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Discover the Roots of Indian Ikat

Ikat is a textile art wherein patterns are created by resist dyeing cotton and/or silk yarn before they are woven. This technique is practised across Asia, Latin America and parts of Europe, such as Spain and Holland. Ikat, particularly double ikat, is synonymous with a number of countries including Indonesia and Japan, however, the weaving and dyeing technique has prominent roots in parts of India.

Ikat was once prominent in Tamil Nadu but, today, it is prevalent in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha (previously known as Orissa) and Gujarat, where it is known locally by different names. Owing to the lack of written historical documentation it is difficult for historians to pinpoint ikat's exact country of origin. However, cave frescoes in Ajanta, Maharashtra, that date back to the 7th century CE indicate that ikat has a long history in India.

A section of a fresco in Ajanta cave number one
A section of a fresco in Ajanta cave number one

Ikat is similar to tie and dye in regards to the use of resist dyeing to produce elaborate patterns. There are many patterns in ikat, ranging from simple symmetrical motifs to geometric shapes to abstract zoomorphics. Ikat can be categorised into three sub-techniques,

The difference between warp and weft threads
The difference between warp and weft threads

Warp Ikat

Warp refers to the yarn that is held within a frame or a loom with exerted tension. Even prior to the use of plain coloured weft that is introduced to the warp to produce fabric, patterns in the warp threads are visible. This technique is widely practised in Koyyalagudem village and Chirala town, Andhra Pradesh and the Nalgonda district of Telangana, a state that was part of Andhra Pradesh until June 2014. As sarees are a sought-after garment by both Indian locals and modern-day fashionistas, warp ikat sarees produced in these regions continue to be in high demand.

Completed warp ikat
Completed warp ikat

Weft Ikat

Weft refers to the yarn that produces visible dyed patterns as it is woven into the warps in order to produce fabric. The process of weft ikat is more time consuming compared to warp ikat. This is due to the artisans' intricate attention to detail in the adjustment of the weft, necessary throughout the weaving process in order to maintain the consistency and clarity of patterns.

Completed weft ikat
Completed weft ikat

Double Ikat

This technique is only produced in India, Japan and Indonesia and incorporates both warp and weft techniques. The warp and weft are both resist-dyed before being worked on on the loom where precision and patience is the key to sustaining the patterns. The incorporation of the warp and weft technique in double ikat is demanding in terms of time and the production process, as reflected in the elaborate patterns and craftsmanship. Weaving in double ikat is so intricate that it can take from seven to nine months to weave the length of a single saree. Within India, the double ikat technique is most renowned in the Nalgonda district of the state of Andhra Pradesh and Patan, Gujarat where it is known as Patan Patola.

Completed double ikat
Completed double ikat

Telia Rumal is one of the most intricate productions of double ikat and its name literally translates to 'oily handkerchief,' derived from the oil treatment of the yarn prior to weaving. Today, Telia Rumal is considered an obscure skill as craftsmen are few, predominantly residing in Puttapaka in the Nalgonda district of Telangana – previously, the district was known to be part of Andhra Pradesh.

Completed Telia Rumal
Completed double ikat using the Telia Rumal technique

As in earlier times, all ikat weaving occurs in the homes of the artisans and is usually a skill that is shared and practised among all members of the family.

 

Images: Wikipedia, Colouricious, Apliiq, Jnana-Pravaha