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hand block printing

A bit of background....

Ajrakh (pronounced "aj-rah-k") block printing dates back 4000 years with its origins starting in Pakistan.  Today the printing happens on both sides of the border with the Indian artisans based in the village of Ajrakhpur.  Walking into the village of Ajrakhpur is hypnotic, with the rhythmic "tock-tock" sound of the artisan stamping the block onto the cloth, to the beating of the cloth against the concrete wash pens, and then there is the really bright sunshine - after all, the whole area is a barren desert, interspersed with workshops where all the magic happens.  We work closely with a family of artisans based in this village.  Read more about our artisan block printer here.

A bit on technique...

Designs are engraved onto wooden blocks.

The hand woven cloth is soaked in water with an Ayurveda herb called harade to remove any finish that is applied during the weaving process - this is key in order for the dye to properly set on the cloth.

Once the cloth is dried, the first stage of printing begins. An outline of the design is measured and hand block printed using a "resist" dye, which is a combination of arabic gum (a thickening agent made out of tree bark sap) and lime (the same lime used to whitewash walls of the local buildings). The resulting brown colored pigment is called resist dye because the dye has to resist other colors where color is not required.

After this process, depending on the colors in the design, different raw materials (mostly age old naturally obtained pigments) are mixed together with a mordant to create the appropriate color.  Alum (a herb also called fatakadi powder more commonly used for water purification) is the basis of several colors, and here is a bit more about how colors are made: 

Red colors are then made using a mixture of soil, tamarind seed powder and alum;

Yellow is made using turmeric powder and pomegranate seeds;

Green is made using indigo and turmeric powder;

Beige is the original color from the harade wash.

The printing and dyeing process is repeated until all the colors of the intricate design are achieved.

In this photo we are looking to make a black and beige scarf, so after the printed design has dried, the cloth is brushed all over with a black polish which is a mixture of iron and sugar that was soaked in water for 10-15 days.

The cloth is again dried in the sun.

If you want to get the colors red and black, the cloth is now boiled in water that contains a native flower called dhawari.  As if by magic, when you remove the cloth from this vat, the red and black areas of the design develop and the resist areas remain beige. 

A final wash and dry in the sun will give you your beautifully handmade scarf, all individually made and unique as no two pieces will emerge the same.    

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