’re fast or slow fashion, high-street or affordable. As a result, ajrakh print is more in vogue than ever. So we want to end with a word to the wise: no matter where we buy it from, buying ajrakh is only as sustainable as our consumption habits! Choose to build a lasting wardrobe with high-quality timeless designs from ethical and sustainable brands. Love your wardrobe and care for it.
PS: Here’s a pro-tip from our expert artisans: wash your ajrakh fabrics with shampoo to make them last longer.