What is so special about Ikat??

Ikat is everywhere. Everyone is talking about it. People are discussing the different patterns and styles. But to a layman like me, they are just varied lines and patches on cloth. What is so different about it? And why is it trending so much? It could be because it is not just an Indian but an international technique used in India, South East Asia, Japan, Africa and Latin America. Or because it is visible on sarees, blankets, mats, carpets and almost every cloth visible today. But what is it, and where did it come from?

What I did not know is that Ikat is dyeing before actually dyeing. Confusing, isn’t it? On looking at it, it would appear that printed blocks are used to create it using dyes and paints. But with Ikat, the threads are dyed before weaving. It is actually a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles that employs resist dyeing on the yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric. The resist is formed by binding individual yarns or bundles of yarns with a tight wrapping applied in the desired pattern. The yarns are then dyed after that. The part that impresses me was that the bindings can be altered to create a new pattern and then dyed with another colour- thus creating a new design and pattern. If the same process is repeated, it can produce elaborate and multicoloured patterns. And all of this is done by hand. When the dyeing is finished all the bindings are removed and the yarns are woven into cloth. So while other clothes are woven and then designed, Ikat is designed first and then woven.

In so many discussions around this technique, comparisons are made to Tie-Dye and Batik. Although the end product may look similar, in Ikat the resist is applied to the yarns before weaving while in the other two techniques, resist is applied to already woven cloth. The result being that Ikat turns out to be morefine and both fabric faces are patterned in Ikat, which means that both the front and back will have a beautiful design. So there is no front and back. Because each bundle is tied and dyed individually, the pattern is visible before it is woven. This helps the weaver to line up the yarns correctly.

How does one identify a real Ikat? An authentic Ikat can be recognised by the blurriness of its design, which happens because the weaver has to line up the dyes yarns by hand and the end pattern turns out blurred. The blurring may be less in finer quality Ikat but this blurriness is what makes it unique and collectible. But the most beautiful and complex is the Double Ikat, which is made in only India, Japan and Indonesia. Of these, the most complicated patterns are made in Patan, Gujarat and are called Patola, which is made from silk yarns in different colours. Just looking at it and imagining the number of times the yarn would have been dyed and patterned makes my head spin.

Understanding the method behind it and the technique and handwork involved, I am not surprised that it is trending. The patterns and designs created by hands can beat machine made patterns anyway and that is probably why it is everywhere.

I am enlightened! Kudos to Ikat artists!

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