Ikat has Indonesian and Malay origins, but has been shown in history from pre-Columbian Peru, India, Egypt, and Guatemala, 10th century Yemen, Japan, Uzbekistan, and a few others. The longest history of ikat prints is 5000 years, with the oldest historical piece of ikat art being in the Indian Odishan style, which was found in Pharaohs’ tomb, which historically was decorated eccentrically to honour their Kings with only the best and more ceremonial designs.
The Dutch East India Company first introduced ikat to the European markets after they explored southeast Asia, which they discovered and learned the traditions, which they introduced and shared into the modern society of the time. By integrating ikat into the modern society it allowed it to grow and flourish into featured fashion and interior décor in the 21st century.
The ikat process is a form of tie-dye with the exception that the tie-dyeing is done on the yarns prior to weaving, the warp or the weft can be used for dying. However, a technique which is known as double ikat which is where the warp and weft are dyed. To complete the process the yarns are tied with threads of wax treated cotton which allows the dye to soak and colour the specific area of the yarn to create the pattern. The ikat process is primarily used on cotton, silk and blends of cotton and silk, as these fabrics absorb the dyes best.
Throughout the years since ikat has come in and out of style, but traditionally ikat was used in a symbolic way to show off wealth and status. Fabrics would be dyed and then woven for ceremonial occasions for fashion or interiors. They were designed for events from weddings and funerals or for items to be buried with but also as offerings to god in ritualistic manners. This was due to the design process of ikat being extremely time and skill intensive as it is all done by hand. Historically when done in the traditional way a true ikat piece can take 1-2 years to finish with modern technology. Commercially ikat is produced in a single day with modern technology from beginning to end especially when the weft is being dyed.
Ikat was integrated into European cultures of France and Italy, and in the 18th century it came to Mallorca, Spain. As it progressed into the European culture it developed its own style among those who were wealthy mainly due to the intensive technique to produce. The cost of production reduced as Mallorca became up to date with their technology meaning more people could enjoy the luxury fabric. The second world war saw the production of ikat across Europe fall greatly and once over the trend never return which left Mallorca as one of the only locations in Europe to produce ikat, allowing them to form their own ikat identity. The style known as ‘roba de llengos’ translating to ‘cloths of tongues’, which is the shape produced when the weaving process is carried out. Ikat is still traditionally produced in the countries of origin, which are being passed down through families and cultures. Mallorca is currently one of the only European countries to produce authentic ikat through family run businesses such as Teixits Vicens in Pollensa and Artisanal Textil Bujosa in Santa Maria.
Beckenham, L., 2017. A Brief History of Mallorca's Ikat Fabrics. [Online]
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Center, G. C., 2019. The Amazing Story of IKAT- How a Textile Wove Itself into Indonesian History. [Online]
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Hoffman, A., 2012. The History of Ikat. [Online]
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Jong, W. D. & Kunz, R., 2019. Striking Patterns: Contemporary Ikat Design and Its Future. Textile: Cloth and Culture, 17(3), pp. 289-295
Amy Davidson is a newly graduated textiles designer from Scotland, who loves to travel, the colour orange and hairbands in as many colours and prints as she could possibly get her hands on. Her favourite style of print to work with is anything that’s bold, colourful, and tropical!