Egads, Ikat: It’s Becoming a Pattern

I want to take some time today to address the bright, whimsical print that’s everywhere right now, but also take you to school on WHY it’s so great. IKAT!


First of all, it’s not a robot feline that Apple came up with. (i.e. It’s not pronounced “iCat.”) It’s “ee-kot.” It comes from the Malay word “mengikat,” which means “to tie, or bind”  because that’s the dying technique that is used for fibers.

Now, let’s get into it. Ikat is a woven print and is sooooo impressive because the individual threads are dyed in different colors, NOT the finished fabric. (Read: The pattern of the fabric is formed AS IT IS WOVEN, not once the fabric is finished.) You’re familiar with tie-dye t-shirts, right? Well, it would be like tie-dying your strings and then weaving your own shirt. Pretty impressive, no?

The word “mengikat” is referencing the way the threads are dyed, not the fabric. Each thread is dyed by a resist dyeing technique process similar to batik which uses wax to prevent the dye from covering the entire thread. Rather than wax, however, the threads are tied tightly to cover the sections you don’t want dyed and ultimately expose the sections you do. There are a few different ways in which to use the dyed thread: warp, weft, and double.

Warp: This is where the dyed fibers are used as the parallel strands in a loom and another thread is woven in and out. Because the gradient colors are displayed in place on the vertical strands on the loom, the pattern is already established, making the resulting print clearly marked. (Kind of like a paint by numbers.)

Weft: This is (to me) SO impressive, because in this technique the weft fibers are the dyed ones, which does not allow the pattern to be allows the pattern to be seen as its woven. (Like painting a HUGE mural but only focusing on the tiniest section of it.) The pattern literally appears before your eyes as you work. Magic! Since this technique is more difficult to ensure the pattern is exact, thats why you see the pattern take on a more blurred look, which I think makes it more special.

Double: This speaks for itself really. Both weft and warp fibers are dyed and used.

Here’s a little chart I’ve drawn so it makes more sense. The red strings are weft, and the black, warp. You can see since the black fibers are already in place on the loom, it would be easier to visualize the pattern you are working toward. With the weft fibers, you’re forced to let the pattern grown as you weave.

warp and weft fibers on a loom

Maybe this little tutorial has made you more appreciative of this stunning fabric technique. I know I, for one, am truly obsessed with it. It’s gorgeous. It’s fun. It’s bright. It’s colorful. It’s the best. I want to fill my house with ikat pillows and lamps and my wardrobe with ikat garments. It’s honestly my most favorite pattern!

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