Ikat is a particular fabric pattern that is achieved with a process called resist dyeing, in which various techniques are used to make certain parts of the fabric “resist” dyeing. Despite the fact that ikat is traditionally produced in many places around the world, this small term for a pattern has entered the international vocabulary of clothing design.
Ikat throughout history
At the beginning of the history of human civilization, the peoples of the whole world decided that it is possible to create incredibly intricate and beautiful clothes, knitting yarn with desired patterns and dyeing it in bunches. It is not clear where exactly the ikat fabric appeared, but it is the central cultural artifact of many civilizations in East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Ikat fabric is now much easier to make using industrial machines. Although previously it was required to bind the fibers manually to make this fabric, the same effect can now be achieved technologically at minimal cost.
Both the binder dye and the batik are examples of fabric dyeing techniques that take place after the fabric has been woven. However, dyeing with ikat occurs before the yarn is woven into the fabric, which leads to a completely different appearance.
How is ikat fabric made?
The ikat fabric can be made from any textile fiber that dyes well. The usual traditional ikat materials include silk and wool, but you can also dye viscose, polyester and many other synthetic fibers in the same way.
After the fabric yarn is purchased, it is collected in thick ropes and dyed in a specific pattern. Then the bindings are removed, and the yarn is laid flat for weaving. As soon as the fabric is woven, a pattern that was originally dyed in a bundle of yarn becomes visible. Like any other textile, ikat can then be processed, dyed again or subjected to any number of different processes before being cut, sewn, packaged and sent.
How is ikat fabric used?
Ikat fabric is used in various categories:
Uses in clothes. From blouses to elastic trousers, ikat dyeing is used everywhere in the fashion industry. Ikat is more common in women’s clothing than in men’s.
Accessory uses. Scarves, shawls and scarves are all common ikat accessories. Of course, shoes, wallets, belts, and other items can also have ikat designs, but these designs can simply be printed, rather than truly painted in a bunch.
Uses in décor. Pillowcases, sheets and other bedding often have ikat designs. Traditionally, ikat was often used in wall carpets, and ikat patterns are still widely distributed on walls around the world.
Where is ikat fabric made?
It depends on which fiber was used to make the ikat fabric:
World leader in silk production. India remains the world’s largest producer of silk. Although a large amount of silk is also produced in China, India has always been the epicenter of the global natural silk industry.
World leader in wool production. Australia and New Zealand together are home to hundreds of millions of sheep. However, as Australia is larger, it is a leading global producer of wool.
World leader in cotton production. China, the United States, and India produce large quantities of cotton. However, in 2019, India became the world’s largest producer of this natural fiber.
World leader in the production of artificial fiber. China remains the world leader in the production of artificial textiles.
How much does ikat fabric cost? Several factors influence the final cost of ikat tissue:
Materials used. Silk and wool are in the higher cost range for fabrics with cotton in the middle range. Artificial fibers are by far the least expensive options, which have led to their widespread popularity. You get what you pay for, however; all signs indicate that these are natural fibers that will exist after 100 years, and this is a synthetic fabric that will eventually go into history books.
Type of weaving. Some species of ikat are more complex and beautiful than others. The more work invested in your ikat, the more you are likely to pay.
The quality of weaving. There are dozens of ways to weave and paint ikat. Some of these methods follow hereditary guidelines that are still practiced today, while others use heavy factory equipment without any inherent personality or culture. Commercially available ikat is usually the cheapest, and handmade fabrics bring a lot of money.
What different types of ikat fabric are there?
The differences between ikat types are usually associated with variations in the weave style:
- Warp Ikat
In warp ikat, the warp threads are dyed in ikat patterns, and the weft threads are dyed in a solid color.
- Weft ikat
Weft ikat is the opposite of warp ikat—the patterned portion is the weft thread, and the warp thread is a single color.
- Double ikat
As the most complicated form of ikat, double ikat features both warp and weft threads that are ikat-dyed. It is very tricky to make these two patterns overlap perfectly, so double ikat is more prized than other varieties.
- Regional variations
In one form or another, ikat has been made by practically every culture in the world. There are too many region-specific forms of this dye technique to cover, but rest assured that you’ll find familiar ikat patterns practically everywhere you go in the world.