The technique of ikat allows weavers to precisely prepare the patterns that appear on the finished fabric. The pattern is first sketched on paper and transferred onto the yarn. This is achieved by tying sections of pre-woven warp and weft yarn with polythene strips and coarse cotton threads before immersing them into dye baths. The use of polythene strips and coarse cotton threads is a traditional technique that is still used today. Just as in the craft of tie and dye, a resist is applied in order to enable the dyeing of several colours across the same section of yarn. Also as in tie and dye, the yarn may be untied then retied in order to achieve the desired patterns and colour schemes.
L: Ikat design sketched on paper, ready for transfer to the yarns
R: An artisan wraps polythene strips on the yarn
L: Coarse cotton threads are wrapped around blue polythene strips that are wrapped around the yarn, creating the outline of the design
R: After the first stage of dyeing, an artisan wraps polythene strips and coarse cotton threads around the yarn in preparation for the second stage of dyeing
The weaving process requires the utmost attention to detail in the arrangement of both warp and weft threads in order to achieve the required patterns on the fabric. Ikat’s characteristic design of feathered edges is a result of the natural movement of yarn during the weaving process. There are three techniques of ikat,
Single Warp Ikat
Widely practised in Koyyalagudem and Chirala, Andhra Pradesh and the Nalgonda district of Telangana. Warp refers to the yarn held within the frame or loom through tension. The warp yarn is bleached before being immersed in dye baths, then strengthened by being dipped in a mixture of water, coconut oil and rice starch.
An artisan wraps polythene strips around warp yarn in preparation for the dyeing process
Single Weft Ikat
Weft refers to the yarn that is woven into the warps. The process of weft ikat is more intricate compared to that of warp ikat. This is due to the adjustment of the weft, required in order to maintain the consistency of patterns. In this technique only the weft yarn is dyed after it is spread out on a chitiki frame for designs to be marked. The use of this frame is typical of weft ikat production of Pochampally in the Nalgonda district of Telangana.
L: An artisan prepares the yarn for ikat's single weft process on a chitiki frame
R: An artisan works with dyed weft yarn on a chitiki frame in the weft process
This style incorporates both the warp and weft techniques. Yarn is woven in a manner where threads from both axes of warp and weft mesh to form a pre-determined motif. The craftsmanship of double ikat holds the most prestige due to its demanding and time-consuming intricate production process.
L: After completing the weaving and dyeing of warp yarns, artisans discuss the next step in the double ikat process
R: An artisan painstakingly aligns the warp and weft mesh to acquire the design's motifs
The tools used in ikat production are:
a) Charka, for the winding of yarn on the bobbin or pirn. A bobbin is a cylinder spindle on which yarn or thread is wound for warp ikat. A pirn is a rod on which yarn or thread is wound for weft ikat.
b) Warping machine on which yarn for warp ikat is prepared.
A female artisan works on a warping machine
c) Chitiki frame, used to obtain designs on weft ikat. Designs are marked on the yarn which is tied to the frame.
A chitiki frame holds the yarn in ikat's weft process
d) Loom, for the weaving process. The bobbin or pirn is fitted to a shuttle that is then attached to the loom for weaving of the yarn into fabric.
A female artisan works on a loom, weaving both dyed and undyed yarn
e) Dobby, for the extra weaving of small designs, or jacquard, for big designs.
Images: D'Source, Piece & Co, Jaypore, Gaatha