Ajrakh is a distinctive form of woodblock-printing from the Sindh region of Pakistan and North West India. It celebrates natural forms and traditionally uses natural dyes.
Our collection of Ajrakh scarves are particularly special as they are made with handwoven, organic cotton and dyed with natural dyes, which has unfortunately become much less common in recent years.
Ajrakh printer Bhilal Khatri lives in a small village called Khavda, in the rural region of Kutch, Gujarat, North West India. He comes from the Khatri community who have been making Ajrakh for generations across the region. His father and uncle taught him the craft of Ajrakh printing and dyeing which has been in their family for at least the last 7 generations.
Once upon a time Khavda was a thriving centre for Ajrakh before Kutch and Sindh were divided between India and Pakistan. Today there are only 3 families left printing Ajrakh. Even though Ajrakh block printing is very famous craft of Kutch, not many people know about the Khatri family in Khavda, as most tourists and fashion buyers are drawn immediately to the more well-known town of Ajrakhpur.
Since Bhilal met Kuldip Gadvhi of Kutch Adventures India in 2010, his business has flourished. Kuldip brought people to the village as part of his tours and became a good friend of the family. They shared ideas and Kuldip encouraged the Khatris to bring back natural dyes, which they had stopped using for two generations. Additionally, the family had been using power loom cloth as the base for their printing but are now printing on handwoven, organic cotton once again. This cloth is not only cherished by customers, but also vitally supports local Kutch weavers.
The Khatris had been between a rock and a hard place for many years, they worked for wholesalers who controlled all aspects of the manufacturing and allowed for no creativity or independence. Bhilal says that without the wholesalers, he wouldn't have been able to continue his craft. Now that he is part of the United Artisans of Kutch, the collective co-founded by Kuldip Ghadvi, he is working in ways that are true to his heritage, channel his creativity and are respectful of the environment.
I visited Bhilal, with Kuldip, in 2015 and watched with fascination as he printed large reams of cloth with his treasured Ajrakh blocks. The studio is small and airy with a big yard for drying washed, finished pieces.
I am so pleased to have been able to make a small collection of Bhilal's fine scarves available in the UK this year, to share the incredible artistry and soft, sustainable fabrics with all of you. Sharing this work keeps traditional, village-based artisans thriving in an ever mechanising and fast-paced world. It also revitalises their passion to strive for more sustainable methods of textile production that work in synch with our planet, rather than against it.
Here are some photos from my visit - Bhilal printing in his studio and the fascinating natural grasslands, rocky outcrops and wildlife that surrounds the village of Khavda.