Ikat is a method of weaving,
traditionally silk. It involves dying bundles of thread at a time, prior to
weaving, with sections tied off to shield them from penetration of the dye. It’s a
method very similar to that used for tie-dyeing t-shirts. The dyed threads are then warped onto a loom and woven as usual. This creates a beautifully uneven
pattern with an iconic blurriness and in transitions between colors.
Ikat is a very ancient form of patterning, and there is no clear
inventor. It is historically part of many cultures around the world. The word Ikat
is Indonesian in origin, and it means “to tie”. But surviving samples have been
sourced from across Central Asia and maritime Southeast Asia. Trade spread the
technique and now strong, but different, Ikat traditions exist from China and
Japan, to Western Africa, to Guatemala. Pre-columbian samples of Ikat have
even been found in Peru. The reason I chose is Uzbekistan for this tidbit is
because there’s actually an Uzbek legend about the origin of Ikat. Definitely
apocryphal, but a real-world origin myth about fabric? Come on :))))
Legend goes that the most beautiful silk in Central Asia was created in the
ancient city of Margilan. The powerful Ruler of the city decided to take a
fifth wife for himself, and the choice fell onto the beautiful young daughter
of a poor Weaver. Desperate to save his daughter from the forced marriage, the
poor Weaver fell to his knees and begged the Ruler to change his mind.
The Ruler told him that he would grant his request only if the Weaver could
present him with something so extraordinary that it would make him
forget the beauty of his daughter. The devastated Weaver left the palace and
went to sit on the banks of a water channel, not knowing how he could
complete the impossible task. He was looking at the passing water, when
suddenly the sun came out, illuminating beautiful rippling reflections of the
blue sky, snow white clouds, and trees blossoming along the banks of the
channel. Jumping to his feet, the Weaver cried, “Oh heavens, Thank you for the idea!”
and ran to his workshop. The next morning he presented the Ruler with the most
beautiful silk fabric Margilan had ever seen. It was light like a breeze,
soft like a cloud, and with such beautiful colors, like a rainbow in the
sky, that the Ruler had to admit he had never seen anything so stunning, and
canceled the wedding. Now, emphasis on the weightlessness of Ikat might be down to
typical mythical romanization, or it might be a comparison. It might be that
prior to the invention of Ikat, multicolored decoration of fabric was
achieved through embroidery, or brocade weaving, both of which dramatically
increase the weight and density of the silk. So it might have indeed been
revolutionary to see a silk with so many bright colors, yet still maintain a fine hand.