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Unfolding the world of Ikat

Sometimes, the treasure trove you have at the back of your closet can pleasantly surprise you. It certainly did this morning, as the lopsided clothes in the front of my closet lost their ‘balance’ and tumbled out. I didn’t complain, after all they had my old ikat scarf for company! It may seem overly dramatic, but I was over the moon to have re-discovered this old favourite. Just yesterday I was reading an article on different centers for Ikat in the world, and today I find my scarf! Can this be a coincidence or a sign? Well, here I am writing about one of my favourite weaves, Ikat.

Ikat is known for its visual complexity, graphic brilliance, and technical intricacy, being derived from the Malay word Mengikat meaning ‘to tie, bind or wrap-around’. It is one of the styles of weaving that uses a resist dyeing process as similar to tie-dye. It uses either the warp or weft to weave a pattern or design (the ikat is then called ‘Single Ikat‘). When both warp and weft are tie-dyed then it is called ‘Double Ikat’.

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Twists and turns…a multitude of colours. The Ikat weaving process via

Wondering how to differentiate an authentic ikat from an ikat-look printed fabric? Look at the reverse side. If you can see the design on both sides of the fabric, its authentic since it is woven into the fabric. Next, look at the motifs. In an authentic ikat—no two motifs are exactly the same—and from a distance the textile has an organic quality that printed versions (with their necessary repeats) can’t duplicate.

Ikats have been woven in cultures all over the world – from Central Asia to Central and South America, India, Japan, Indonesia and south-east Asian countries. In India, there are only three states that can boast of this unique tradition – Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. In Gujarat it is primarily the Patan area, which produces the ‘Patola’ sari. In Andhra Pradesh the main areas producing Ikats are the Chirala area and the Nalgonda district (famous for Pochampalli saris). Ikat is also known as Pagdu bandhu, Buddavaasi, Telia Rumals and Chitki here.  It is only Orissa, which has the tradition of ‘Ikat’ across almost the entire state, calling them Bandhas, with slight variations in the weave or motifs or fabrics used as you move across districts.

I found this wonderful website giving details about the Ikat weaving process. Do have a read if you’re keen to know how complicated this process is…it will make you appreciate our artisans even more.

Know your Ikat before you go shopping. Know what you’re buying, and feel the pride in owning an authentic piece.

Patola: Bold grid based patterns combined with intricate geometrical, floral, and figurative motifs called ‘Bhat’. Some common motifs seen in these textiles are the elephant, parrot, dancing doll, floral baskets, pipal leaves, flowering pattern and walnut. Traditionally, vegetable or natural colours are used in the dyeing process with the predominant colours being red, yellow, green, white, and maroon.

Pochampally: Characterised by big, bold and bright patterning,bright colours, this could well be Patola’s twin. The modernization of thought and choice has inspired the artisans to create modern motifs that are abstract, modernist and geometric, with plenty of brilliant colours.

Bandhas: The traditional single ikat bandhas from Orissa have a soft curvilinear quality in contrast to the mosaic-like appearance of it’s gujarati cousin, the Patola . The effect achieved by the addition of extra weft threads woven beside the ikat areas, gives the ‘bandhas’ a unique appearance. Another characteristic trait of these textiles is that the ikat technique is combined with brocade bands along the lengths of the sari borders and in the ‘anchal’.
The famous weaves: Ikat, Sambalpuri weave and the Bomkai weave.
The motifs: fish, bird, elephant, deer, lion, duck, tortoise, shell,lamp, stars, trellis, dice motifs, architectural forms, waves etc.

Wow! that’s a lot of information…and did it take the fun out of reading this post? Wondering how and where you can get your own beautiful, authentic hand crafted piece – in the form of a saree, or dress, a shirt, kurta or just as an accessory? We’ve picked out some of our favourite places to buy an original without burning a big hole in your pocket.

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Ikat Sarees by Anuradha Ramam via
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Ikat dresses by Anuradha Ramam via
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Gorgeous Ikats by the sufi-inspired House of Qidwa via
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Ikat Sarees and more on ahimsa silk, tussars by Vriksha Designs via
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A stunning Ikat collection by Translate via

There are quite a few other brands that are doing wonderful work in Ikat, namely Uppada, Brasstacks, We- Nature and me, Love for the loom and a few more. Most of their beautiful collection can be found at Indian roots and Jayporeso do have a look!

Ikat is beautiful, and a rage the world over. I treasure the Patola, Pochampally and Bomkai sarees I have acquired over the years. They add an air of elegance every time I wear them, but probably now, I appreciate them even more. These handcrafted pieces of art are woven, sitting in a pit loom over days (if not months), planned with precision and made with love. Do you own an heirloom Ikat piece? Tell us all about it.

XO, Nupur

Cover image via 1, 2

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