FashionMuse: i – ikat

Ikat (ee-kat): a fabric made using Indonesian decorative techniques in which warp or weft threads, or both, are tie-dyed before weaving.

The word comes from the Malay-Indonesian word ‘mengikat’ meaning ‘to tie’ or ‘bind’.

From fashion to furnishings -Ikat has become a summery trend, offering a dressed-up bohemian look.



A well-travelled, well-heeled item for everyone:


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International: Ikat is a true globe-trotter, it’s production can be found from Chile to Ghana, from Colombia to Japan. Thought to have evolved across Central and Southeast Asia; today it’s mostly associated with Indonesia. But thanks to Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese worldwide wanderings in the 16th century the techniques also developed in Latin America, parts of Europe and Japan. Ikat from India became revered for its use of fine materials (silk), even becoming a valued currency on the famed Silk Road.  Ikat first appeared in Italy in the seventeenth century as an influence from warp-ikat striped mashru cloth (a warp-faced satin weave with silk warp and cotton weft) made in Syria and Turkey. It’s production then spread on to France, Majorca, and Spain.

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Intricate: The binding and dying processes of an ikat are extremely complex – and can take months to complete.   Unlike batiks, in which the dyes are applied to an existing textile, ikats use threads (typically cotton or silk) that are dyed beforehand. Before weaving, warp (lengthwise yarns) or weft (crosswise threads) or sometimes both are tied off with knots and then dyed. The bound sections don’t absorb the pigment, so when the ties are repositioned for each new colour, a distinctive pattern emerges. That pattern, carefully plotted out in advance, is then handwoven on a loom into a finished ikat.


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Young girl in East Sumba wearing a ceremonial sarong and turtle shell comb.  Source


Inheritance:  The designs of ikat in Southeast Asia are linked to status and fertility. The ikat garments produced by the women (like wrap-around sarongs) can have considerable ceremonial importance or be part of an elaborate gift ritual. From the 12th century they have been used as dowries, to wrap newborn babies, to honour guests – their quality reflecting the status of the recipient, and of course for weddings.


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Turmeric as cloth dye, Photo Source


Intriguing:  The trade in ikat had the potential to make merchants rich (especially during the Middle Ages) so the recipes for the original dyes were closely held secrets. It’s likely the rich colours on the prized silk ikats were obtained from natural resources;  yellow from saffron, gold from the dried rind of pomegranates, red from crushed cochineal insects, brown from walnut husk and blue from the indigo plant (imported from the Indian subcontinent).  Wealthy Central Asian merchants were known to adorn themselves with up to ten layers of abrabandi robes, displaying their wealth and status with flamboyance and flair.


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Photo Source


Industry:  Production in India, Central, and East Asia is normally done in commercial or craft industry-oriented workshops. The time-honoured processes are highly valued and continue to be taught to young apprentices. Double Ikat is a technique in which both warp and the weft are resist-dyed prior to weaving; more difficult to make it’s the most expensive type of ikat to buy.

Production process:


Fergana Valley,  Photo Source


Intolerance:  Producing ikat fabrics has not always been easy for it’s highly skilled (and patient) artisans.   In Uzbekistan (the Fergana Valley is revered for its ikat fabrics) production was often suppressed by the Soviet rulers (1924 to 1991). In 19th century Cambodia, it’s ikat was considered among the finest textiles of the world. But under the bloody dicatatorship of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79) most weavers were killed and the art of Cambodian ikat was in danger of disappearing. Today it is slowly being re-introduced.


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Adras Ikat Chapan 19th Century $2000


(Collector’s) Items: The more labour and skill and colour required to make the ikat the more expensive it will be. Ikat fabrics can be appreciated for their decorative beauty alone (usually as a wall-hanging) whilst some garments carry a high prestige value as well.  The very best ikats are true works of art, as expressive as a good painting. Buy now then whilst they’re still a lot less expensive  – costing a few hundred pounds to a tens of thousands – than it’s gallery cousins. Serious collectors tend to focus on vintage pieces from Indonesia and Central Asia.


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Khan Atlas ikats


Indulgence: The silk Khan Atlas is considered the most prestigious ikat. Originating from the city of Margilan, it was revered for its beauty, unique pattern and noble opalescence.


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Free People Ikat Tipi $98


And whilst you are about it, getting all ikat-ted out- don’t forget the dog!


Featured Image: Ikat Chair,



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