Ikat textiles are made by applying a pattern onto a textile by resist dying the yarns before they are woven into the fabric. A predetermined amount of yarns are tightly wrapped and then dyed in one color. Then the binding is altered and the yarns are dyed again in a different color. This process can be repeated several times to produce polychromatic patterns once the dyeing is finished and the yarns are woven into fabric.
As the pattern is made from dyed threads, ikat fabric has the same pattern on both fabric faces, which is one of the identifying methods for ikats. Another one is the blurriness of the design, which happens because the ikat dyed yarns merge irregularly into each other. The finer and fewer the yarns in each bundle, the less blurry the fabric.
Ikat textiles are produced in many cultures in many parts of the world. It is hard to determine where the technique originated. It probably developed in more than one place as there are pre Columbian ikats, African ikats, and a proliferation of ikats in various Asian brocades.
There are three types of ikats are warp, weft, and double ikat.
The warp ikat is the most common and it has the warp yarns tie-dyed, while the weft yarns are a solid color. One can see the ikat pattern once the warp yarns are wound on the loop before the weft is woven in. Some warp ikats, such as those from Uzbekistan have vertical symmetry, the result coming from yarns that are hung over a dowl before they are dyed.
The weft ikat textile is when the weft yarns get tie-dyed. Weft ikats are more difficult to weave and take longer to produce because the weft yarns have to be pulled and adjusted to their place after each passing of the shuttle, in order to create clear lines.
The double ikat textiles has both the warp and weft yarns tie-dyed. It is the most complicated of ikat techniques. A double ikat is produced by extraordinary craftsmanship. It is not unusual to find other manifestations of excellence in them such as small and intricate patterning or pictorial motifs with no repeats across the length. Double ikats are produced in three places – India, Japan, and Indonesia.
India has a long history of exporting their double ikats, which are called patola, (seen above) to Indonesia.
Locally produced Indonesian ikats are found in one village in Bali, and serve as sacred cloths. These ikats differ from the imported patola by design and monochromatic palette.
While the ikat technique is the same wherever they are produced, the design conforms to local tradition and therefore one cannot confuse Indian ikats with those from Cambodia, Central Asia, Japan, or any other origin.
Since ikat textiles are highly sought after and costly to produce, simpler methods are used to imitate them. One such method involves printing the finished textile, while another involves stamping the warp yarns once they are on the loom, a technique called chine. These techniques produce a similar blurriness to authentic ikats, but the faces of the fabric are not identical.
Velvet ikat textiles are a labor-intensive warp ikat, technique practiced in Iran, Uzbekistan and Spain. This material was very expensive and time-consuming to produce, therefore it was primarily used for upper class men on festive occasions.
Pasapalli ikat is a double ikat in a checkerboard design, made in India, primarily for saris and Indonesia, primarily for shoulder cloths known as Selendangs. Due to the natural gold deposits in the region, many Minangkabau textile artists use gold in their clothing. In addition to the double ikat checkerboard design, this cloth contains triangles that represent bamboo shoots and the roles that men play in their community.