What is Ikat?

Ikat (pronounced ee-kaht) is a precise dyeing technique that can create a distinct pattern in a textile. The weaver resist dyes sections of the yarn by tightly knotting individual yarns in the desired patterns. After dyeing the yarn, the knots are taken out, and the yarn is ready to be used in the weaving. The results are a beautifully patterned textile with a lightly blurred effect.

Our ikat collection comes from female weavers in Guatemala who weave on traditional backstrap looms.

Examples of Ikat

Blue duffel bag with genuine leather.
Bedspread: Ikat dyed cotton warp with cotton weft from San Juan, La Laguna in Guatemala Handbag: Ikat dyed cotton warp with cotton weft from Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

 

Set of luggage tags with ikat patterns
Crossbody bag with checkered rust colored design
Luggage Tags: Ikat dyed cotton warp with cotton weft from Lake Atitlan in Guatemala Handbag: Ikat dyed cotton warp with cotton weft from Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.


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Ikat Technique

The design is drawn out first, as the dyeing and the set up on the loom will impact the final patterned design. Because the yarn is dyed prior to weaving, it's important to measure the yarn carefully.

First, the artisan ties knots around the yarn to create the dye resistant. She then submerges the bound yarns into dye baths. Removing the knots unveils a design where sections of the yarn have been untouched by the dye.

 

The dyer can alter the knots to create layered patterns or can dip the yarn in different dye baths to achieve certain colors. For example, when employing natural dyes to achieve a green color, she will first dye with yellow, and then a blue indigo, known as overdyeing. After the yarn is dyed, and the knots are removed, the weaver will set up the loom according to the type of ikat she will create.

Warp Ikat

The warp threads, or the yarn that goes up and down on the loom, are resist dyed using the knot method. Once they are dyed, the weaver carefully sets up the dyed yarn on the loom.

Weft Ikat

The weft threads, or the yarn that goes back and forth as the artisan weaves, are resist dyed prior to weaving. Since the weft does not stay in one place like the warp, this is a significantly more difficult method that takes much more precise planning and measurement. The results is a more blurred effect than warp ikat.

Double Ikat

 

This is the most difficult and rare method of ikat. Both the warp and weft are resist-dyed before weaving.

Finished Textile

Once the yarns are woven on the backstrap or frame loom, the ikat technique creates a carefully planned design that comes out as blurry and feathery-edged botanical, animal, geometric, and human motifs.

History and Origins of Ikat

The term ikat comes from the Malay-Indonesian word mengikat, which means "to tie" or "to attach." The term is now used internationally for both the process and end product. Though the term originates from Indonesia, scholars believe that the process developed independently in South China, India, and Peru, and that production has existed in Indonesia since the Bronze Age.

Ikat in Indonesia

The term ikat finds its roots in Indonesia, where the term itself has gained widespread recognition for resist dyeing fibers prior to weaving. In Indonesia, you can find warp ikat, weft ikat, and double ikat. Traditionally, the binding material to create the dye-resist knot came from strips of palm, banana leaves, or vines.

The Lesser Sunda Islands in Indonesia are known for their traditional ikat craftsmanship. You can still find ikat designs throughout the Indonesian islands, including Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Java, and Bali. Because of its labor intensive process, ikat cloth holds cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial significance. Traditionally used for garments such as sarongs, ceremonial textiles, and traditional clothing, Indonesian ikat patterns reflects the stories and beliefs of various ethnic groups and can be tied to social rank or religious affiliation.

Like in many countries, women have traditionally woven ikat patterned textiles, which to this day are part of wedding dowries and birth rituals.

Jaspeado in Guatemala 

While ikat is the term in Indonesia that has become widespread, in Guatemala it is known as jaspeado. Jaspe means the jasper stone in Spanish. Textiles with the colorful and blurry jaspe designs reflect the stone's veins and color variation. 

In areas throughout Guatemala, women work on a backstrap loom to weave jaspe patterns, traditionally used in skirts, or cortes, and tops for women, or huipiles.  With over 24 distinct ethnic groups, each region has its own distinct traditional style of weaving, color palette and motifs.

A single jaspe textile is typically produced by multiple artisans, each with a highly specialized role, such as hand-spinning the fiber into yarn, dyeing the yarn, and weaving. Because each step is so labor-intensive, it is common for a collective or family to work together.

Historically, women in Mayan society wove textiles on a backstrap loom. However, under Spanish colonial rule, only men were taught to weave on the Spanish treadle looms, mimicking Spain's industrial system in which only men could work in textiles. As a sign of the indigenous resistance to Spanish rule, the traditional backstrap loom is still a cultural mainstay and an important source of income for women across the country.

Shibori in Japan

The history of resist-dyed textiles in Japan dates to the 8th century. In 749, the
Emperor Shömu abdicated the throne and took religious vows. In 756, after the death of former Emperor Shömu, his widow donated his belongings to a Buddhist temple, where his possessions, including resist-dyed textiles were protected from the humid climate in a wooden storehouse. Scholars believe these are the earliest existing resist-dyed textiles in Japan, but they likely came from trade with China along the Silk Road.

Shibori encompasses various dye-resisting methods, not just the method of dyeing yarns prior to weaving, like the other ikat methods described above. Other methods include Kanoko, plucked and bound fabric, or Arashi, pole-wrapped and bound.

Shibori artisans often take inspiration from patterns found in the natural world, such as maple leaves, meandering mountain paths, and the softly curling lines of wood grain.

In Japan, the ikat technique is known as kasuri. In this process, both warp and weft threads are dyed before weaving, creating a blurred pattern on the textile.

Kasuri was practiced in modern day Okinawa in the 12th or 13th century in what was then the Ryukyu Kingdom. After the kingdom was invaded in 1609, the practice spread to other regions of Japan. 

The colors of the dye include:

  • Kon gasuri: blue kasuri with white resists on an indigo-blue ground.
  • Shiro gasuri: lit. 'white kasuri', an inverse of kon gasuri; blue on a white ground.
  • Chia gasuri: kasuri using brown instead of indigo.
  • Iro gasuri'un: kasuri using several colors.

Amarra and Watay in the Andes

Countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Chile have a longstanding history of resist-dyeing, where the craft is deeply embedded in the cultural and social practices of indigenous communities. In the Camarones region of Chile, Archaeologists excavated resist-dyed thread that dates back to around 890 BCE. They survived thanks to the dry conditions of the ancient burial sites.

The term amarra comes from the Quechua verb amarrar, meaning "to tie up." Watay means "attachment" in Quechua, and is similar to the ikat technique where the yarn is bound with knots before dyeing. Scholars debate whether the watay technique developed indigenously or from trade. While some believe watay links to India and Southeast Asia, others believe the Spanish introduced the style.

Abr in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, situated along the historic Silk Road, boasts an ikat tradition characterized by opulence and elegance. Iranian merchants played a prominent role in these trade centers, influencing the region. The term abr comes from the Farsi word for cloud.

With the influence of the silk road, the passing of nomadic Turkic tribes, and a history of political instability, textiles were an important investment of wealth due to their portable nature. To show their wealth, merchants could wear up to 10 layers of silk abr robes.

The Uzbek city of Bukhara is particularly renowned for its skilled artisans who have perfected the art of abr weaving. Uzbek abr textiles showcase Central Asian aesthetics, with bold colors and geometric patterns.

In the 19th century, women worked on silk production while men dyed and wove. Velvet abr was another indication of wealth, since it uses 6 times more thread. Yet by the 1920s, Uzbekistan fell under Soviet rule, and soviet ideals of equality closed down abr workshops and opened factories with synthetic materials and efficient systems became regulated.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, artisans have revived naturally-dyed silk abr textiles in Bukhara.

Caring for Our Ikat Products

Naturally Dyed Ikat Items

Please treat our naturally-dyed and hand-woven cotton garments with gentle care, preferably washing by hand and drying flat or on a line in the shade. The dyes have been locked-in with a mordant and the yarns carefully pre-washed before weaving, but it is still normal for some color to run during the first couple of washes. If this occurs, you can choose to "wash it out" separately, or oak the textile in a tub of cold water mixed with a bit of vinegar or lime juice for a few hours. Hand-wash, air dry in the shade, and ta-da! We recommend further washing to be done separately to avoid any bleeding of color into other garments. Please use gentle detergent.

For wool products, be especially mindful that warm/hot water and rigorous washing will felt your textile. Felting will also shrink your piece. Sometimes this is desirable, but if this is not what you are looking for, make sure to wash gently with cold water only.

Ikat Products with Leather

Handmade quality leather products can last many happy years. Shoes become more and more comfortable as you wear them, since the leather molds around your feet.Here’s a little guide to make sure your leather bags, shoes, and boots enjoy a long and happy life:

Polish the leather

We include a shoe polish kit with each pair of shoes and boots to make this easier for you! Just rub the polish onto the leather parts of your boots with the crote cloth. This will protect your boots, give them a nice shine, and make them softer.For bags, we recommend using a clear polish or oil and wiping it very well so it doesn't stain your clothes when wearing.

Clean the Ikat textile

Spot-clean by dabbing the textile with a bit of water and gentle detergent.Here in beautiful Antigua during the rainy season, everything gets damp and inevitably some things mold if they are not properly maintained. If you live in a similar climate, we recommend a healthy dose of sunshine, air, and tea tree oil.

Sources

Resist: Tie Dye Practices from Around the World, Exhibit at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising in Fort Collins, Colorado. February 13 –July 30, 2024

Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: their stories, their lives, Chandler, Deborah, 2015

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