Found mostly on shawls and carpets, Ajrakh includes designs and patterns that are created using block printing by stamps. The commonly used colours to make these patterns are red, blue, black, green and yellow. However, the colour palette is not restricted and one can explore and experiment with a variety of hues. Ajrakh printing uses natural dyes that include both mineral and vegetable dyes, especially Indigo.
Ajrakh is printed as single sided known as 'ekpuri' and double sided 'bipuri'. The process of 'Ajrakh' involves several stages which take days to complete. The process is as follows:
Cotton cloth is taken and washed properly to remove any finish applied in the mill or workshop. The starch that is present is removed from the cloth. The cloth is soaked in a solution of camel dung, castor oil and soda ash and then wrung out and kept overnight. The following day, the cloth is half-dried in the sun and then soaked in the same solution again. This process of Saaj and drying is done about 7-8 times until the cloth foams when rubbed. It is washed again in plain water.
The cloth is washed in a solution of Myrobalan, which is a powdered nut of the Harde tree. It serves as the first mordant in the process of dyeing. The cloth is sun dried on both sides and the excess of Myrobalan on the cloth after drying is brushed off.
A resist of lime that is used for whitewash and gum arabic (Babool tree resin) is printed onto the cloth for the outline of design motifs. This outline printing is called Rekh. The resist is printed on both the sides of the cloth using carved wooden blocks.
Scrap iron and jaggery is mixed with water and left for around 20 days. This makes the water ferrous. The ferrous water is mixed with tamarind seed powder and boiled to make a paste. This paste known as Kat is used for black printing and is printed on both sides of the cloth.
Gum Arabic, alum and clay are mixed into a paste used for the next resist printing. A resist of lime and gum arabic is also printed at this time. This combined stage is called Gach. Finely powdered cow dung is sprinkled on to the printed areas to protect the clay from smudging. The cloth is left to dry naturally for 3-4 days.
The cloth is dyed in indigo. It is dried in the sun and then dyed again in indigo twice for uniformity in colour.
The cloth is washed thoroughly to remove all of the resist print and unfixed dye.
The cloth is then boiled with Alizarine to give the alum-residue areas a bright red colour. The grey areas from the black printing stages become a deep shade. The cloth is boiled in different dyes for different colours. Henna gives a light yellowish-green colour, Rhubarb root gives a pale brownish colour and Madder root gives an orange colour.