The fuzzy and blurred design is a global inspiration for designers in fashion, interior, graphics, prints, cosmetic, accessory, media and lifestyle
Gajam Anjaiah, an Indian master handloom designer from Hyderabad, received Padma Shree Award for his Ikat work in Puttapaka sarees that are marketed as Pochampally sarees. Today Ikat is a rage in the international market. From the runways of Missoni to Anita Dongre, the Ikat has been widely used across the world. A few high street brands such as JCrew and Aldo also have collections inspired by the Ikat weave. Jonathan Adler’s designer crockery and Steven Elmer wallpapers also proudly bear the Ikat design.
Ikat derived from the Malay word mengikat means ‘tie, bind or wrap around’. In India it means bandha. There is a mention of the art of weaving in the Rig Veda. This oldest Indian fabric can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization. It is thought that around 7th century CE, Ikats were found in India as clothing depicting geometric warp patterns on cave frescoes in Ajanta. Gujarati merchants exported Patola, a double-Ikat saree of Patan (the ancient capital of Gujarat), to Indonesian royalty in the 13th century that inspired Dutch to start its production on these lands hence there is a similarity in the patterns of double Ikat in Bali and Indonesia.
Poetry on the loom
The craft of Ikat represents perfect synchronization and a body of acute technical knowledge which is a part of the traditional wisdom of the craftsman. The flaw of weaving makes it beautiful and auspicious and it is worn on the special occasion of marriages or ceremonies of childbirth or was offerings to temples and shrines. The rigorous process of tension, stain, wetness and disorder that transmutes a silk thread into an auspicious craft emulates the Vedic Indian virtues of patience austerity, purity and truthfulness.
“Mathematical precision and poetic conclusion” is how Suket Dhir, defines the double-Ikat textile technique, intellectualized in Vedic India. The brilliant aesthetics of this textile is a global inspiration for designers in fashion, interior, graphics, prints, cosmetic, accessory, media and lifestyle. Espoused by international pop-stars such as Rihanna to the actor of the millennium Amitabh Banchan, Ikat and Ikat-inspired products have found one of the highest global outreach. WGSN, the global fashion forecast agency has forecasted an exhaustive list of lifestyle themes based on Ikat that includes prints, interior décor, furniture, lingerie, swimwear, menswear, womenswear, kids wear, denim, footwear, bags and nail paints establishing Ikat as a robust global
Making of single and double Ikat
The fuzzy and blurred patterns on Ikat are the result of resisting the dying of thread with artistic perfection. This ancient resist-thread engineering is done prior to weaving which produces a print-like pattern on the fabric. If single sides of the thread layout i.e. warp or weft is dyed then the fabric is termed as single-Ikat. Although a high level of craftsmanship is required to plan the resist dying in single-Ikat, it is comparatively easier than double-Ikat, where both warp and weft are resist-dyed and a single saree takes 6-9 months for completion, making it immensely limited. Double-Ikat is considered as a symbol of prestige, wealth, status and power.
Patan Patola, the luxurious double-Ikat saree of Gujarat embodies craftsmanship of a very high order. Patola is integral to the culture of Gujarat and is imbued with curative and protective meaning and longevity. Presently, done by only three families called the Salvis, Patola sometimes is pictorial with no repeats across its length for which every design element is treated individually and tied in the warp and weft yarns. It’s an extraordinary achievement in the textile arts. The ancient motifs of these sarees are inspired by the rich sculpted carvings of the walls and pillars of Queen’s stepwell (Rani ki Vav) of Patan which depict Lord Vishnu’s incarnation. The Odisha double Ikat silk art called bandhas is linked to Lord Jagganath cult where the traditional colours of white, black, yellow, and red are used. Green is added at a later stage. These colours depict the past, present, and future. The most striking feature of the bandha saree is the pallu or anchal, the oldest design being the bichitrapuri anchal. The craftsmen design the saree as an artist with his imagination where he does not follow any pre-designed pattern but design evolves as he works.
Envisaging Indian handlooms and crafts as the ultimate luxury commodity, fashion designer Suket Dhir won the International Woolmark award in 2016 for his double Ikat innovation of worsted cool wool with concentric circular patterns and ombre dyed effects attained by 108 steps. Indian craft revivalist, fashion designer Madhu Jain introduced world’s first bamboo silk Ikat in 2017. The most prominent international design exhibitions of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum showcased Ikat innovations by Abraham and Thakor. International luxury designers such as Gucci and Peter Piloto have also worked on Patola and Odisha Ikat respectively, in a project called ‘renaissance’, organized by Vogue magazine in 2016.
(Gaurav Mandal is a fashion designer and recipient of two national awards.)