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Ikat: From Currency to Cushions

Ikat (pronounced ee-kat) has witnessed a resurgence in popularity of late. We look at the world’s most multicultural textiles technique and it’s curious origins.

OVERVIEW:

Derived from the Malay- Indonesian word meaning ‘to tie’ or ‘to bind’, Ikat is one of the oldest patterned textile techniques in the world. Alongside other handcrafted methods, Ikat (pronounced ee-kat) has witnessed a resurgence in popularity of late. Favoured by designers for its unique textural quality, numerous variations are now widely available and are a permanent feature within the collections of the world’s finest textile houses. 

Commonly mistaken for a print, Ikat is in fact a weave traditionally produced via a series of laborious and highly skilled processes. Despite its complexity, this technique seems to have developed independently across multiple continents with experts still undecided on it’s true origins. Mainly appearing in ancient cultures from South East and Central Asia, it was particularly popular in Japan, Turkey and India. Others claim it’s roots are in South American culture where early surviving examples have been traced back to the pre-Columbian period. 

While they have existed for thousands of years, Ikat fabrics really became popular during the nineteenth century. At its peak the sophisticated weave was so coveted it was often used as a form of currency. This was particularly evident on the fabled Silk Road (a trade route across Asia that linked Europe to all of the peoples and cultures from Turkey to China.) This route did much to raise the textile’s profile, reaching the point where an Ikat robe was worth more than the life of the finest slave. Spreading across the middle east and on to Europe, it has retained much of its original desirability.

Whilst the source may be forever obscured, all authentic Ikat textiles are produced via a similar set of handcrafted procedures:

TECHNIQUES

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There are three main variations used to create the distinctive weave: Warp, Weft and Double Ikat. All these are produced with different levels of complexity and subject to their own subtle distinctions.

1. WARP IKAT

i) First the yarns (cotton, silk, wool or other fibres) are wound onto a frame

ii) The yarns are then are tied into bundles. These can be coated with wax, as in batik. (However, in making batik, the craftsperson applies the resist to the finished cloth rather than to the yarns to be woven).

iii) The warp yarns are then wrapped tightly with thread or some other dye-resistant material to prevent unwanted dye permeation.

This process is repeated depending on the number of colours to form the desired pattern. A laborious process, multiple rounds of tying and dying are required before the washed bundles can be wound onto the loom to form the warp.

The final process sees the craftsmen adjust these longitudinal yarns until the precise motif has been formed.

2. WEFT IKAT

This method uses resist-dyeing for the weft yarns. The movement of the weft yarns in the weaving process means precisely delineated patterns are more difficult to weave. The weft yarn must be adjusted after each passing of the shuttle to preserve the pattern.

As the weft is commonly a continuous strand, aberrations or variation in colour are cumulative. Some weft Ikat traditions incorporate this effect into their aesthetic. Patterns become transformed by the weaving process into irregular and erratic designs.

3. DOUBLE IKAT

Created by resist-dyeing both the warp and weft prior to weaving, this undoubtably is the most difficult variation. This intricate technique is also understandably the most expensive with each of the traditional Ikat producing culture having their own speciality:

Japan: Known as ‘tate-yoko gasuri’ this is produced in the Okinawa.

India: Called ‘patola’, this highly prized weave comes from the Gujarat (Cambay) region. It was used by the dutch as a trade cloth during the peak of the spice trade.

Indonesia: Double Ikat is only produced in Bali Aga village of Tenganan. These have a spiritual significance and are worn as ceremonial dress.

TECHNICAL TERMS

Balance Weave: are fabrics in which the warp and weft are made of threads of the same weight (size) and the same number of ends per inch as picks per inch.

Warp/Warp Yarn: the set of lengthwise yarns that are held in tension on a frame or loom.

Warp-Faced: Fabric in which the lengthwise (warp) yarns predominate on the surface of    the fabric. Produced in length-wise stripes and vertical designs due to the limitations of colour placement

Weft/Weft Yarn: Crosswise yarns in a woven fabric. Also known as filling or woof.

Weft-Faced: Fabric in which the crosswise (weft) yarns predominate on the surface of the fabric.

ARTISAN SHORTLIST

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Whilst there are many textile houses producing Ikat designs, we’ve produced a shortlist of our three favourites:

1. Rifat Ozbek – Yastick (above)

Address: 8 Holland St, London W8 4LT

Phone: 020 3538 7981

Website: www.yastikbyrifatozbek.com

2. Susan Deliss

Address: Viewing by appointment, Notting Hill, London W11, UK

Phone: 07768 805 850

Website: www.susandeliss.com

3. Batterbury

Address: Viewing by appointment, Petworth, Sussex

Phone: 01428 708 181

Website: www.batterbury.co.uk

*All images sourced via pinterest

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