Ikat fabrics have always been popular for their distinct style and unparalleled beauty. If you have ever used one, you will know how unique they are. We just introduced the most stunning Ikat woven fabrics into our shop, all the way from Thailand – I’m sure you’ll love every one of them! Even as we are obsessing over their finesse, I thought I should share with you what makes them special. So, join me and find out all you ever wanted to know about this gorgeous, hand-woven fabric.
The term “ikat” refers to the dyeing technique used to create the designs on the fabric. It is a resist dyeing process, where bundles of yarn are tightly wrapped together and then dyed as many times as is required to create the desired pattern. This dyeing process is different because the yarns are dyed before being woven into cloth. In most of the other resist-dyeing techniques, like batik for example, it is the final cloth and not the yarn, that’s dyed.
Once the yarns have been suitably dyed and dried, the weaver lines them up on the loom to form the pattern. The design takes form as the yarn is woven into cloth. This is an incredibly complicated process, as the weaver has to precisely dye the threads, and place them correctly so it forms the correct pattern when woven. Just to reiterate how hard this is… in order to replicate a pattern, the weaver would have to dye the thread in exactly the same place as before AND line it up on a loom in EXACTLY the same place AND then they’d have to weave it exactly the same way.
There are three different Ikat weaving techniques. These are warp ikat, weft ikat and double ikat. Let’s take a look at what each of them are.
Types of Ikat Weaving
The differences between warp ikat, weft ikat and double ikat depend on whether it is the warp or weft yarns that are dyed to create the chosen pattern. If you’re not sure what I mean by warp and weft, have a quick read of my previous article, understanding weaving.
In warp ikat, the weft yarns are all dyed a solid colour and only the warp yarns are ikat dyed. Here, the pattern is clearly visible when the threads are wound on the loom, and weaving in the weft threads solidifies the colour and completes the fabric formation.
In weft ikat, it is the weft threads that are ikat dyed. This type of weaving is more difficult than warp ikat, as the pattern will be formed only as the weaving progresses. This means that the weaver has to constantly centre and readjust the yarns to ensure the pattern is formed correctly.
The most complicated of the three, double ikat, is where both the warp and weft threads are resist-dyed prior to weaving. This technique requires advanced skill, takes time and hence is the most expensive. The Pochampally Sari and Puttapaka saris are native to India, and feature exquisite double ikat motifs on silk.
How Is Ikat Fabric Made?
These are the various steps involved in creating an Ikat fabric:
The desired pattern is first drawn on the warp and weft yarns by hand.
The weaver then ties these yarns to match the planned pattern. The threads are then dyed in the specific colours, so that the colours seep into the yarn at the appropriate positions.
The ties on the yarn are untied, and the yarns are strung on the loom. In warp and double ikat, the pattern emerges on the loom at this stage.
The fabric is then woven together, and the colourful pattern of motifs emerges on it.
For a pictorial description of each of these steps, I suggest you visit the HomeWorkshop website.
History of Ikat
Although Ikat weaving is a complex technique, it is surprising how the technique is believed to have simultaneously and independently developed in different parts of the world. Ikat was brought to Europe at almost the same time by Dutch traders from South East Asia as the Spanish from South America and explorers from the Silk Road.
Ikat fabric has been practiced in India, Indonesia, Japan and other South-East Asian countries for millennia. This form of textile production is also popular in Central and South American countries like Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico. The most coveted double ikat woven fabrics come from Guatemala, India, Japan and Indonesia. It is interesting to note that every Ikat Weaving group has its own distinct patterns, styles and choices of colour.
Endek is an economically successful version of Ikat from Indonesia, as it has been taken from its fabric form and developed into products. Originally considered a court-based sacred fabric in Bali, it is now Indonesia’s most commercialised resist-dyed fabric.
Ikat In Fashion Today
Fashion trends may come and go, but ikat fabrics have always stood the test of time. Many designers and high street brands replicate the look of ikat with printing or a jacquard woven fabric. An original ikat can be easily recognised from the faux printed ones, by either looking up close, or simply turning the fabric over! Since ikats are woven on looms, you can be certain that it is a genuine ikat if the same design is on the inside of the fabric as well. The designer Oscar de la Renta has used the ikat style many time in his design like the one above from his fall 2013 collection.
Ikat continues to be a designer favourite as it finds its way into dresses, shirts, fashion accessories and upholstery. Vinita Passary’s concept clothing label Translate is centred around traditional ikat motifs which she uses to create trendy summer outfits and interior products.