This summer, I participated in a workshop with Sufiyan Khatri, a tenth generation block-printer from India. I had heard about his grandfather’s mastery of printing 2-sided cloth with natural dyes fifteen years ago. Since the opportunity has not come along to study in India, having his grandson visit and teach at the Textile Center was a life-changing experience for me.
The concept of a reversible printed cloth has fascinated me, maybe because of my being raised by a weaver? Anyway, in earlier work, I experimented with two-sided digital printing, creating a fabric with a completely different print on the reverse side. Then I worked with painting a design on the back of digitally printed fabric as part of my MFA program.
In order for a fabric to be reversed, the design matrix must be mirror image. The traditional Ajrak designs use symmetrical wood blocks so only one set is needed. Ranging from 2-6 blocks per design, one for each color, the hand-carved blocks apply resist and mordant pastes to the fabric.
My understanding of what a printed fabric looks like on the reverse has been turned around! One way I can use this knowledge is to make a screen with two images, one mirrored to print the back. Text is only readable one way, however the pattern of text that is visible on the back has infinite possibilities!
There are some spelling variations for this technique: Ajrak and Ajrakh both are used.
Sufiyan Khatri teaches workshops and sells his traditional and contemporary Ajrakh cloth at the International Folk Arts Market in Sante Fe, NM