Ikat is made through a traditional dyeing technique that has been known since ancient times in areas as widespread as Yemen and Japan, Central America and Southern Asia. In each of these regions, the method offers a specialty of textile design with a distinctive look.
What does the word “ikat” mean?
Our fabric is made in Central Asia, one of the traditional regions of ikat production. Here, the fabric was referred to with the Persian word abr, meaning “cloud.” It’s an excellent name, as it captures the rich and delicate coloring and the dramatic, billowing patterns that the technique makes possible. However, in international trade, all such fabrics are referred to as “ikat,” from the Malay verb meng-ikat, which means “to tie” or “to wind.”
How is ikat fabric made?
In our region of Central Asia, the basic method for making ikat fabrics by the yard is as follows. First, the weft threads (those which will run horizontally) are bound with tiny pieces of another material; today, we usually use plastic. Then, the thread is put into a dye pot with local or imported natural dyes. When it is lifted out, the tight bindings will have left areas that are undyed. That thread can be woven into fabric on a traditional hand loom. When it is woven, a rich design on both sides will come together as the variegated threads assemble into the soft-edged, cloud-like pattern.
Why is ikat fabric so popular today?
Designers love ikat for the special qualities that this traditional fabric provides to their work. Because the traditional Uzbek hand loom is 40 to 60 cm (15 to 24 inches) wide, it produces an unusually narrow bolt with the same pattern on both sides. The naturally dyed, hand-woven fabrics are durable and have a distinctive texture, because the thread is not stressed by chemical dyeing or mechanical weaving. To add to their usefulness, Uzbek ikat fabrics by the yard typically have wide solid borders of 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 inches), enhancing their versatility and the ease of creating strong directional patterns and rich, subtle palettes. And of course, the designs are breathtaking — they must be seen to be believed!
Those who wear and use ikat choose this fabric for many reasons, but often simply for their love of color and appreciation for quality handmade goods. The traditional ikat which was exported along the Silk Road in the seventh century and after symbolized wealth, power, and prestige, and its lively looks captured something of the energy of village life and the glory of hand-dyed colors. Today’s ikat simply speaks to a heartfelt appreciation for handcrafting and a taste for timeless quality in the textiles among which we live.