A few years ago, the centuries-old weaving technique called ikat enjoyed a resurgence, and everyone called it a trend. Now, with several years of hindsight we can definitely say ikat is here to stay. But what separates this ethnic design from the rest? We’re glad you asked. Here, Kravet’s own Alice Guercio tells us how ikats are made, and we’ve put together this video showing the process in action. Let us know what you think in the comments.
One of the most popular trends in interior design today is ikat. The word ikat comes from the Malaysian word ‘mengikat’ or to tie, bind or wrap around. The proper pronunciation of the word has long been debated; however, the correct way to pronounce is ‘ee-kaht’ not ‘eye-cat.’ This ancient style of weaving uses a resist dyeing process similar to tie-dye where the warp and/or the weft yarns are dyed before the fabric is woven on the loom. The result of this process is a motif which is “blurred” in appearance. This ‘cloudy’ look comes from the slight bleeding of the dyes into the resist areas.
Ikat is a universal weaving style common to many world cultures and is likely to be one of the oldest forms of textile decorations now. It is extremely difficult to determine where the technique originated. It probably developed in several different locations independently. For instance, during the 19th century, the Silk Road deserts of Bukhara and Samarkand were famous for their fine silk Uzbek Ikat. India, Japan and many South-East nations such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand have weaving cultures with long histories of ikat production. In addition, these designs were also common in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.
The ikat design is created by tying areas of the threads into bundles using grasses, wax or even plastic to prevent penetration of the dye. What this means is the weaver needs to figure out where on the loose threads the dye should go in order for it to form the proper pattern when it is woven. For more exact patterning, a weaver will typically use warp ikats, where they can see the pattern on the loom. With a weft ikat, the pattern is less exact because the design is not visible until it is already woven. The most difficult is the double ikat. This is when both the warp and weft are dyed to create the pattern. This form of weaving requires the most skill for precise patterns to be woven and it is considered to be the highest form of ikat. As you add colors, the process becomes more complicated.
Many design motifs may have ethnic, ritual or symbolic meaning. Traditionally, ikats are symbols of status, wealth, power and prestige. Today, ikat has become a generic word used to describe the process, the cloth itself and the type of motif that is created as a result.
Oscar de la Renta's Kublai Kahn ikat (on pillow), available at Lee Jofa.
Alice Guercio, Vice President of Product Coordination and a Kravet veteran for more than 15 years, travels the world to source and develop new product for Kravet. She is one of our top experts on textiles. If you have a question about fabric for Alice, email her at email@example.com and your question may become the subject of a future article.