The Art of Ikat: An Ancient Traditional Weaving Technique
Poetry on the loom’, is how an artist described the process of making Ikat fabrics.
Ikat is a traditional dyeing technique that is tedious and requires patience and skill. It’s used to make distinct patterns on textiles. The process is as complex as the designs the technique produces; to understand the difference, between normal dyeing techniques and Ikat is quite simple; resist-dyeing techniques such as tie-dye is where the resist is added to the woven cloth, whereas in ikat the resist is added to the yarn strings themselves. The process involves binding individual yarns according to the desired pattern and then dyeing them. The bound yarn can be altered to create new patterns. The process is done several times to create astounding patterns and designs. Post dyeing, the bindings are released and the yarns are woven into cloth.
Ikat fabrics are weaved in many traditional textile mills across the globe. India, Southeast Asia, Japan, Latin America, and Africa are a few of the countries where this technique is followed. A unique characteristic of ikat textiles lies in the “blurriness” of the design. The weaver’s task is extremely tedious as the technique involves lining up the dyed yarns for the pattern is perfectly visible on the finished cloth. The blurriness is a mark of authenticity and hard work of the ikat fabric, however, it can also be reduced by using finer yarns, and sometimes even the effort of the weaver comes into play. The blurriness is unique to ikat is often preferred by collectors. These fabrics with multiple colors, complex patterns, and reduced blur take more effort to create, and hence they are often more expensive.
Types of Ikats
The single ikat technique of weaving is a fairly simpler style and the fabrics and finished products are sold at affordable prices. The single Ikat technique involves interweaving tied and dyed warp (the vertical thread on the loom with a plain weft (the horizontal thread) in a single textile form. This technique is used to make kurtas, bedsheets, and linen.
Double ikat is much harder, it is a yarn resist technique where both the warp as well the weft are tied and dyed according to a planned pattern to generate gorgeous motifs on the slowly woven fabric. This takes a lot of effort and hence the products made are quite expensive and rare because of the intensive skilled labor involved.
Ikats in India !
Ikat techniques although native to Indonesia are known by many names in India — patola, bandha, and telia rumal. The process involves binding multiple threads of yarn and then dyeing them before they are woven. The designs and patterns are only limited to the weaver’s imagination and skills.
The state of Gujarat is famed for its double-ikats. Patola is an ancient Indian cloth considered to be sacred and is also a luxury export product. It’s also known to be a symbol of nobility and is said to have some magical properties. Today the production of this divine cloth is limited as the double-ikat weaving tradition of Gujarat is almost on the verge of extinction. Two Jain families have immersed themselves in this traditional craft of weaving patolas. Each thread, in its un-dyed state, would need to be counted, collected, and bundled. Then each bundle is tied and dyed according to imagined patterns. Salvis is the name given to the ones who do this work and the same takes the effort of two people. Around ten inches of fabric can be woven each day using this technique; it demands time and hard work to create these exquisite fabrics.
Bandha is the Orissan style of ikat that showcases beautiful flowing designs. Every color and symbol represents a concept of the Jagannath. Bandha of Orissa stands apart with its natural motifs including floral, fish, animals, and rarely geometrical. Colors have meaning in Bandha. White, yellow, and red represent past, present, and future. These dyed textiles of Odisha are loved for their distinctive patterns that require a keen eye and precision.
Telia Rumal is an extremely tough double-ikat technique. The yarn strings are treated with a special oil followed by tie and dye. It’s a laborious technique as each of the warp and weft threads are individually placed on the loom before they start weaving. Red, black, and white are the only colors used in this technique. The literal translation of Telia Rumal is “oily handkerchief”. The cloth was dyed with traditional ‘alizarian’ dyes and this would leave an oily smell. The name stuck due to the phenomenon.
Ikat in Modern Fashion
The fashion industry took notice of this incredible technique and the unique fabrics that it would produce. Innovation and some creative thinking helped designs and clothing made from ikat fabrics go from traditional to contemporary. From kurtis to jumpsuits, from sarees to designer dresses. The world took notice.