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Ikats of India

Ninoshka Alvares-Delaney

Ikat is a beautiful textile made up of complex patterns that are formed by employing resist dyeing on the yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric. In ikat the resist is formed by binding individual yarns or bundles of yarns with a tight wrapping applied in the desired pattern. The yarns are then dyed. The bindings may then be altered to create a new pattern and the yarns dyed again with another colour. This process may be repeated multiple times to produce elaborate, multicolored patterns. When the dyeing is finished all the bindings are removed and the yarns are woven into cloth.

The process of creating Ikat textiles is extremely difficult and tests the skills of the dyer as well as the weaver. It takes a lot of planning and designing to get the dyed yarn lined up so that the pattern comes out perfectly in the finished cloth. Perfectly placed patterns, complicated patterns, and multiple colours are more difficult to create and are therefore often more expensive.

Double ikat, wherein both the warp and weft threads are tie/dyed, is amongst the most complicated and expensive textiles. The tie-dye is done so cleverly that once the weaving starts, the colours on the warp and weft fit in beautifully to create exquisite patterns. In single ikat, only the warp or weft is tie-dyed.

The technique of ikat is practiced in at least 28 to 30 countries across all the continents. In each country, there are regional differences, historical and cultural significance. The process of tying and dyeing and weaving is the same everywhere. What changes is the yarn – cotton, silk, wool, banana fibre, grass – together with the colour combination and the formation of motifs that gives ikat from each country a distinctive touch.

Many parts of India itself have their indigenous ikat weaving techniques. Orissa’s Sambalpuri Ikat is quite different from the sharp ikat patterns woven in Patan of Gujarat. The latter, known as Patan Patola, is one of the rarest forms of double Ikat, which takes a lot of time and effort in dyeing and weaving. A different form of Patola ikat is made in Rajkot, Gujarat. Telia Rumal made in Andhra, Pasapalli from Odisha and Puttapaka from Telangana are other Indian Ikats.

Ikats from Gujarat: Gujarat is known for its world famous double ikat Patola from Patan. It is a colourful and ostentatious weave with its figured body, along with the subtle merging of one shade into another. Woven in silk, Patola saris are generally worn on auspicious and important occasions and are very expensive; sometimes costing up to `2,00,000. Once worn only by those belonging to royal and aristocratic families, this textile in now popular among those who can afford the high prices. Patola weaving is a closely guarded family tradition. There are only three families in Patan that weave these highly prized double ikat saris. It is said that this technique is taught to no one in the family, except to the sons. Renowned for their colourful diversity and geometrical style, it can take six months to one year to make one sari due to the long process of dying each strand separately before weaving them together. Patola is also woven in some villages of Surendranagar and Rajkot district. These, however, are single ikat patterns which are simpler and more economical than the intricate ones of Patan.

Ikats of Odisha: Odisha ikat dates back to the 12th century when artisans from the Patan region of modern day Gujarat migrated to Odisha and carried forward the craft. While the Gujarati Patolas are recognisable through their bold outlines, geometrical grid-like overall design, Odisha ikat follows a curvilinear style and has a feathery look with hazy outlines. Odisha ikat work is carried out in the regions of Bargarh, Sambalpur, Sonepur and some other districts of Odisha. The artisans of Odisha ikat predominantly belong to the Meher community. The craft has been particularly perfected in the Bargarh and Sambalpur regions. Sarees made in the Odisha ikat process are priced anywhere between `2,000 and `20,000 depending on the intricate designs and process involved. The process of hand weaving an Odisha ikat sari can take up to seven months between two people.

Ikats of Andhra Pradesh: Pochampally ikat is a type of silk that finds its origin in a small town of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana), Bhoodan Pochampally. One of the most telling signs of the weave is the mesmerising geometric pattern that spreads all over the fabric. The silk saree are also very lightweight and comfortable. The weaving process of the traditional Pochampally ikat sarees is said to have been brought to the small town of Pochampally from Chirala where the art was locally referred to as chit-ku. Pochampally ikat uses double ikat and boasts of transferring the intricate design onto the fabric with nothing short of perfection. The colour of the fabric, like most ikat fabrics, is obtained from natural sources. The fabric itself alternates between cotton, silk and sico, which is a blend of silk and cotton. The fabric received the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) status in 2005. The weaving of a Pochampally ikat saree takes 10 days for a family of four to weave. Its price ranges between `8,000 and `15,000, while designer options can range between `30,000 and `1,00,000.

Until next time, stay stylish!

(Writer is a fashion designer. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @ninoshkaindia)

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