A table runner, a pillowcase, an upholstered chair. You’re probably familiar with ikat fabric and its trademark, slightly blurred geometric patterns. But ever wonder how it’s made? Below, we break down the process of this age-old technique.
So ikat is what, exactly?
Ikat is a resist-dyed fabric that is similar, but not identical, to tie dye and batik.
Wait, what does resist-dyed mean?
Good question. Think about batik, where fabric is painted with wax and then dyed. The wax resists the dye and patterns emerge. The difference with ikat is that individual yarns are bound and resist-dyed with patterns before they are woven into a fabric. (See the accompanying images from our maker partner Translate-Handwoven Ikat from India.)
Ikat takes shape when woven.
Fabrics are comprised of warp and weft threads. On a loom, the warp is the thread that is held firmly in place, vertically. The weft, or horizontal thread, is then woven beneath and over the warp to create a textile. (See graphic alongside.) Accordingly, there are three types of ikat—warp ikat, weft ikat and double ikat. Wait, what?
So, the three types of ikat, explained.
With warp ikat, only the warp yarns are dyed with a pattern. So, when the warp yarns are first wound onto the loom, the ikat pattern is fully visible.
With weft ikat, the weft yarn reveals the dyed pattern. Therefore, the pattern only appears as the weaving proceeds. Weft ikats are slower to weave than warp ikat because the weft yarns must be adjusted after each passing of the loom’s shuttle to maintain the clarity of the design.
Double ikat is a technique in which both warp and the weft yarns are resist-dyed prior to weaving. It is the most difficult to make and the most expensive.
Finally, about that blur.
Blurriness is a trademark of ikat, as it’s a byproduct of the individually-dyed yarns being woven together into patterns. The less blurry, the finer the yarn and more skilled the weaver—and, usually, the more expensive the fabric. But it is that blurriness which makes ikat so unique and has become its most identifiable characteristic. In other words, people, embrace the imperfection.
All featured imagery is from our Maker partner Translate-Handwoven Ikat