Exquisite Ties: By Shanthi Kumar

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.

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The Yarn is prepped

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And stretched on a horizontal frame

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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.

The Basics

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!


  1. Would love to see the finished fabric from the above process. Was the idat warp pattern woven with that lovely gold weft?

  2. Unfortunately no. It is difficult to get photographs of all the steps from the making of one fabric. The Ikat fabric is made in fairly remote villages and when someone visits they take photographs and we put them together. Unfortunately,it was not for the same fabric.

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