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Ikat Fabrics, Ancient and Modern

A Modern-day Ikat fabric showing the classic bright colorsIKAT FABRICS (pronounced ee-kat) are the oldest known patterned textiles in the world.  They appear in cultures as diverse as Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Guatemala, Turkey, and India.  Because textiles rarely survive more than a few thousand years, it is unknown how far back Ikat patterns date.  Those most familiar to Westerners are the elaborate textile designs of Japan, the handicrafts of South America and the beautiful Ikat robes and hangings of Central Asia.    Click here to see Ikat Blankets in Indonesia.

While they have existed for thousands of years, Ikat fabrics garnered fame in the nineteenth century, when the finest examples of Ikats from Central Asia were used as a form of currency on the fabled Silk Road (a trade route across Asia that linked Europe to all of the peoples and cultures from Turkey to China.) Via the Silk Road, Ikats traveled by camel train in all directions and were traded for all manner of merchandise.  Woven of silk on narrow looms, strips of Ikat fabric were used to make magnificent robes coveted by tribal leaders; they adorned prized horses and were hung in palaces.  Records show that there was no greater gift; in fact, an Ikat robe was worth more than the life of the finest slave. Trade and European travelers brought them west, where they have had a unique influence on the design world ever since.

The word Ikat comes from a word in Malay that means  “to bind or wind around”.  Thousands of individual threads are tie-dyed in intricate patterns, then untied and woven into fabric; in 19th century Bukhara, there were hundreds of workshops dedicated solely to making Ikat threads.  The threads were wrapped, dyed, sorted, rewrapped and dyed again; the tie-dye technique produced slightly innacurate color distribution which resulted in the enchanting blurred edges of the finished designs.. The more elaborate the pattern, the longer the process before weaving could begin.  Ikat designers then hung the threads on simple looms, marking them with patterns passed down through generations of artisans. Weavers charged according to the intricacy of the design. Hundreds of thousands of Ikats were woven in central Asia in the nineteenth century, and exported to countries all along the Silk Road.

Ikat Coats 1Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License by Luciano Ghersi

Antique Ikat robes and Ikat fragments are coveted by textile collectors and designers, and add a touch of the exotic to interiors both traditional and modern.  The bright, vegetable-dyed colors and graphic patterns are bold and romantic.  An Ikat robe becomes a beautiful work of art when hung on a wall.  Adding an Ikat pattern to a room, even if it’s just a pillow, demonstrates one’s interest in far-flung travel and exotic cultures, as well as one’s appreciation for the difficult craft of weaving such a complicated piece.

Today’s designers are reinventing the Ikat, using the ancient techniques and creating fresh designs.  Reproduction Ikat designs allow us to use these exciting patterns in ways that we could never use antique fabrics – upholstery, drapery, area rugs and fashion.  Here’s a selection of our favorites that are readily available today, to order through Posh Living:

Magnificat Ikat from PillowFolly

Magnificat Ikat Nap Pillow from PillowFolly.com

 

Magnificat Red Pillow, Large

Magnificat Ikat Large Pillow, Red; from PillowFolly.com

 

Diamond Pattern Daphne Ikat by Madeleine Weinrib Atelier
Diamond Pattern Daphne Ikat by Madeleine Weinrib Atelier
Ikat-inspired Luce fabric by Madeleine Weinrib Atelier
Ikat-inspired Luce fabric by Madeleine Weinrib Atelier
Ikat patterned rug from Madeleine Weinrib Atelier
Ikat patterned rug from Madeleine Weinrib Atelier;Photo by Annie Schlechter, Domino, Nov. 2008.
Ikat Fabric from China Seas jazzes up a bedroom by  , courtesy of House Beautiful.
Ikat Fabric from China Seas jazzes up a bedroom by , Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo, House Beautiful, March 2009.
Designer Hall Williamson uses an Ikat unexpectedly on a slipper chair in this romantic sitting room;
Designer Hall Williamson uses an Ikat unexpectedly on a slipper chair in this romantic sitting room; photo from House Beautiful
A very modern print, Bali Isle from China Seas, based on ancient Ikat patterns; photo from Domino Magazine
A very modern print, Bali Isle from China Seas, based on ancient Ikat patterns; photo from Domino Magazine
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