What is Ikat? How Ikat Fabric is Made, Dyed + Woven
Our Ikat Collection is entirely handmade and hand-loomed by artisan weavers in India, so I’d like to dig into exactly what ikat is, and why we’re so thrilled to be carrying it in our shop.
When we started Core Fabrics, one of our biggest ambitions was to try and connect the handcraft of the sewing community with the handcraft of textile artisans around the world whenever we could. As fabric production is increasingly automated and industrialized, we risk losing the rich history, skills, and craftsmanship of traditional and indigenous textile design. If you sew, you understand the time, care, and attention it takes to transform a few yards of fabric into a beautiful garment. We wanted to bring that same awareness to the work done by artisanal textile producers in an effort to connect one craft practice to another. In that spirit, one of our goals is to carefully source beautiful textiles made in traditional ways. When we are sourcing work by artisans, we’ll do our best to share the history and stories behind the fabric so you better understand just what it took to create it.
What is Ikat?
The word “ikat” is of Malay-Indonesian origin, although in English it has come to broadly mean fabrics made from resist-dyed threads. Unlike resist dye techniques like tie-dye, shibori and batik, with ikat, it is the thread itself that is dyed rather than the woven fabric. They are beautiful, eye-catching textiles filled with character and dimension. You may recognize the distinct patterns and motifs of ikat prints, but the way it is produced is as fascinating as it is beautiful.
How Ikat is Made
To create ikat, warp and/or weft threads are tied and dyed in a specific sequence before being woven (the warp is the lengthwise thread or the one you traditionally use to find a grainline, while the weft is the crosswise or selvedge-to-selvedge grain). This is a painstaking, meticulous process. Preparing thread for ikat dyeing involves carefully bundling the thread and stretching it out in frames, marking the pattern on the thread, tightly wrapping the areas to resist dye, and then lining up all the threads on the loom before weaving.
Once tied, the exposed sections are dyed while the covered sections are not. This process may involve multiple rounds of dyeing and re-tying to create the desired effect and colour palette, ranging from simple single colour motifs, to elaborate multi-coloured ones.
Handloomed ikats are woven on traditional looms without the use of electricity. Once the yarn has been dyed, it is then lined up on the loom and skillfully woven by the weaver. Each thread needs to be carefully adjusted in order to maintain the balance of the pattern, which can include geometric shapes, squares, stars and crosses.
With single ikats, only the warp OR weft thread are dyed. If it is “warp dyed”, the warp is dyed and the weft is a solid colour. The weft thread will then help fill in the pattern already applied to the warp thread. If it’s “weft dyed”, dye is applied to the weft thread; the warp thread is solid and the pattern only emerges as it’s being woven.
Here are some examples of single ikats:
Even more complex, a double ikat means both the warp AND weft have been dyed. They are then woven so that the dyed portions intersect, creating striking patterns. Double ikats are very difficult and time-consuming to produce and are generally woven on simple looms in a plain 1×1 weave. The warp threads must be constantly adjusted to keep the pattern intact.
Depending on the skill and complexity of the ikat, the contours of the pattern may look slightly blurred. I personally love this effect; you can feel the touch of the creator in the textile. Below are two examples of double ikats we have in stock.
Ikat Production in India
Ikat is thought to be one of the oldest resist-dyeing techniques and can be found all over the world, from South East and Central Asia to West Africa and South America. They have a rich history in India, with different regions specializing in unique patterns. Along with khadi cotton and silk, ikats produced on the handloom are an important part of the Indian textile industry.
In the early 20th century as British fabric imports flooded India, Gandhi saw the handloom industry as an indispensable part of the Indian economy, a tool for self-reliance during the fight for Indian independence from British rule, and a way to create work in rural villages. Celebrating and elevating handloom production was a large part of Gandhi’s mandate, and to this day, the handloom industry continues to be a critical sector of the Indian economy. In many rural areas, it is the second biggest industry after agriculture (a very interesting article here if you’d like to learn more). Unfortunately, it continues to be under threat from industrialized methods, as it takes a weaver much longer to create cloth using a traditional handloom than on a machine. For this reason, in addition to the beauty and character of these textiles, we think it’s imperative to support handloom producers. Each independent weaver supports up to ten additional people, and they are critical to the economic well-being of many rural communities.
Naturally, we are doing our best to find partners who operate in line with our commitments and mission. Our supplier supports its artisan workforce and promotes employee wellness through educational, health, and safety initiatives. They are also backed by GOTS certification and SEDEX audit, verifying their sustainable practice, ethical sourcing, and social responsibility. Finally, all of the ikats we are carrying are made using azo-free dyes, and are produced without the use of electricity.
We are really proud to offer these gorgeous, one-of-a-kind textiles. Our hope is that you feel a connection to the people who put so much love, skill and attention into producing them and that whatever you make feels all the more meaningful as a result!