Fabrics that echo the landscapes of their origin
Sufiyan khatri, a 10th generation ajrakh master block printer, at his studio in Kutch, Gujarat
In late March of 2018, we travelled with 3 of our children to spend a week near Bhuj, Kutch in the desert region of Gujarat. During our time there, we spent a day visiting the village of Ajrakhpur, a village famous for the traditional craft of Ajrakh block printing.

myrobalan dyed lengths of fabric in the Kutch desert

Myrobalan-dyed lengths of fabric lay out to dry in the hot desert sun, March 2018.

After a long chat with Dr. Ismael Khatri about the history of Ajrakh block printing and digging through piles of intricately printed beautiful fabrics, we left with hopes of a future collaboration. 

In June 2021, after preparing the designs for our first collection, we reached out to Dr. Khatri's son Sufiyan with a design idea. 

The collaboration resulted in the fabric for a collection of hand block printed dresses and a set of shawls, all printed with natural dyes, using a design hand drawn by RANI & REINE founder and designer, Sarah Dunn. 

Natural dyes are used extensively in Ajrakh block printing.

A collection of natural dyes
Sufiyan Khatri is a 10th generation Ajrakh artisan, and the Khatri family has been involved in the art of Ajrakh printing since the 15th century. The craft of Ajrakh hand-block printing and natural dyeing is more than 4000 years old, and is practiced by the Khatri community of Kutch and Sindh.
An artisan in Ajrakhpur, mixing dyes for printing.
Traditional Ajrakh textiles are distinguished by jewel-like colors and geometric, floral and architectural patterns. The cloth is made in a 16-step process and requires a high level of skill and concentration.

 

An ajrakh artisan presses the dyes into the fabric using a hand carved teak block

As a child, Sufiyan grew up listening to lots of stories about Ajrakh, it’s traditions
and philosophy.

He got involved with the craft by the time he was 14 years old as an apprentice to his grandfather, who shaped his thinking and understanding of the craft.

He taught him to learn and enjoy the process of Ajrakh art, and to place importance on engaging with the craft and with the person/designer he is working with, rather than on the mere end transactional value.

An artisan washes a length of fabric at the khatri workshop in Ajrakhpur

 

For Sufiyan and his community, Ajrakh is a way of life.

'Working in the Ajrakh craft workshops not only gradually leads to an increase in important skills, but also acts as an important medium of education, nourishment and philosophy, and also provides a great chance to become an entrepreneur depending on how well an artisan can imbibe the Ajrakh techniques. So it’s very important for the Khatri community that the craft sustains by bringing in a fine balance between production (business), quality and innovation.'

Sufiyan Khatri, Master Ajrakh Block Printer

 

Sufiyan printed our fabrics using two distinct techniques:

a) using only the outline block for a resist print. A printing resist is a substance used to resist the dye colour - leaving the printed area blank. The outline was printed onto the fabric using the resist, the fabric was then dyed to produce the background colour, and then the resist was removed to reveal the motif. This technique was used in our indigo shawl and our mustard smock dress.

b) The second method used both the outline block and the background fill block. The outline was done with a dark colour, while the background fill was done with a natural dye called himalayan rhubarb. The flowers and leaves were left undyed. 

blue door in ajrakhpur in kutch

A door in Ajrakhpur, Gujarat. March 2018.
fields near ajrkahpur gujarat
Agricultural fields in Ajrakhpur in the Kutch Desert of Gujarat. March 2018.

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