It is ubiquitous in today’s textile industry. Trendy and classic, colorful and elegant, simple but exquisite, ikat is here to stay. The fact that this age-old tradition (dating back to the 5th and 6th century in India and even earlier in South East Asia) has withstood the passage of time is a testament to its versatility and beauty. One has to just take a peek at the process behind the making of ikat to understand without any doubt that its beauty emanates from a painstaking process of love, time and finesse. The word “Ikat” comes from the Malay-Indonesian word for “tie”.
Ikat is a resist dye technique used to pattern textiles. It is a process where prior to weaving, warp (lengthwise yarn) or weft (crosswise thread) or sometimes both are tied to resist absorbing color and are then dyed.
The yarn is received in bundles, boiled and hung loosely to dry.
The yarn is then transferred from hanks to bobbins.
The Yarn is prepped
And stretched on a horizontal frame
The warp (horizontal) threads are set up on a horizontal creel and the design is marked.
Rubber tires are used to bind the yarn in places that should resist the dye when dyed.
If there are multiple colors, this step is repeated for each color.
The yarn is then aligned and prepared to be put on the loom
The weft yarn is then spun into bobbins that are
used in weaving
And the weaving begins.
Nineteenth and twentieth century historical evidence show that at least during the last 200 years, Asia produced the most varied and highest quality ikat textiles. Although ikat occurs worldwide, India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Japan have been the leading producers of fine ikat material.
India and Southeast Asia are the regions with the greatest diversity of ikat weaving, with all three technical versions present and developed to an unrivalled variety of designs.
There are three main types of ikat:
- Warp ikat, the easiest of the three, is created when the pattern is dyed onto the longitudinal—or warp— threads prior to being woven.
- Weft ikat is significantly more difficult than its warp counterpart because the pattern is dyed onto the lateral—or weft—threads. These dyed weft threads add a level of complexity for the weaver who has to keep them aligned so the pattern comes together correctly.
- Perhaps the most difficult type to master is the double ikat technique. As you can imagine, this process includes both dyed weft and warp threads. Note: This method is only practiced by a small handful of weavers in Japan, Indonesia, and India.
Even as a khadi loving college student, I loved ikat for not only its beautiful color combinations but also for the comfort and softness of cotton ikat. Ever time I wore a salwar khameez made from ikat fabric, it made me look and feel so good. A particularly favorite piece of mine was a red and green ikkat chudidar/khameez, stitched from fabric that I had bought on a trip to Secunderabad. Almost 25/30 years later, I can still recollect the vibrant vermillion red and bottle green colors of that outfit. It also brings back memories of my carefree college days in Benguluru(or Bangalore as it was known then). Ah! The magic of ikat!
We asked the artisans’ kids what they felt about some common social stereotypes. We then asked them to write down one social “rule” that they have proven wrong. Here are some of the answers we got.
What did the kids feel about this exercise? The kids were intrigued and excited to put their thoughts down on paper. This is what they had to say:
“I worked very hard at overcoming my physical condition. And I’m happy that my efforts can inspire someone else. People usually pity kids like me but I had confidence in myself.”
“These are the things that parents, teachers, neighbors keep saying. And we put exactly those words on the cards. I think this is the best answer we can give them.”
“How can anyone else know what I am capable of? No one has the right to tell me what I can or cannot do. And no one can really tell what my capabilities are.”
Sometimes it isn’t about efficiency. Sometimes it’s about taking the time and trouble to create something truly special. The ancient Kalamkari process is very complex and time-consuming, involving up to 17 steps of hand block printing and dyeing with colors and mordants derived from local plants and minerals. Once prized by sultans and Europeans alike, Kalamkari fabrics suffered from the introduction of machine-printed textiles in the 1700’s. But the secrets of the technique and the dye recipes were retained by the families in South India for whom this was their traditional livelihood. Today there is a new appreciation for things that are natural and hand-crafted. Our authentic Kalamkari fabrics have a mellow and enduring beauty that can come only from taking the time to do it the right way.
I recently gave my tenth grade exams and I have a long summer vacation ahead of me. I’ve been keeping myself busy with the summer workshops at MarketPlace. So far I’ve participated in an art competition, a craft making session and I also got to watch The Karate Kid! The Armaan Club arranged the film screening for those of us who have been learning karate for the last few months. I love that I have been able to learn a useful skill and it makes me proud to tell my friends that I have such an interesting hobby. All girls should learn karate for self defense! My friends and I no longer feel scared walking on the streets because our reflexes are pretty well trained now.
In a few months I will be in junior college studying science. I am passionate about computers and learning new software programs like Microsoft office. So my natural choice for further studies was computer science. I hope to become a software engineer soon and follow my dreams! My family has been very supportive about this and they always advise me to get more information about my career choices and speak to experts in the field.
One of the things I hope to accomplish before school opens is learning guitar. I love everything to do with dance and music. Justib Beiber is my idol and absolutely adore the way he sings!
Priyanka Medhe, 33. Sahara Cooperative
I gave birth to a child almost 10 years after I got married. This is a big issue in our society and I was subjected to taunts and insults for years because I hadn’t produced a child. Neighbors and relatives would advise my husband to leave me and marry someone else. This was obviously very traumatizing but I was lucky to have a good husband who supported me and in laws who were considerate. I now have a 5 year old girl and I have great dreams for her.
I was only able to go to school till the 7th grade. When I was 10 I started working part time at a small toy factory. Our family was very large so we had to work to support the household. I would go to school for a few hours and then skip the rest of the classes to work. This went on for a couple of years and I finally dropped out of school. I remember someone had offered to put me through nursing school if I finished 10th grade. But I was a silly girl and at the time I didn’t see any value in studying further.
My husband does not have a permanent job- he does odd jobs in the transportation industry sometimes or works as a cook for big events and parties. So his income has never been very regular. I used to work in small tailoring shops in the nearby slums and would earn a little to supplement our income. But since I came to MarketPlace my income has become stable and I am now responsible for our household expenses.
In the last 4 years, since joining MarketPlace, my self confidence has increased remarkably. I used to be very shy and couldn’t even get myself to speak to people. In the beginning I would be very scared of performing in plays with the artisans. But I find myself less and less scared each month and now I volunteer to take part in plays and other activities. I hope someday in the future I can start a tailoring workshop, employ women like me and make a difference in their lives.
(Shraddha Gupta, 15, years old, daughter of artisan Malati Gupta, WARE. )
I just gave my 10th grade exams and am on vacation for the next 4 months till we start junior college (11th grade). I am going to study Commerce for 2 years before I start college. I have a pretty clear plan for what I will do in the next few years. I want to study Business Management in college with a few internships thrown in.
I think the real world experience will serve me well when I look for a job. I want to intern with a big name like Procter & Gamble because there are so many people who are unemployed, and I want to give employers a reason to hire me. Eventually I want to start my own business in something that has a lot of scope in the market.
I think the only challenge for the next few months will be to overcome the boredom of the long summer days. It’s usually too hot to go outside and play so we spend our days indoors. At night we play football in the field next to the house with other kids from the Armaan Club and some of the neighbors’ kids.
Recently some boy passed an annoying comment when he saw me playing football. He told me that I was a grown up girl and shouldn’t be playing with kids all day. I asked him if there was a book in which there were rules for what girls can or cannot do. A lot of people have an opinion on things I do, but my parents are very open-minded and I just ignore the rest.
The Armaan Club also has some exciting things planned for us this summer. There are a lot of courses on offer for us to pick from- crafts, beautician etc. I have chosen a 4 month long beautician course and I’m looking forward to the experience.
I really really wanted to learn how to play guitar this summer, but learning any musical instrument is very expensive. A few kids I know want to learn the guitar as well, and we’re still looking for a cheaper option.