Ikat weaving is a well-known weaving style that is appreciated worldwide for its intricate process. This weaving style uses a resist-dyeing technique similar to tie-dyeing. The process involves dyeing yarn in a natural zigzag pattern, which is then woven into cotton or silk fabrics. The result is a beautiful textile adorned with colorful designs. Ikat weaving is unique because it utilizes either the warp or weft to create the design pattern. In some cases, both the warp and weft are tie-dyed, resulting in what is called “Double Ikat“.
Ikat fabric is widely known for its unique characteristic of having blurry designs. This is due to the complex weaving process where the weaver meticulously aligns the dyed yarns to achieve the perfect design on the finished textile. To reduce the blurriness, skilled craftsmanship and fine yarns are used, but this makes the production process even more difficult and expensive. Despite the blurriness being a signature feature of Ikat, it is highly valued and sought after by textile collectors.
Ikat is a word of Indonesian origin that refers to a cord, thread, or knot. The term Ikat was introduced into European languages and is attributed to Rouffaer. It is now a commonly used English word that describes the process and specific pattern used to produce it. In Indonesian, the plural form of Ikat remains as Ikat, while in English, the plural form usually adds an ‘s’ and is referred to as Ikats.
Ikat patterns are produced in various traditional textile centers around the world, such as India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Japan, Africa, and Latin America. In Japan, Ikat is also called “kasuri”. Bukhara and Samarkand have been famous for silk Ikats since the 19th century, while other countries have a long history of Ikat. Double Ikats, where both the warp and weft yarns are tied and dyed before being woven into a single textile, are rare and require intensive skilled labor. They are produced in places like Guatemala, the Okinawa islands of Japan, the village of Tenganan in Indonesia, and the villages of Puttapaka and Bhoodan Pochampally in India. Ikat production and patterns vary widely from region to region, and these textiles are often seen as symbols of wealth, power, prestige, and status.
There appears to be a connection between the production of Ikat in India and Southeast Asia. It is believed that Gujarati merchants brought Patola, a type of silk fabric, to Indonesian rulers, and this led to the development of Ikat production in Indonesia, which was later taken over by the Dutch. As a result, the patterns of Patola Ikat are similar to the double Ikats produced in Bali, Indonesia. In Europe, Ikat floral patterns are used in places like Mallorca and Spain.
In the past, the technique of Ikat weaving was mainly used to produce shoulder cloth, turban cloth, and lungi. However, today, a wide range of products such as bags, mats, sarees, bedsheets, dupattas, purses, and files are made using this technique. In Odisha, Ikat saree production is particularly famous. The Ikat patterns are dyed and bound into the threads before the cloth is woven, which distinguishes it from the tie and dye process where the fabric is woven first before dyeing.
The technique of Ikat has its origins in different parts of the world and is considered one of the most ancient methods of dyeing fabrics. In the case of Odisha Ikat, it is believed to date back to the 12th century. It is said that artisans from Gujarat who migrated to Odisha carried on the craft. There are three varieties of Ikat practiced in Odisha, which are:
- Single Ikat – In this process, either the yarns of the warp or the weft are dyed.
- Ikat – Both the yarns of the warp and weft are used together, but in different parts of the single fabric.
- Double Ikat – Here, both the yarns of the warp and weft are tied precisely. The threads from both axes form a mesh with each other at certain points, showcasing the intricate pattern of the fabric.
Odisha Ikat sarees have become popular among celebrities like Aishwarya Rai Bachan and world leaders. While the maintenance of these sarees is generally easy, they should be handled with care using gentle hand washing or dry cleaning, and ironed at a moderate temperature. For cotton Ikat sarees, machine washing is possible, but dry cleaning is often preferred. Traditionally, the production of Odisha Ikat sarees involved hand-weaving, but modernization has allowed for automated production using machines to meet the rising demand.