Slubbed is diversifying. We have a new range of textiles. The range is also from Kutch. It’s also block-printed. But there’s a difference.

Ajrakphur, where we get our Ajrak block-printed textiles from, is inland. It’s a dusty village, located 13km east of the capital Bhuj, with a hot and dry climate. 50km south from Ajrakhpur is the coast, where there are two towns called Mundra and Mandvi. Here the climate remains hot, however less dry and more humid. In and around these two towns there are a small number of families that specialise in batik. Like the block-printers in Ajrakhpur, they are also members of the Khatri community. The family we’ve been working with have their workshop hidden inside the maze of old Mundra. Why and how, 4 generations ago, they switched from Ajrak to batik remains a bit of a mystery. They believe the driving force was the climate. As mentioned, Mundra is a coastal town with a humid climate which apparently doesn’t lend itself well to Ajrak-syle block-printing. Keeping in line with the traditions of the Khatri community though, the batik they produce is also block-printed. Instead of using a tjanting, a pen-like tool used in Indonesian batik to apply the wax, or a cap, a stamp made of copper, the Kutchi batik is hand-printed, as with Ajrak, using carved wooden blocks. The wax which is used for printing is paraffin wax. Unlike in Ajrak, the printing which is done in batik is always a resist print, in other words no dye is printed onto the cotton. The colour is applied by vat-dyeing. As with Ajrak they work with a range of textiles; various forms of cotton, silk, cotton/silk combinations and synthetics. Our range however, as described in more detail below, consists solely of cotton products.

What’s the process?

A design is carved into a block of teak wood. The design is carved either as a positive or a negative print. In a positive print the motif is printed. In a negative print the background is printed. The block is dipped in hot, liquid wax and then applied to the cotton which is laid across a table with a thin layer of damp sand on it. This helps the wax dry and harden quickly. The piece of cotton is then dyed. During this process the dye doesn’t penetrate the wax leaving just the unprinted areas coloured. A second carved block is used to print over parts of the dyed cotton, in other words covering more areas with wax. The cotton is then dyed a second time.

This double-printing and double-dyeing process results in the end product displaying three colours; white/neutral, a light shade of the dye and a darker shade of the dye. The areas which appear white, in other words the natural colour of the cotton, are printed with wax before the cotton is subjected to any dye. The areas which appear a light shade of the dye are printed with wax after the cotton has been subjected to its first dye bath. The areas which appear a dark shade of the dye are not printed with wax and are therefore subjected to two dye baths.

On occasions the printers use a brush instead of a block to apply the wax.

Throughout this whole process the piece of cotton is moved and folded leaving cracks in the wax. The dye seeps through these cracks giving the end product the classic batik look.

As a last step the cotton is immersed in boiling water to separate the wax from the cotton. As the wax liquifies in the boiling water it rises to the surface and is skimmed off to be reused. More than 80% of the paraffin wax is recycled.

To summarise:

  1. 100% cotton fabric is cut into 10 metre long pieces and thoroughly washed to remove all starch and impurities from the cotton.
  2. A design is printed onto the cotton using hand-carved wooden blocks dipped in paraffin wax.
  3. The piece of cotton is vat-dyed and then left to dry.
  4. Additional areas of the cotton are printed with wax using a second block.
  5. The piece of cotton is vat-dyed for a second time and then left to dry.
  6. The cotton is boiled in water to separate the wax from the cotton.

What kind of dyes to they use?

Our range of block-printed batik has been dyed with reactive dyes, which are a type of chemical AZO-free dye. Reactive dyes are a common type of dye. They are also suitable for home dyeing and can be purchased online. We will be posting more about reactive dyes in the future. For batik not all types of dye are suitable because of the wax. The dye has to be cold to prevent the wax from melting during the dyeing process. Reactive dyes can be used at room temperature, hence they are perfect for batik.

Shakil and his family in Mundra have recently revived their use of natural dyes. Three generations ago they switched from natural to chemical dyes and with that they lost the family knowledge on natural dyes. It’s been a long and hard road to relearn the intricacies of natural dyes. Keep in mind that these are often family secrets which are passed from generation to generation, so although there are lots of other people in Kutch including in the Khatri community who are experts in natural dyes, they won’t readily pass on their knowledge. They’ll give you the general recipes but then it’s up to you to fine-tune through trial and error to achieve the desired shades of colour. We hope in the future to include new naturally-dyed batik from Mundra in our offer. We’ll keep you posted. For the meantime we hope you enjoy our new range of block-printed batik cotton.

One last thing; how to tell fake from genuine batik? Genuine batik is reversible. Although the wax is only applied to one side, it seeps through to the other, so once the cotton is dyed the wax acts as a resist on both sides of the cotton.