Ikat fabric is a type of fabric created by a special, complicated process of hand-dying yarn or thread and then weaving it on a loom. Before the fabric is woven, some of the threads are tied off, in sections, and dyed. When the fabric is then woven with the tie-dyed and non-dyed threads, a distinct design of colors and patterns is created. The cloth is then used in a variety of ways, from apparel to tapestries and for home interiors. Ikat can be created from most materials, including wool, cotton, and silk.
Warp Ikat, the most common style of Ikat fabric, is created when the warp threads — the threads that run lengthwise in fabric — are tie-dyed before the fabric is woven. The warp threads are bundled, then tied to create patterns and dyed. Depending on the desired effect, wax or rubber seals can be used to cover parts of the bundle so the dye will not seep through and color certain parts of the thread. These steps must be repeated for each color desired in the fabric. The entire process is very time-consuming and requires the skills of an advanced artist.
Similarly, weft Ikat is the result of dying just the weft threads, or the threads that run crosswise in fabric. Weft Ikat tends to result in a blurrier pattern than warp Ikat. When both the warp and the weft threads are dyed, it results in a textile called a double Ikat. Dying both warp and weft threads typically gives a pattern that is less precise.
Ikat fabric is popular around the world, but is especially prevalent in Central America, Asia, and South America. Japan, Cambodia, Thailand and the Andes people of Central and South America all have Ikat patterns that are specific to their regions and heritages. Indian and Indonesian Ikat fabrics are known for their precise double Ikat, a technique that is very difficult. Thai Ikat was traditionally worn for ceremonial purposes and by nobility, but has since become more common.
In other places, such as North America and Europe, the fabric is used in apparel from high-fashion designers to mass production retailers. Mass production of Ikat tends to be Ikat-inspired prints and not the actual woven Ikat fabric, as it is too expensive and time-consuming to create in mass. The Ikat patterns were especially trendy in fashion apparel in the 1960s and the late 2000s.