Ikat is not only the name of a fabric with blurry patterns. This is the name of the weaving technique itself, in which bunches of silk threads are painted according to the master’s idea and put into a pattern. That is why the contours of the ornaments are not clear, but slightly blurred. Patterns can be very different, like the number of colors. Usually they are from 2 to 5.
The uniqueness of the ikat technique is that the pattern is applied not to the fabric, as is done in modern weaving, but to the thread. They are bunched up and twisted – with a string, and then immersed in a dye. Where the threads were pulled together, they remain white. Then in the same way, in the right places, they are painted in a different color. And only then an extraordinary canvas is born! Therefore, the pattern on the fabric is always a little bit shifted, “blurred” due to inaccurate alignment of the threads.
What is the uniqueness of ikat fabric?
This is a very time consuming process. Not surprisingly, such a fabric at all times was very expensive, was available only to wealthy people, and even replaced money.
In Uzbekistan, there are three types of dyeing in the technique of ikat – from silk, cotton and viscose. Ikat silk is called adras, where both silk and cotton yarns are used, forming an ikat pattern. But, if the fabric is entirely made of silk, then it is called silk adras. And ikat from cotton is called calico or cotton ikat. Local craftsmen also make the so-called silk ala-bahmal – fabric with a nap.
Ikat was a link in many areas of life – political, economic and public. One of the reasons for the prestige of weaving products in the ikat technique is the difficulty of their manufacture. The whole trick of ikat is that the colors and patterns are applied to the thread in advance, before the fabric is woven, and only when the product is ready does the drawing appear in front of your eyes. Each thread of yarn can be dyed and dried up to three times. Primary colors of dyes – yellow, red and blue. Before each stage of the coloring process, the master must tie up each strand in order to protect areas that are not supposed to absorb this dye. Therefore, the area that will be blue, should be tied up before painting in yellow and red; the area that will be green must absorb the yellow dye, then it must be tied up for red and then untied for blue so that the yellow and blue colors together give green.
Ikats with some variations were made in many regions of the world. Weavers in Central Asia, who worked in the ikat technique, used dried weaving thin silk threads for weaving. The base, the threads of which were located across the weft threads, was usually a smooth, inconspicuous chintz.
The ikat technique was used in other places, but in Central Asia it was a special way. Their fabrics were the brightest: colors, resembling precious stones, with very clear patterns.
The ancient cities of Central Asia, located along the northern Silk Road, for centuries been famous for the production of luxurious weaving products. As for the Ikats, their main production began in Bukhara and spread to Samarkand, and then to the Fergana Valley. It flourished at the beginning of the 19th century and, in effect, died in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, when Soviet power came into the region. People familiar with Islamic art and its language, immediately catch the connection with the tradition, but notice that here it really has risen to a new level.
Products of the early period are often distinguished by fast color transitions from one area to another, without clear distinctions between the main pattern and the background. The manner changed by the mid-19th century, when artisans mastered technology well. By the middle of the 19th century, they were ready to create new drawings. And, as you can see, between 1850 and 1880, there was an explosion of new ideas.
The old patterns were repeated – but not exactly. Artists did not tread on the spot. Trying something new, they followed traditional patterns, but interpreted them differently. The art of ikat masters can be compared with jazz improvisation: against the background of the repetition of old themes, all new elements are added and new melodies appear.
The old ikat masters told in the 1940s and 1950s that they were motivated by the desire to convey seasonal mood, for example, using abstract figures based on natural forms.
Although the drawings are complex and the production process is very laborious, the simplest pieces of clothing were made from fabrics using the ikat technique — women’s dresses and shalvaras, T-shaped robes for both men and women. Dressing gowns for women differ only in small tucks under the sleeve, so that the top part of the dressing gown fits the figure a little more tightly, and with a slightly more free cut of the bottom.
The lining for the dressing gown was also made bright, but not from ikat, but from printed cotton fabric. Ikat was too “expensive and prestigious” for most people to lining up with. It was a luxurious fabric for special occasions. Everyone wanted to have it, but not everyone could afford it: for this it was necessary to have great wealth.
Depending on the income of a person in his wardrobe, there could be a single such product – or dozens.
Not a single patch of old ikat was thrown away. A well-worn robe for an adult could be altered for a child or be edged for other clothes.
Although fabrics and garments in the ikat technique were made in the urban centers of Central Asia – oases along the Silk Road, they were used by nomads inside the country, as well as middle-class citizens.