If you’ve read about ikat fabric before then you know that it remains extremely difficult to pin down an exact origin place or time for this technique. Many say since the word ikat comes from Indonesia that that is where it must have started, though other sources find that the weaving practice began simultaneously in many regions globally. We may never know where exactly this beautiful craft started, but there are many ways in which skilled artisans are carrying the tradition on today.
Home to many skilled weavers, India produces predominantly labor-intensive double ikat fabric. The most widely regarded version is called Patola and is made with fine silk. The woven material was historically donned by kings and those in an elite caste for ceremonial purposes, as well as by wealthy merchants. Originating in Patan, in the northern region of Guarjat, this highly sought-after fabric is made in limited quantities by only a few families today, including the Salvi family “which is now in its 16th generation.”
Along with India and China, the Indonesian region has been speculated to be the birthplace of ikat fabric. Warp ikat is commonly made by the Iban of Borneo, the Toba Batak of Northern Sumatra, as well as cultures throughout Kalimantan, and Sumba. Mainly found in south Sumatra and Bali, weft ikat also finds home among the islands. And, double ikat fabric lives on in the isolated village of Tenganan, Bali. The complex fabric is used to produce a style specific to the area, called Geringsing.
Ikat fabric in Laos dates back to 18th century CE, when those settling in the region learned weaving techniques from traders along the silk routes. Warp ikats are generally the most common, though Laos predominantly produces weft ikat fabric. While the art of ikat continues to die out in many countries, an artisan social enterprise called Ock Pop Tok was established in 2000 to keep it alive. In Laos, ikat is usually referred to as “mat mee” and includes many meaningful motifs like diamond, or “lantern” shapes which are used for shoulder cloths or funeral cloths. Every pattern has its own story and history.
In the southeast asian country, ikat goes by another name as well, “T’nalak Ikat.” This version of ikat fabric is created by women within the T’boli tribe. Ikats from Laos, India, and many other regions are made with silk, but these Filipino weavers utilize a plant native to the country. Ikat fabric in the Philippines is made from abaca fiber, which comes from a species of banana plant commonly found on the islands. Not only are these pieces designed with inspiration from nature, but the fibers, dyes, and tools used to create them are all naturally derived as well.
Not unlike in the Philippines, Japanese ikat fabric was originally made from a fibrous banana-like plant called “basho.” Today, cotton is the most popular material used to create what they in the region call “kasuri,” which comes from the verb kasureru meaning “to blur.” Like many other textiles historically produced in Japan, kasuri most often was resist dyed with natural indigo. The double ikat fabric (or kasuri fabric) was dyed to create geometric patterns for kimonos and farm clothing, and picture patterns called “e-gasuri” were used for futon covers. The Japanese city Kurume was particularly known for their pictorial designs (“Kurume-gasuri”) which were once prized dowry items for wealthy brides.
Ikat can be found throughout South America in countries like Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador. Traditional ikat designs in Peru are called “watay” or “huatay” and means “to tie.” These are found specifically within the Sallac community and used for warp ikat fabric. Just north, in Ecuador, the small town of Gualaceo is the epicenter of ikat and sadly one of the only places where it is still practiced in the country. The weaving style is employed mostly to make traditional shawls called “macana.” Finally, up in Guatemala, ikat is referred to as “jaspé” is woven in many parts of the country. However, a more intensive style “labor” is only made in a few towns which have carried on the tradition for generations.
In this central asian country, ikat fabric is called “abr,” a term originally from Persia meaning cloud. The center of ikat and silk within the region lies in a small city called Margilan. Similar to India, the craft has been perfected over generations and within families. During the 17th century warp ikat robes were “a royal prerogative for the rulers of the various city states and their families.” Unlike almost all other countries though, ikat in Uzbekistan has been woven predominantly by men. While the craft was commodified during the Soviety Union, handweaving skills began to be passed down through families again in the late 20th century and remain present today.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance content creator and manager. Audrey is incredibly passionate about conscious fashion and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.