As ajrak printing is a form of block printing, the production technique is, to an extent, similar. Designs are first carved into wooden blocks before being dipped in dye and printed onto fabric. Usually wooden blocks, used in the first stage of printing are carved out of Indian rosewood, and wooden blocks used in the later stages of printing are carved out of teakwood.
During the monsoon season the blocks are soaked in mustard oil to prevent expansion that would affect the designs that were painstakingly carved.
Artisans diligently prepare the fabric before beginning the meticulous printing process. The fabric is first washed to rid it of starch and impurities. It is then soaked in a mixture of camel dung, seed oil and water, which not only softens the fabric but also acts as a bleaching agent. The fabric is then tied together and stored for 5-10 days, depending on weather conditions.
The quality of the fabric can be determined by the pungency of the smell that emanates from the stored fabric, somewhat like mango pickle. This is a result of the fibres of the cloth reacting with the seed oil. The fabric is then laid out in the sun to dry before undergoing a second treatment of a mixture containing oil and sodium carbonate. The fabric is then stored overnight before being washed. Traditionally, the Indus River helped matters with its plentiful.
Then the fabrics are soaked in sakun, a mixture of dried lemon, castor oil, molasses, tamarisk gall and water. Multiple treatments ensure that the fabric is able to consistently absorb and retain dyes resulting in ajrak’s patent – its deep colours.