Monday, March 16, 2009

IKAT FABRIC in FASHION- What is this Fabric Design?

The trend towards "Tribal", "Ethnic", and regional fashion influences has brought textiles to the fashion runway that may be unfamiliar to many who follow fashion. Ikat is a dying and weaving process used globally in regional textiles. Guatemala, India, Japan and Indonesia are probably the most familiar locations to find Ikats. More recently, Ikats from the Silk Road and northern Asia have made news.  This type of textile design is seen most often in either cotton or silk.

Often bright, bold and abstract in design, vintage or new ikat fabrics are wearable as an exotic twist to well loved classics like shirts and skirts. Because of their hand-made nature, ikats are often left 'uncut' and seen is wrapped, draped, or sewn into basic caftan or tunic garments. This allows the beauty of the bolder designs to florish.

The fabric design is often a bright, clear pattern in white and indigo or black. This design may seem 'digital' or geometric, due to the woven process used to create the textile.

An ikat pattern is created in the very early stages of the weaving process. Several techniques are possible, depending on the culture and region where it was produced. Generally, the white warp yarns (those tied to the loom) are bundled together then wrapped or knoted, and finally dipped in dye. When dry, these yarns are untied then stretched onto the loom, creating a 'dash and dot' type of pattern.

A contrast weft may be woven across these dyed yarns to create a basic pattern. More complex designs are achieved by weaving a weft that has also been dyed with knots or bundels to alter the yarn color in specific locations. Overall, this process can resemble 'tie dye' techniques where areas are bundled to prevent color, and other areas are left open to take on the dye.

This picture shows unraveled warp yarn ends from two different ikats of heavy cotton from India. The dyed yarn ends are clearly visable, and the details of the colored weft cross yarns can be seen. Although cotton is most common, fine silks such as those used in kimono are also produced in Japan and by other cultures.

This photo shows the complex geometry of a Guatemalan textile in cotton where an "Op Art" effect is created by the cross dyed warp and weft yarns.  The finer weight ikat cotton in green below shows a gorgeous heart pattern that was woven as a sarong with a field of hearts above a solid hem border.

Be sure when you buy an ikat design that is is woven and not printed if you want the true textile.  Just ask to see the back of the fabric or check the seams to see the cut edges, and you will know for certain it was hand made.