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Bindings, which resist dye penetration, are applied to the threads in the desired patterns and the threads are dyed. Alteration of the bindings and the dyeing of more than one color produce elaborate, multicolored patterns. When all of the dyeing is finished the bindings are removed and the threads are ready to be woven into cloth.
The defining characteristic of ikat is the dyeing of patterns, by means of bindings, into the threads before cloth construction, the weaving of the fabric, takes place. Herein lies the difference between ikat and tie-dye. In tie-dye the fabric is woven first and the resist bindings are then applied to the fabric which is dyed.
In warp ikat the patterns are clearly visible in the warp threads on the loom even before the plain colored weft is introduced to produce the fabric. In weft ikat it is the weaving or weft thread that carries the dyed patterns which only appear as the weaving proceeds. In weft ikat the weaving proceeds much slower than in warp ikat as the passes of the weft must be carefully adjusted to maintain the clarity of the patterns.
Double Ikat is where both warp and the weft are resist-dyed prior to stringing on the loom. Traditionally, and still commonly, a back-strap loom is used, though any variant or modern loom may be used.
Ikat is an Indonesian language word, which depending on context, can be the nouns: cord, thread, knot and the finished ikat fabric as well as the verbs “to tie” or “to bind”. It has a direct etymological relation to Javanese language of the same word. Thus, the name of the finished ikat woven fabric originates from the tali (threads, ropes) being ikat (tied, bound, knotted) before they are being put in celupan (dyed by way of dipping), then berjalin (woven, intertwined) resulting in a berjalin ikat- reduced to ikat.
Rouffaer is attributed to introducing the term ikat into European language. Ikat is now a generic English loan-word to describe either or both the process and the cloth itself- wherever and however the fabric may be woven or stylized through ethnic or the weaver’s motives.
Linguistically, strictly speaking: the plural of ikat in Indonesian remains ikat. However, in English the Saxon suffix plural (‘s’) is commonly affixed, as in ikats and similarly in other languages. All are correct, though for orthography, this article favours the original Indonesian.
Ikat is a near universal weaving style common to many world cultures. Likely, it is one of the oldest forms of textile decoration.
In Central and South America, what is labeled as ikat is still common in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.
In the 19th century, the Silk Road desert oases of Bukhara and Samarkand (in what is now Uzbekistan in Central Asia) were famous for their fine silk Uzbek ikat. Ikat floral patterns are traditionally used in Europe on Mallorca, Spain.
India, Japan and many South-East Asian nations such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand have weaving cultures with long histories of Ikat production.
Double ikat is still endemic to Guatemala, India, Japan and Indonesia: specifically: Bali, Java, Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra.
Ikat weaving styles vary widely. Many design motifs may have ethnic, ritual or symbolic meaning or have been developed for export trade. Traditionally, ikat are symbols of status, wealth, power and prestige. Because of the time and skill involved in weaving ikat, some cultures believe the cloth is imbued with magical powers.
The history of ikat
As woven fabric rarely survives for more than a few centuries it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine where the technique of ikat originated. It probably developed in several different locations independently. Ikat was known to be produced in several pre-Columbian Central and South American cultures.
Ikat created by dyeing the warp are the more simple to make. First the material, be it cotton, silk, wool or other, is tied into bundles. The bundles may be covered with wax (as per batik), wrapped tightly with thread or some other dye-resistant material- to prevent unwanted dye permeation.
The resist dye procedure is repeated depending on the colouration desired of the warp bundle. Multiple colouration is common.
The newly dyed and thoroughly washed bundles are tied as the warped (longitudinal strings) onto the loom. The patterns are usually decided by the weaver as the warp threads are tied. Warp threads are adjusted for the desired alignment for precise motifs.
Some styles of ikat favour a blurred appearance. Guatemalan ikat is quite famous for this. South American and Indonesian ikat are known for such high degree of warp alignment that it may resemble printed, rather than woven cloth. Weavers will adjust the warp repeatedly as the weaving progresses to maintain pattern alignment.
The skill lies in the weaver acting essentially as a selective heddle who selectively manually picks up warp threads before passing the shuttle through the resultant “mini- shed”.
Patterns result from a combination of the warp dye and the weft thread colour. Commonly vertical-axis reflection or “mirror-image” symmetry is used to provide symmetry to the pattern- more simply: whatever pattern or design is woven on the right, is duplicated on the left in reverse order, or at regular intervals, about a central warp thread group.
Patterns can be created in the vertical, horizontal or diagonal.
Weft ikat uses resist-dye for the weft alone. The variance in colour of the weft means precisely delineated patterns are more difficult to weave.
As the weft is commonly a continuous strand aberrations or variation in colouration are cumulative. Weft ikat are commonly employed where pattern precision is of less aesthetic concern than the overall resultant fabric. Some patterns become transformed by the weaving process into irregular and erratic designs. Guatemalan ikat is well-noted for its beautiful “blurs” in colouration.
The precise images of Japanese kasuri ikat are fine examples of weft ikat.
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