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The Art of Weaving Clouds

March 4, 2016

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What does ikat mean?

Ikat translates from the Malay-Indonesian word, “mengikat”, meaning “to tie.”

The Persian word that describes ikat weaving is “abr bandi”, literally translating to “tying the clouds” in English. We were struck by that beautiful image and used that translation as an inspiration for the name of our company – billow + bound. The words, billow, a great surge of water or undulating clouds, and bound, to leap or jump, also conjured up a principal quality we wanted our brand to exude: movement.

Why did we choose to start with ikat?

We were both inspired by the beauty and unique aesthetic of ikat textiles. We were also intrigued by the time that weavers spend creating ikat fabrics – it can take up to a day to weave just one meter of ikat fabric, depending on its intricacy.

Where does ikat come from?

Ikat is likely one of the oldest forms of textile decoration. There is debate as to whether ikat weaving originated in SE China, India or Indonesia. Evidence dates back as early as the 6th century in SE China and appears in 7th century cave paintings in India. Textiles rarely survive more than a few thousand years, so it is unknown how far back ikat weaving dates

Ikat is a weaving form that seems to have developed independently across many different traditional textile centres around the world, from India to Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Japan, Africa and Latin America.

Historically, in various countries, ikat fabrics were worn to indicate wealth and stature. However, in other countries, such as Guatemala and Peru, ikat fabrics have been more ubiquitous and are used to make traditional fabrics.

Ikat was brought to Europe, and introduced into western fashion, from various regions, including Central Asia (via travelers along the Silk Road), Southeast Asia (via Dutch traders), and South America (via Spanish explorers).

So, this next part gets a little technical…but bear with us, it’s fascinating!

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How is ikat made?

“Resist-dyeing” is a term for a number of traditional methods of dyeing textiles to create patterns. To “resist” is to prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern.  Tie-dye and batik are both resist-dye techniques in which the fabric is dyed after it is woven. Ikat textiles are made by applying this process to the yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric.

  1. Draw a pattern on paper as a guide.
  2. Bind individual yarns or bundles of yarns with a water-tight wrapping, applied in the desired pattern, to form a “resist”.
  3. Dye the yarns.
  4. Remove bindings and the original threads will show.
  5. Thread is ready for weaving or re-tie and dye again to create a new pattern. (This process may be repeated many times to produce more elaborate patterns.)

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Ikat textiles are woven as “warp” ikat or “weft” ikat. Warp is the lengthwise or vertical threads on a loom, while weft is the transverse thread. When the warp threads are dyed to reveal the pattern, the result is warp ikat fabric. When the transverse threads are dyed with the pattern, the result is a weft ikat fabric. Double ikat is made when both the warp and weft yarns are tied and dyed before being woven into a single textile.

Blurriness is a signature characteristic of ikat textiles. Lining up the dyed yarns so that the pattern comes out perfectly in the finished cloth depends on the weaver’s skill and experience – usually, the more experienced the weaver, the clearer the pattern. However, this blurriness is often prized by textile collectors.

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We were lucky enough to witness this process firsthand when we traveled to Andhra Pradesh, India in 2015 to source fabrics for our first line. This area only became a center for ikat production in the mid-20th century helping to revive this ancient weaving technique in India. Therefore, it is a bit more experimental in patterns and color compared to other ikat traditions. Hopefully you will see this come alive in our clothing. Please comment and let us know your first impressions!




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