Ajrakh Printing in Kutch, India
In September 2022 I had the honor of visiting block printing artist Sufiyan Khatri at his home and studio. Sufiyan is a 10th generation pratictioner of Ajrakh and he and his family have received esteemed international recognition for their craft.
Ajrakh is a distinctive block printing style historically tied to Sindh culture in nearby Pakistan. The Sindhi word ajrak (اجرڪ) comes from Persian language ajar or ajor (اجر) meaning brick and -ak (ک) meaning little.
In India this craft is practiced today in Ajrakhpur. Yes, the town is named after the craft, and everyone inhabiting the hamlet is a blockprinting family! Ajrakhpur is a small village in the arid Kutch countryside. The surrounding landscape is dotted with acacia trees, cactus, and castor oil farms.
On this warm September day I was first treated to a hospitable lunch in the Khatri home. The meal was served the traditional Gurjarati way on gleaming metal dishware. We sat on the floor and were served by Sufiyan's nine-year-old daughter, adorable in her braided pigtails. We scooped up scrumptious beans and stew with our hands and chapatis (a pancake-like flatbread). That was washed down with sips of a slightly savory fresh buttermilk, served in small bowls. I should note that I was graciously offered cutlery and a chair, but I declined. When in Rome!
Next we headed to his studio across town to watch the artisans at work. The ajrakh process is made up of hundreds (yes hundreds!) of steps including fabric preparation and the creation of natual dyes, mordants and resists, the hand-printing itself, dyeing, and finishing.
All of this is done within the community of Ajrakhpur. They even have a water treatment plant to recycle the dye and washing water. This is the desert after all and water is precious.
Sufiyan workshop exclusively uses natural dyes and has a block collection that includes hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wooden and metal printing blocks. Most feature traditional ajrakh motifs which are rooted in geometric Islamic designs.
I appreciated his meticulous organization of the vast collection, each block has a number and corresponding swatch catalog.
Next, we headed across the courtyard to the showroom where my work began. The dreamiest part of my job is sitting on a floor surrounded by textiles, hand selecting my favorites to bring home and offer to you.
I was pleasantly surprised to find many square scarves! (most readymade scarves in India are rectangular long stoles) Sufiyan gave the most practical explanation for this- Their printing table is a slightly longer than a sari, so when they are fulfilling sari orders he instructs the printers to print an additional square design at the end of the sari. This efficiently takes advantage of the full table length. How efficient and how lucky for us.
It also means many of the pieces I bought from him are one-offs or very limited editions.
Visiting Ajrakhpur was a joyful day for me. What an honor to bring these scarves home and add them to our offering. The full collection will be available Thrusday, November 3rd at 9am PST.