An Ikat fabric cushion, double sided with zipped cover from Uzbekistan, silk warp/cotton weft, resist-dyed and hand-woven. Dimensions 38cm x 52 cm (15″ x 21″)
The word ‘ikat’ (pronounced ‘ee-KAHT’) comes from the Malaysian word ‘mengikat,’ or ‘to tie,’ because the loose threads are tied into bundles using grasses or wax-treated cotton to specify where the dye is able to sink in and color the thread (basically a refined type of tie-dye). What this means is that the weaver has to calculate out where on the loose threads the dye should (and shouldn’t) go in order for it to form the proper pattern when it is woven on the loom. It gets more complicated as you add more colours. Some ikats are made by dyeing the warp threads (the fixed threads that are attached to the loom), some by dyeing the weft threads (the threads that are actually woven in and out of the warp threads), and some by dyeing both, a technique known as double ikat. It’s like an aesthetic logic puzzle, and just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Despite this complexity, the technique seems to have developed independently across many different cultures and continents since at least the Dark Ages, appearing in places like Pre-Columbian Peru and Guatemala, 10th century Yemen (image 2), Japan (image 3), Indonesia (image 4), India (image 5) and Uzbekistan (image 6). Some ikats emphasize precision, where it’s hard to tell that the ikat technique is used rather than a block printing. For more precise patterning, weavers typically use warp ikats, where they can see the pattern on the loom (image 7). With weft ikats, the pattern is less exact, because the design is not visible until already woven through (image 8). The ‘hazy’ look of many ikats (the technique is known as “abra”, or “cloud” in Central Asia) also comes from the dyes bleeding slightly into the resist areas. Within the cultures that produced them, ikats were typically status symbols because of the skill and time their production required.