Saturday, 17 August 2013

On Ikat

This year at Pennsic I was super lucky and managed to acquire some sarees from Flori of Northshield. She and her partner are moving back to the US from India and she offered to buy sarees for anyone interested on the SCA_India site. Given that I love the look of sarees, and I couldn't remember how many I had stored with Ronin I asked for 5, greedy yes I know. Flori was amazing , not only did she bring alot of sarees back to the US for us, she also labeled them with their source. She brought be 5 beautiful and varied new sarees one of which is an ikat saree in green and maroon.

I had never encountered ikat before but I loved the look so much, I bought some 'Persian' garb made out of ikat too. So, for those, like me, who have never encountered ikat before I present my notes made after returning home.

Ikat is the process of making cloth from pre-dyed thread. The thread is dyed in such a way that when woven it creates designs in the cloth. The process is very labour intensive as the threads need to be hand dyed in specific patterns before weaving. The Persian garb I bought was made out of double ikat were both the warp (up/down threads the weft thread is woven around) and the weft (left/right threads woven over and under the warp) are dyed and woven together to make a pattern. In the case of my Persian garb, there is no specific pattern rather a more modern take which features the colours and the weaving style. For more intricate patterns, the warp and weft are tied separately with cotton thread before being dyed, this is called double ikat. The thread is then removed and the warp/weft are retied and dyed again to create another layer of colour. Finally  after all the dye is applied, the weft is carefully strung and the warp carefully lined up and woven. Double ikat silk available in India and Indonesia is called patola (or single, patolu). Given I have trouble remembering if I'm on the third or forth coat of glaze half the time, I'd have a nightmare keeping track of which threads go where.

Arm of the persian top showing the texture of a random double ikat.

My new sari could be called double ikat as it has patterns dyed into both the warp and weft however these sections don't overlap and each creates an individual motif, either horizontal or vertical. Indian Ikat Textiles by Rosemary Crill (1998) includes some beautiful examples where double ikat has been used to feature designs such as elephants. In images of the more complicated and time consuming weaving, it's difficult to tell if the image is ikat or dyed on later. It's only when you look closely you can see the fuzziness that occurs when the dyed sections don't quite line up perfectly that you can tell. In the best examples, you can't tell without physically examining the fabric yourself.

Ikat is a old tradition that can be dated back to the Ajanta Caves in India. In the listening to the sage scene below, featured in Cave 1 of Ajanta, you can see various figures wearing striped cloth. The prince (?) wearing a garment made out of slightly fizzy arrow heads. Given the level of detail on other individuals, the fuzziness is assumed to be intentional and representative of the fuzzy outlines seen in ikat fabric. According to Crill (1998), Chandra (1960) was the first to highlight this, however that specific reference is rather hard to find. Crill (1998) suggests that arrows, broken and solid stripes and check patterns can all be found in the caves.

In summary:
1. Ikat is period for an Indian persona
2. Double ikat may also be period, more examination of images is required. Chandra 1960 suggests that 12th century Deccani sources reference double ikat.
3. The more precise and complex the dying, the more time consuming and expensive. This may have been a status symbol as well.
4. I'm glad I now have an ikat sari, thanks Flori!
5. Now you know why my last post was looking at sources of dye in India.

Resources and References:


Crill, Rosemary. 1998. Indian IKAT textiles. V&A Publications. 176. ISBN: 1851772421
Chandra, Moti. 1960. Indian costumes and textiles from the eighth to the twelfth century. Journal of Indian Textile History Vol 5.
Chandra, Moti. 1961. Costumes and Textiles in the Sultanate Period. Journal of Indian Textile History. Vol 6.

(if you have a digital copy of either of the Chandra papers, I'd love a copy)

AMAZING resource for the Ajanta Cave 1, I'm still trying to navigate the rest of the website and find more (and see if I can access them without a student number). I'm also going to pin as many of these images as possible just in case they decide to block them.

Three useful websites which cover the basic concepts (not really good references though):

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