Ikat is an age-old technique of patterning cloth. The word itself derives from the Malay-Indonesian ‘mengikat’, meaning to tie or bind.
The making of the pattern consists in the precise tying and dying of the threads before weaving. It’s a process demanding skill, patience, organisation and precision yet its beauty, antithetically, lies in the impossibility of perfect execution and the consequent hazy, slightly blurred edges of the motifs.
It is this haziness that defines ikat textiles, from the richly coloured silks of Uzbekistan and detailed saris of Gujarat to the exquisite, painstakingly fine indigo-dyed kasuri fabrics of Japan.
Whilst all ikat techniques are complex - involving the tying, dyeing, untying, re-tying and dyeing again of threads, in precise colours and positions – they vary in level and fall into three distinct types: warp ikat, weft ikat and double ikat.
Warp ikat is the simplest of the three techniques, involving the dying of the warp threads, while the weft threads remain a single, solid colour. Weft ikat is a more sophisticated process, involving the dying of the weft threads, which must then be carefully woven in the correct order through the single coloured warp.
Double ikat is the most prestigious and expensive of them all. For this, both the warp and weft threads are tied and dyed and then skilfully lined up on the loom, a painstakingly slow process requiring immense patience. Double ikat is only woven in India, Bali and Japan.
The characteristic haziness of the textile is an inevitable result of the intricate dying process for, however skilled the weaver – and weavers of ikat cloth are some of the most highly skilled of all – the fabric ties binding the skeins of thread will always imperfectly resist the dye. Thus the delineation between those areas that have taken the dye, and those that have not, can never be perfectly defined – there will always be a slight area of overlap between colours.
And yet it is because of this imperfect, hazy beauty that we love this textile. There is fluidity, a soft sense of movement and almost painterliness to ikat patterns – as though pigments have bled through and into one another. And there is a liveliness and spirit to the cloth, its small imperfections and variations recalling the hand of its maker.
Each season we work with master weavers in southern India to create our ikats, The techniques used have been passed from one generation to the next and it is always a delight to design a new pattern and to see the finished result.