In Central Asia Ikat is known as abr, which in Persian means 'cloud-like', because the motifs appear to float, their edges softly blending into the adjacent colours. In Malay-Indonesian, the word Ikat means to bind. The technique of Ikat involves resist dyeing threads in predetermined patterns. These are then woven with great care to ensure that the pre-dyed thread patterns are kept in order. If the order is upset, so will the pattern be on the final woven product. Today, the term Ikat has come to refer to both the process and the textile produced.
Why should I be aware of it?
Ikat today is valued, not only as a beautiful craft that requires painstaking labour and precision, but also as a craft that has developed independently in different cultures across the world. Even today, Ikat weaving is a source of sustainable employment to weavers in many parts of the third world.
All about Ikat
Process of manufacture
- The designs are drawn on graph paper, and the warp yarns are stretched on a frame.
- The number of threads required is calculated according to the design which must remain constant till the entire weaving of the fabric.
- Based on the design, selected areas are bound or tied tightly with raffia so that they are able to resist the dye.
- The warp bundles are then dyed, producing resist patterns in the areas bound with raffia. While traditionally, some cultures have used only Indigo (like Japan) others have used a wide range of Natural Dyes, and lately, chemical ones.
- Then selected areas are unbound. Other areas are bound, and the warp bundles immersed in a second dye bath.
- Then, the raffia bindings are taken off, and the warps are stretched on a loom.
In case of an ordinary Ikat, the fabric is then woven with a plain weft thread. In double Ikats, the weft threads are also similarly tie-dyed, and stretched carefully so as to align perfectly. Through this laborious and painstaking process, sophisticated textile art is created.
Ikat and the environment
Ikat is woven using a comples labor-intensive technique. Unlike forms of screen printing which use up vast quantities of water and employ the use of chemical dyes that could be toxic, Ikat has been traditionally made using only natural dyes.
What can I do about it?
Useful tips on Ikat
- When you look at the pattern on an Ikat fabric, the lines look blurred rather than sharp. It has been likened to a reflection on the surface of water. This effect is achieved by the use of very fine count yarn, tied and dyed in very small sets.
- The number of colours in the fabric is clearly indicative of the labour that making it has entailed. In the tie and dye process, every new colour means another repeat of the tie and dye process.
- Both the sides of the Ikat display the same design. A Patan Patola sari may be worn from any of the four corners, if it has a geometrical design.
- Ikat weavers say that this fabric can survive for as long as 300 years!
- Weaving double Ikats in humid climates is difficult as the threads tend to tangle in moist conditions. When it rains, most Ikat weavers in Patan, Gujarat use heaters in the loom sheds to dehumidify the air. Others apply starch after every 8-10 inches of weaving so that the yarn does not get tangled.
- The town of Patan in Gujarat, western India, is one of the last places where the complex, difficult, and expensive double Ikat cloth (known as Patola) is still made. To make Patola, both warp and weft threads are resist-dyed before weaving. It is an extraordinarily difficult and precise technique, for if the alignment of threads goes awry by as little as a couple of millimeters, the pattern gets warped.
- Patola cloth used to be exported to Indonesia for the use of the royal households there.
- Other than the artisans of Patan, weavers in Chirala in Andhra Pradesh make exquisite cotton saris, lungis (waist cloths), rumals (handkerchiefs) and yardage in a range of Ikat techniques. One of their most popular products is the telia rumal, a multi-purpose cloth used as loin-cloth, shoulder-cloth and turban cloth used by people in many many Islamic countries. The Ikat weavers of nearby Pochampalli, Puttapaka and Koyyalagudem, along with the ones from Chirala, now produce what have now come to be known as Hyderabadi Ikats.
- In the old days Laotian people used to use string made from banana fibre ie an ikat pattern.
- In the Silk Road oasis towns of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other Central Asian regions in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, artisans created brilliantly hued silk textiles, patterned with abstract floral and geometric designs known as abr or "banded cloud".
- Japanese artisans were known for their delicate indigo dyed cotton ikats also known kasuri, with minimalist, abstract patterns.
- Traditional Thai Ikat cottons usually have motifs that represent the village life and beliefs of the people.
- The soft-textured, bright and subtle Javanese Ikats are used as both ritual objects and prestige garments. Ikat is believed to have protective powers and plays major roles in ceremonial events.
- Only a few artisans still make Ikat shawls on traditional foot looms in Mexico.
- Ikat cloth (known as Abaca) is an essential part of the ceremonial life of some tribes in Phillipines. Not only is it used in marriage and funerals, during childbirth the mother is covered with an Abaca blanket to ensure easy delivery!