Most Indian millennials with an eye for fashion are likely familiar with Ikat. The fabric, with its bohemian yet modern aesthetic, has made it a mainstay in contemporary fashion. Yet the appeal of ikat, isn’t limited by borders. It has a global allure, possibly because of its travels across the world in its long, long existence.
With a current culture in India that veers towards the homegrown and the artisanal, we take pride in the traditions of ikat weaving in the country, as we should. For centuries, it has been made in India – but is that where it was born?
Some of the oldest specimens date back to 10th century Yemen, and older still, paintings from the 7th century in the Ajanta Caves of Maharashtra display ikat-like textiles. Much like language or math, it seems almost like ikat was given life in different places, imbibed with different personalities, and then disseminated across the world. At one point, the fabric was even a prominent currency on the Silk Route, which undeniably assisted its spread across the Afghan region. Trade and travel took ikat all across Central and Southeast Asia, and remaining pieces today continue to offer valuable insight into ancient cultures and societies. With each new introduction, local artisans fell in love with it and created new traditions of making it. No doubt one of the reasons that ikat has retained prominence from the Dark Ages to present day, is the remarkable way that each culture made it their own.
Ikat fabric found in mid-11th, Egypt/ Image source: www.metmuseum.com/ https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/448072
The word "Ikat" itself comes from the Malay ‘mengikat’, meaning ‘to tie, bind or wrap around’ – the most rudimentary definition of its manufacturing process. Ikat is a form of tie and tie, but it transcends traditional tie and die techniques by infusing technical complexity and expert artistry.
The textiles do share a characteristic blurriness in their designs, but the creation of a single piece contains innumerable possibilities, unlike the steadfast consistency of a power loom. That’s why each piece of ikat is unique – a rarity.
Ikat in India
Image: Andhra Style, Pochampally Ikat
India proved to be a pivotal juncture for the refinement and spread of ikat weaving, where it was often known as ‘bandha’ or ‘patola’, the latter mainly in Gujarat. It was concentrated in three main areas – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Odisha, and these states too personalised to Ikat and made it their own. Today, Telangana remains one of the primary hubs for ikat weaving in India. 5000-year-old ikats from Odisha have been found in a Pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt. Some others made their way to Indonesia for ritual use and have been preserved there as heirlooms.
Ikat in Southeast Asia
Ikat flourished across Thailand and Lao, known as ‘Mudmee’ in the former and ‘Mut Mii’ in the latter. It grew to be an indication of gender, class, tribal origin and marriage status. For the nobility, it was considered daily wear; for others, it was reserved for festivities.
Ikat in Uzbekistan
Uzbek ikats displayed at the David Collection in Denmark. Photo by Pernille Klemp. Image credit:www.fortuny.com
In 17th century Uzbekistan, where the local name was abr (meaning cloud), ikat was combined with complex velvet weaving to make robes for both men and women in the Bukharan Emirate. These robes were akin to medals for good service, and could be layered to depict wealth and longstanding favour. The fact that ikat is ubiquitous world over can only be a testament to the beauty of collaborative design. The sharing of ideas across geographies led to something that survived millennia to be coveted even today.
At Tan & Loom, we find inspiration in lively Uzbek-style as well as our local ikats. Each handcrafted bag is made with the intent to pay homage to ikat’s rich design history. As humble custodians of this centuries-old tradition, we’re determined to do justice to it – to give it a canvas that really lets its intricacy take centre stage. The canvas, of course, being our classic vegetable tanned leather.
Shop our Ikat collections here.