In Fabric terminology, Ikat is like the word ‘run’ in English dictionary. Everyone is using it in so many different ways that you can get easily confused. They could be talking about Ikat as a Fabric, a pattern, a resist dyeing process or as a weave.
In Ikat, the yarns are arranged in bundles and they are then marked with the design, tied with dye resistant tape and then dyed to create particular designs into the yarn.These threads are then woven into Ikat fabric with the beautiful Ikat patterns.
It is a complex, skill intensive traditional textile work native to countries in Asia and many countries like India, Indonesia, China Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand and Yemen claim Ikat as their own. The word Ikat is said to have been derived from the Indonesian term “mengikat” which means ‘to tie or bind’
An Ikat fabric was much in demand for a long long time. Nothing has changed today. It is still very popular all over the world. The patterns are very distinctive and much loved.
Ikat as a resist dyeing method
The yarns to be used to make the Ikat fabric are dyed with a bound resist dyeing process that will eventually create very intricate patterns on the fabric.
The yarns ( warp yarn alone, weft yarns alone or weft and warp both) are wrapped and bound in portions with a poly plastic Ikat tape or special cotton yarn etc ( which resists all dyes) in a deliberate and calculated fashion and then the yarns are dyed. Sometimes the colors are applied directly and other ways the yarn is immersed in a dye bath.
When the dyeing is finished and the yarn is unwrapped, the bound areas remain colorless or the color of the original yarn. Different colors are added with additional binding – and this results in the more complicated designs.
Ikat as a weave
In Ikat weaving the dyed yarn is woven in a particular way that beautiful patterns are created on the fabric. The yarn has to be kept in particular position on the loom to make the special designs – the process is highly skilled and very time consuming.
The weaving of Ikat fabric is very complex and needs a lot of precision in weaving as the warp and weft yarn are resist dyed and they have to be interweaved to make a particular design. When Ikat is handwoven, the very complex designs in Ikat weaving can take up to months to finish.
There are mainly Four types of Ikat weaving – warp Ikat and weft Ikat, double Ikat and compound Ikat
In warp Ikat the lengthwise thread (warp yarns) are dyed with the resist dyeing process and these thread will be prominently visible in the fabric. The weft thread will be in one solid color. In weft Ikat, only weft yarn ( crosswise yarn) will be visible prominently making the Ikat patterns. The vertical lines may look slightly blurred in warp ikat fabrics where as in weft ikats the horizontal lines are blurred.
Weft Ikat technique is a preferred one as it creates a longer length of cloth than the warp Ikat, but the time taken to create the fabric is longer and there may be small irregularities in the prints. Silk and wool yarns are usually woven in this method. Silk weft ikat fabric from south east Asian countries like Indonesia and Bali are particularity distinctive and beautiful.
Cotton and other plant fibers are usually woven with the warp Ikat technique, though weft Ikat is also used.
In compound Ikat the warp and weft Ikat is combined in the same fabric in different places.
Double Ikat is a very complex process in which warp Ikat and weft Ikat are used simultaneously and they work together forming intricate designs. As a result finely outlined designs can be produced. In this technique both the warp and weft yarns have prominence.
An Indian Silk fabric called Patan Patola Ikat fabric is made using this technique. Pochampilly saris with beautiful geometric designs, made in South India is another fine example of double Ikat.
Patan Patola is a traditional Ikkat weaving native to Gujarat state in India. Patola saris are very famous and valued. It is a dying art because of the complexity of producing the designs and the hand labor needed to finish a yard of fabric – some one to dye the yarns in separate colors, some one to wind the bobbins, some one to weave the threads stretched across the rooms with mathematical precision- each taking many many days of concentrated effort. The silk fabric that emerges is worth all that effort but the cost may seem prohibitive because of all the labor involved.
Ikat as a Pattern
As a pattern the scope of Ikat is limitless. But some characteristic features are present in all Ikat patterns. Traditional motifs of ikat are fish, parrot, flowers, leaves etc. Colours of Indian Ikkat fabric are bright and cheerful like yellow, white, blue etc.
The designs almost always have a blurred / fuzzy outline. (unless it is a double ikat).
This fuzzy look is created in the process of aligning the dyed yarns (due to the shifting of the warp/weft yarns) and it is a distinctive feature of almost all Ikat prints. It may also be due to the color seepage at the edges of the bindings at the resist dyeing stage.
Ikat as a Fabric
Other than ‘warp ikat’ and ‘weft ikat’, you will hear many other names when referring to Ikat fabric. The Indian states Orissa , Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat are famous for different kinds of Ikat fabrics. Sambalpuri Ikkat is a special Ikat sari fabric made from the state of Orissa. Pochampilly ikat and Pasapalli ikat are other Ikat fabrics from India. Kasuri is the name that Japanese calls their Ikat fabrics. In Thailand you will be calling it as Mudmee fabric.
Ikat as a fabric is very popular as a home furnishing as well as dressmaking fabric.You will find that cotton and Silk ( and blends of cotton and silk) are the commonly used fibers for Ikat fabric production. It is used to make scarves, summer dresses,sarongs, and saris.
Beware of fake Ikat – You may be duped into buying an Ikat fabric which is just cotton fabric printed with the Ikat patterns – this could fade with time.
Photos of Ancient Ikat Fabrics- hali.com/news/the-ubiquitous-ikat/