In the southern region of Pakistan, there lies a province named Sindh. Therein live some crafts people who are experts in the creation of 2 yard (approx.) pieces of cotton called “Ajrak” in a gloriously printed (and sometimes further embellished) form. These are used as scarves for men and women, turbans, and in the modern Pakistani world, anything anyone’s heart desires. Like, garments and home décor items. I grew up with Ajraks because they are ubiquitous in Sindh, one of the four provinces of Pakistan.
Just to qualify my words, I am no way an “Ajrak expert”, and don’t know the complete history and processes of making it. But, this is what I know. In brief, the Ajrak making process is a mix of resist printing/dyeing and block printing. It’s all done with wooden blocks, intricately carved where the design in each block works in perfect conjunction with it’s “sister block” (my own words). The resist pastes applied are a blend of old world materials that adhere to the white parts which need to resist the dye. Traditionally, the colors used were red and indigo, and are the preferred colors to this day — and some black. It would not be an Ajrak without those colors. There are some more materials involved in the printing process which make me want to throw my Ajrak pile out the window – but in the end, the pieces are washed repeatedly in hot water. This is the ancient way – and I mean BC ancient.
In modern iterations, Ajraks have been further embellished with sequins, sheesha embroidery (mirror) also indigenous to the Sindh area. Ajraks have been made into modern fashion – which is great to see provided the source and inspiration of the design is credited; otherwise its just cultural appropriation.
Today, Ajraks are printed in modern factories for economic reasons; to keep costs low, supplies high and materials modern; the traditional look and feel of the cotton (or rayon) is kept intact, though.
I’m linking a YouTube video here so you can watch a little bit of the process, where the craftsmen are getting down and dirty to create a beautiful textile in the old way, where the methods used to be passed down through generations. Its narrated in Sindhi, the regional language so be prepared to mute the sound if you wish, or fast forward the video.
There’s also a Pinterest board called what else – “Ajrak”, where you can see many more images. I found Ajraks being sold on Etsy, but most of them don’t seem to have the traditional elements.
In my photos, you’ll see a couple of soft rayon Ajraks that my parents used everyday. The cottons were gifted to me. None of these are heirlooms, but meant for everyday use, so I think that they were made in a modern factory.
Are you interested in reading about fashion and fabric from other parts of the world?
I’m hoping to sew selfishly this week, and share the results with you in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, y’all go ahead and sew up a spring storm.