From the Malay mengikat, meaning ‘to bind’, a distinctive decorative textile weaving technique indigenous to various parts of the world, whereby the warp or the weft yarns(and sometimes both, this being the most prestigious type called double Ikat), are resist dyed according to the pattern prior to weaving. This results in a memorable fuzzy-edged pattern and a slightly impressionistic fabric, reminiscent of Claude Monet’s lily pond series, painted as his eyesight was deteriorating. It is a technique that developed independently throughout the world and variations may be found from Indonesia to South America, through Japan all through central Asia and the Middle East.
Along the Silk Road in the oasis towns of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan craftsmen traded their particular Ikat textiles. My first encounter with ikat was in a display of antique textiles of an indigo dyed coat lined with a multi-coloured ikat print, inherited from just such an expedition.
Ikat is a skilled process, providing sustainable employment all over the world and is traditionally woven from silk or cotton, though any fine fibre that takes dye well can be used; bamboo fibre string is known to have been used in Laos.
When one colour is worked with white, the design can be striking or subtle and misty, depending on the scale of pattern and the intensity of the colour. The Japanese ikat technique, kasuri, uses indigo exclusively; many of the designs from Asia are created with multiple colours. In central Asia, ikat is known as abr, meaning ‘cloud like’, which it is: fluffy around the edges.- shoud this go somewhere else- before , with claude ? In the Phillipines, ikat cloth is associated with traditional ceremonies marking entry to this world and departing from it. Patan, in Gujerat is one of the last places that still makes hand woven payola cloth, a double ikat (usually silk ) used for saris. Chine and substitute is a European variation.
Here is something of how warp printed ikat is made:
- The design is drawn onto paper
- The loom is set up with the warp threads stretched taut.
- The pattern is transferred onto the warp threads
- These threads are bound or tied tightly with raffia in all of the areas where they need to resist the dye.
- They are then removed from the loom, bundled (in order) and dyed–the tied areas resist the dye.
- Selected areas are unbound according to the pattern, then dipped into a second bath, which can either be the same colour as the first, or another.
- All the raffia is undone and the warps stretched back onto the loom.
- The fabric is woven with a plain weft thread.
In double ikats, the fabric is pre-woven and both warp and weft threads are dyed following the same process–this requires particularly skilled craftsmen, as in the wrong hands a beautiful Ikat could just turn into a terrible mush of odd colours.
Ikat weaving is an intriguing process–it seems to be the cleverest of weavings, a miracle that it actually works!