Ikat, that ubiquitous fabric

While I’m on the subject of ethnic influences in current design trends, I thought I’d post about the ikat fabrics that have been so prevalent for the last year or so. You see them on chairs and other upholstered furniture, like these:

Blue Ikat Chair from Urban Outfitters

Jewel Ikat Slipper Chair from Urban Outfitters

and in home decor fabrics:

Blue Ikat Fabric from Waverly Home Decorating Fabrics

and even accessories and clothing:

Bowls from Anthropologie

Dress from Asos.com

So what is ikat, anyway?

Remember tie-dyeing? When you went to Michael’s to buy a white tee shirt and then bunched it up into little lumps held with rubber bands? Then you dipped the shirt into solutions of dye in various hues, and when it dried and the rubber bands came off, you had those star-like hippie-style patterns on the shirt.

Well, ikat fabrics are made by dyeing the threads before the fabric is woven. A wax-like substance is applied to bunches of threads in desired patterns, and the threads are dyed. The wax covered parts of the threads resist the dye, resulting in patterned threads which are then used to weave the fabric.
There are complexities to it such as whether the dyed threads are the ones held tightly lengthwise on the loom (the warp fibers) or the ones used to weave in and out of the warp fibers, creating the cloth (the weft fibers)  – or both the warp and the weft fibers, creating a more intricate and complex pattern, but basically that’s it.

The word “ikat” itself comes from the Indonesian language and means either “cord, thread, knot” or “to tie, to bind” depending on the context in which it’s used.
Although the word is Indonesian, the fabrics come from all over the world: Thailand, Cambodia, Central and South America, India, Japan, Turkey, revealing that the technique developed in multiple cultures worldwide, and each have their particular ethnic patterns.

What’s characteristic about all of them is the blurry-edged look to the designs that results from the individually dyed threads that are used in the weaving process.

Think of using one of these pieces as an easy, fun way to inject a fresh accent piece into your decor as you open the windows, put away the winter coats and freshen up for spring!

Ikat Embroidered Pillow Cover from Pottery Barn