Ikat in Fashion 

From fashion ramps to restaurant uniforms, home decor to stationery, Ikat, the flag of post-Independent India’s handloom revival continues its influence

 

Ikat is persistent, prevalent. While most of these examples are printed or powerloom versions that use the motif and design formulations of the original, hand-dyed, hand-woven weave, the enduring popularity of Ikat as design is a story.

The word, Ikat, of Indonesian origin, means, ‘to bind’. It follows a resist-dyeing technique—the yarn is dyed before it is woven—making it unique among textiles. Single Ikat is a kind of interweaving tie-and-dye yarn with plain weft. Double Ikat, on the other hand, uses resist-dyeing techniques to both warp and weft before weaving. Ikat is woven in several countries. In India, besides Odisha’s Sambalpuri and Nagabandha Ikats, the Andhra-Telangana region is known for Telia Rumaal and Pochampalli Ikat. In Gujarat, besides Saurashtra, the textile is also woven in Patan—famed for its double Ikat Patola. All these kinds of Ikat have been curated for numerous textile exhibitions across the world. Some like Patan Patola have pride of place in the most known global textile museums. Ikat can create beautiful blurry patterns without clean and sharp borders, or be so architectural in effect that every line, circle and square is defined geometrically. It is evocative for many practitioners and designers.

 

Inside the original, the inspired, the derivatives and blatant print imitations, is a universe of Ikat. Which is in fashion. The potential of woven Ikat has attracted noted Indian designers like Rina Singh of eka or Suket Dhir to just name two, to create high fashion collections targeted also for global stores that Indian handlooms as prêt garments. 

In the late nineties and the early 2000s, handlooms, including Ikat, were not popular. There was a surge in buying machine-made fabrics because of affordability and ease of procurement. As motif and design vocabulary, Ikat is also popular in other product categories like upholstery, handbags, footwear and stationery. Owing to its complex make and intricate design, Ikat can also be seen as art.

Ikat is popular as it blends seamlessly with many global cultures. There are many countries and cultures who have their own Ikat weaving techniques, independent of each other, like Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Africa and even South America. So it connects instantly. Handwoven Ikat doesn’t fade or diminish in quality over time, compared to other textiles. As the dyeing happens at the yarn stage, colours penetrate deep into fibres. The colour is long lasting, it’s almost forever as compared to other weaving techniques native to India.

Ikat was a big part of the handloom revival movement of the Eighties. On the one hand, it is associated with cultural and textile connoisseurs of post-Independent India—late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as well as Pupul Jayakar and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya among several other luminaries in literature and crafts. On the other, it was the preferred weave of civil society and Left-wing intellectuals, activists, artists, journalists and theatre artists.

When we wear handloom, the message that we send out, apart from the aesthetic, is that we care. We care for the people who make it and for the country. We have a history of the charkha and the khadi—they were the tools and motifs for our freedom movement. Ikat fashion, and the weaves by extension, come out of that history.

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