Ikat: 4 Homes 1 Craft

Craft exists in all cultures in their own ways, and the purpose of craft is to tell a story. From technique to the final product, each step requires the skills our artisans have spent their lives learning, and it brings life into the craft as it passes through each hand. Embedded in the history of great nations and people, ikat is a type of handwoven, patterned cloth made from handspun threads. It carries the title of the world’s most prestigious cloth, produced during India’s independence. A product of 65 artisan days, our ikat garments comes from a small village in the city of Pochampally, India. This is a story of how these 4 homes hone the same craft, for the same purpose of keeping alive a tradition present for generations before them.

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Ikat is a noun, verb, technique, textile, and way of living

Ikat is the process, a verb, weaving technique and completed fabric. As versatile as its name suggests, it comes from the Malay-Indonesia expression ‘mangikat’, means to bind, knot or wind. It is a type of tie and resist-dye technique. After tying and dying, it is sent to the expert hands of the artisans to be woven together to create a patterned textile. Creating the fabric requires the artisans to put their focus entirely on the process, to make sure each step is carried out efficiently, from graph marking, yarn tying, dyeing, and weaving.

Watch a video of our ikat weavers here:

The Process of Ikat

Graph marking starts out with transferring the digital designs onto the yarn by hand, the yarns are then tied with cut-up strips of old bicycle tires. This method prepares the yarns for resist dyeing. After being bound tightly, the yarns go into a dye vat where the non-tied areas absorb the colour. Only when the ties are removed, is the pattern revealed. Then comes the longest part of the ikat process: weaving, where a total of 57 artisan days are needed for yarn to be woven to the final fabric. Every weave is unique to the artisan, and is a reflection on how they had learned the craft from their respective forefathers.  

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Our Ikat Story:

The beauty of ikat is in the people behind the craft. Our ikat story begins in Pochampally with Srinath, the master weaver of the village with more than 30 years of handloom experience, and a design award to his name. He was our go-to to understand the designs, restrictions, and possibilities with varying colours and scale. Srinath was also the one to mark the yarns before passing it to the other households for tying, dyeing and weaving. His wife, Vijayalakshmi would go buy the dyes and choose the colours. We choose to define artisanship as skill in a craft acquired through generational transfer. During our trip to India, we noticed the artisans have a special relationship with the craft they learned from their forefathers – seeing this dedication to the craft re-emphasized the importance of provenance, and how it makes all the difference when we know who made our clothes.

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Working With Family

Some of our ikat prints, such as Kirana, Vahi, Rana, and Trikora are made in the homes of this village. We learned how each artisan cluster is in charge of certain motifs, with a specific role, and years of experience spanning a generation on it own. Ramanarsama who has been spinning yarns for over 40 years, and Krishna, her son who weaves on the powerloom, reminds us how the family comes together to create something beautiful. In another household, husband and wife duo, Venkatesh and Arunea have been married for 30 years, and working together for 25 years. Venkatesh twists and dries the yarns before giving it to Arunea, who then prepares the yarn for dyeing by tying the rubber ties on the marked yarns, and then they dye and dry it together.

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Ikat Through A Monochrome Lens

Srinivas, another master weaver with 30 years of handloom experience, his wife Manemma, and their sons, are the family who make some of our signature monochrome prints – Trikora, Kirana and Rana. Srinivas’ family take on some of our favorite monochrome prints, but his passion lies in colour. On our last visit, he made it a point to show us the different colours he’s woven from his personal collection. The eagerness to experiment and do more show how intensely they feel for their craft. Their pride lies in their ability to put together simple yarn and colour, to make it into a beautiful piece of cloth.

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Every artisan household is part and parcel of a wider cultural and economic ecosystem. Each household fare their own processes, make and do ikat the way they’ve been taught, but it’s the craft on its own that depicts the sense of community of the village. The community’s identity and culture revolves around the same craft they’ve been doing for generations. The idea that tradition comes before trend, and people come before profit, makes one want to cherish artisan produce even more.

Explore our range of ikat pants here.

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