Understanding Ikat


Bright ikat dyed fabric

Stack of rayon ikat fabrics from Guatemala, 2015.

The original definition of IKAT is fabric made from threads that were resist-dyed into patterns before being woven. Village hand weavers create these “true” ikat fabrics on simple looms after many labor-intensive steps, as we’ll see below. In some places, weavers work on more mechanized looms, but the basic process of tying and dyeing the threads remains the same. Note the vertical pattern bands on the glowing fabrics at left. Artisans tied and dyed the patterns into the threads, then they wove the fabrics by hand. The ikat technique typically results in soft-edged designs as opposed to crisp patterns.

Nowadays factories also produce industrially-printed fabrics that mimic the feathery appearance of ikat. Over the past twenty or so years, factory-printed or industrially-woven ikat has shown up in America on clothing as well as on home furnishings such as upholstery, drapes, duvet covers and decorative pillows.

Much of the continuing popularity for ikat is due to fashion designer Oscar de la Renta’s exposure of the aesthetic style. He was the first to show handwoven ikat fabric in a collection as long ago as 1997. He commissioned these brilliant fabrics from Uzbek master weavers working in the Margilan area of the Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan.

Nowadays, if you Google ‘ikat’ images, you might be amazed at the thousands of choices of commercially-produced ikat-patterned objects available for your wardrobe or your living room or bedroom. Some of them such as the armchair below exhibit quite appealing (but not traditional) colorways.

Oscar de la Renta coat of ikat woven by Uzbek artisans. 2005

Chair with orange and brown ikat designs

Armchair with factory woven ikat-patterned upholstery. 2018 

On my travels in various parts of the world, I have visited weavers who create superb ikat textiles in villages in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India, Guatemala, Ecuador, Indonesia, Bolivia and Peru. (Chile also has minimal examples of ikat that I have not witnessed.) That list leaves out the fabulous ikat textiles of Japan, the Philippines, and Uzbekistan, places I have yet to visit. Thus I have only digital images and textile dealer examples of those fabrics.

All over the world, the time-intensive and intriguing ikat process is basically the same. The many steps to make an ikat textile are absolutely fascinating! I want to go into detail here about how the technique works and what the variations look like worldwide.

The fact that this adaptation clearly comprises cultural appropriation (reproducing an indigenous idea or design motif for large-scale, mass-market sale and profit) is thought-provoking… but not what we are concerned with here. Since ikat designs have become so popular in readily available manufactured versions, let’s go back and see the real handmade stuff and how it is made.



Ikat cloth with orange elephant

 Ikat from Odisha state, India.

Ikat differs from batik or tie-dye cloth decoration techniques that start with existing fabric; it begins with just threads that must be bound and dyed, and then woven into cloth. The name ikat comes from the Malaysian/Indonesian word mengikat meaning to bind or tie. (ENDE? INDO??) But in different countries and languages, it has different names. In Guatemala, it is jaspe or jaspeado; in Peru it is watado, from the Quechua word watay, meaning to tie. In Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, it is variably transliterated as mud-mee, mat-mi or mut-mi. In India it is called bandha kala or tie art. Here I’ll refer to this cloth by the most common name used in the US which is ikat. It is also sometimes referred to as space-dyed or resist-dyed. And I’ll mostly refer to the ikat makers as ‘she,’ for simplicity’s sake. However in a few places such as Guatemala, Uzbekistan and parts of India, men are instrumental in creating ikat.


Ikat fabric is either ‘single ikat’ or ‘double ikat,’ depending on the technique. Single ikat involves resist-dyeing the threads to be woven in one direction only. Either the warp (long threads stretched straight out in front of the weaver) or the weft (horizontal threads that the weaver manipulates sideways through the warp) is patterned for single ikat. Double ikat is twice as much work because both the warp and the weft are bound off and dyed to make patterns and motifs from intersecting areas. Whether the ikat is warp ikat, weft ikat or double ikat depends mostly on tradition in many areas.

but creative refinements happen when visionary weavers decide to innovate.?


White cotton threads partially bound with blue plastic twine. Thailand.

Many different people can work as a team to produce ikat, or one person can do all the processes herself, such as the Thai artisan in the example here. To begin the process, she winds the threads tautly, in bundles, on a frame, left. She then draws the pattern guidelines on the threads with a marking pen or pencil. Next she binds the threads tightly in specific places to protect the white sections for the dye bath. The threads are then dyed the first (or only) color, and dried. For the example here, the dyer used only one hue, natural blue indigo.

Finally the threads are put onto a reeling device so the sequential bobbins can be wound.–back on the frame?. At this point the artisan  may bind off more sections to protect the first dyed color, then dip it again.  The first dyed section will blend with the secon overdyed Or sometimes she will apply dye to certain sections of the unbound threads

and all the bindings are carefully cut off. The dyed threads must be meticulously wound onto bobbins or winders in the precise order of the pattern. Only then can the weaving begin.


Common plastic twine often used to bind ikat threads.

Repeated RE_DO THIS!!

Dyer dips threads in blue indigo.

Artisan dyes bound weft threads with natural indigo. Thailand, 2017

Second: Winding the threads onto a frame.
Ikat starts with an artisan (not necessarily the weaver) winding the cotton or silk threads for the warp or the weft  onto a wooden frame. photo  In the case of double ikat, the winding, binding, dyeing processes are all done twice (on both warp and weft), with the coordinating part of the pattern on another frame.

Three: Then that person or the weaver carefully traces guidelines of the design-to-be onto the threads with a marking pen or other marking device.

indigo and white ikat threads.

Dyed threads with ties unwrapped to show white areas that were protected from the dye. Thailand.

Binding off the threads: This is done with various materials available in different areas. Generally nowadays strips of some sort of plastic are used because they are water-resistant. In Sallac, Peru, narrow strips of corn husk are wound around the wool yarn then plastic strands unwoven from big white grain sacks are tightly wound over the corn husks. In Thailand and many other places, plastic twine or shards of plastic bags are used. Artisans using colored plastic twine often use the different colors of twine available often differentiate what color a section is to be dyed. In Indonesia, natural raffia or palm fiber is used by the most traditional weavers.


Four: Dyeing the bound threads:

If more than one color is desired, the artisan puts the threads back on the frame to insure taut strands to bind. He or she then binds off more areas to protect the red color previously dyed.  The bindings can also be cut off some of the protected areas to reveal white threads.


Now the dyer dips the threads into blue dye, for instance. The red sections will be overdyed a purple-ish hue and the white areas will be blue, and so forth. Dyers in some areas (NE Thailand for example) sometimes paint more colors onto the threads in specific areas to avoid dipping the whole bundle.


binding the threads in specific places

maybe put elsewhere with a photo as a caption:
Symmetrical patterns are easier to create than motifs that depict a bird with its head turned to one side, for example.

These spools were strung in careful order ready for weaving. If this order was disarranged, the pattern was lost.

When the dyer finishes and the threads are dry, the weaver ***Puts threads back on the frame or onto a reeling device (show photo) and carefully unties the bindings. Then the threads must be wound onto spools or bobbins, and kept in the exact order to maintain the design. This is usually done by threading the bobbins in precise order, on a piece of cord, like beads on a necklace.  photo

Indigo blue weft ikat weaving with bobbins on loom.

Weft ikat on the loom, showing bobbin of ikat used alternatively with plain thread; NE Thailand.

Once the bobbins are out of order, the design is lost. Guatemala is the only place I have seen where weavers occasionally utilize threads with scattered bits of color that don’t align into any particular shape or design. This ‘carefree’ style may have begun when someone dropped the bobbins for a project but decided to go ahead and try weaving with the scrambled bobbins!

Calcha Bolivia:

Very fine older ponchos bolivianos, like the one shown in Fig. 41, had multiple bands of ikat and at most a single band of pallay at the outer edge. The older ponchos usually had both ikat and pallay while the more recent have only pallay. The ponchos may also have two outer bands of ikat on each half with a band of pallay near their inner edge and a wider band of pallay placed in the center of each half of the poncho.

Femenias, Blenda; Medlin, Mary Ann; Meisch, Lynne A.; Zorn, Elayne / Andean aesthetics : textiles of Peru and Bolivia

EDIT AND MOVE UP? In 2005, one of the most famous US designers, Oscar de la Renta, was the first to present Central Asian ikats in his collection. Fabrics for this collection were produced by a hereditary craftsman from Marghilan (Uzbekistan) named Rasul Mirzaakhmedov. Later, in 2007, a series of experiments with Uzbek ikats was successfully made by Nicolas Ghesquiere (House of Balenciaga). Frida Giannini, creative director of Gucci and Dries Van Noten, was inspired by the traditional textiles of Uzbek culture. Since that time, ikat has become one of the hits in international fashion.


developments, refinements, variations, modifications



Textiles,Temples: Odisha

Webpage in progress: Price to come!

November 22 through December 6 (15 nites). Fly home December 7.

Man at loom weaving ikat, India

Weaving pre-dyed ikat threads at a village in Odisha.

Sensational ikat weaving, ancient Hindu temples, and sixty-two distinct groups of traditional peoples make the Indian state of Odisha an exceptionally interesting place to visit.  Some claim that the ‘architectural legacy of the period is its greatest attraction.’ Others find the 62 distinct tribal groups fascinating.  Odisha does have the most variety of ethnic peoples of any single state in the country. But for our small group of travelers, both the local people and the single and double handwoven ikat-patterned cloth will be equally important to the stunning temple architecture. Silk and cotton saris from this state are sought after within the Indian diaspora. Knowledgeable textile aficionados world-wide treasure Odisha ikats.

Intricate carvings on a stone wheel in the ancient Surya Hindu Temple at Konark, Orissa, India. 13th Century AD

Intricately carved base of the Konark Sun Temple.

 Tour Highlights

  • City tour to see the best of Kolkata  (Calcutta).
  • A visit to Kala Bhoomi – Textile and Crafts Museum
  • Excursion to Gopalpur to meet local weavers
  • Visit to Pipli appliqué center to see artisans at work.
  • Explore Raghurajpur – A heritage crafts village
  • Explore Nuapatna textile village; see Siali crafts.
  • Meet the weavers of Sambalpur village, renowned for their intricate ikat saris.
  • Visit to the unique Yogini temple of Ranipur Jharial
  • Explore Kotpad weaving village to see their exceptional fabrics
  • Drive to Rayagada to visit Chatikona on Wednesday’s traditional market
  • Visit the Padmasambhava Mahavihara Monastery in Chandragiri
  • Excursion to the village of Padmanvapur famous for its cotton weaving.
  • Explore Berhampur – oldest city of Ganjam District in the State of Orissa
Market scene of ikat cloth.

Ikat vendor in Odisha.

Trip Details

We’ll arrive in Kolkata (newer name for Calcutta) a bustling and fascinating city and relax from the long flight. Then we’ll assemble for a Welcome Dinner. The next day we’ll explore the city with its colorful markets and historical architecture. Then we’ll fly to the capital of Odisha State, Bubaneshwar, dubbed “The Temple City” of India. It’s home to hundreds of temples, most notably the intricately-carved Mukteshvara Temple and the Konark Sun Temple, above.

A tour through the Kala Bhoomi Museum in Kolkata will offer us a preview of the many kinds of textiles and handicrafts that we’ll be seeing in Odisha. The museum has display galleries, and also many craft workshops where we can watch artisans creating their particular regional specialties.

We may offer a pre-tour of Kolkata that will include a cooking class and a market/photography tour. Ask about this when you sign up for the textile tour.

Odisha Craft Centers

Pattachitra painting from Odisha

Pattachitra painting of gods and goddesses in a swan boat.

We’ll visit Raghurajpur, a heritage crafts village in the district of Puri. This village is recognized for its folk art called Pattachitra, an art form which dates back to the 5th century B.C. It is situated about 10 miles from the Hindu pilgrimage town of Puri, on the southern banks of the Bhargabi River.

The tradition of decorating the homes with hand-painted murals has made Raghurajpur a living museum that is delightful to stroll through. Situated amidst coconut palm groves, the main village has two streets with over 120 houses, most decorated with mural paintings. There the painters reside and paint colorful and detailed works of art.  The painters, known as chitrakars, prefer to make their own vegetable and mineral-based paints. They paint on earthen houses, paper or canvas and on palm leaves.

Other pattachitra paintings are made on a piece of cloth known as Patta, or on a dried palm leaf. The artists paint colorful and intricate pictures of various Gods, Goddesses, and mythological scenes with flowers, trees and animals. We’ll visit some of the artists to watch them at work and perhaps purchase some masterpieces. Many other artisans also work in this interesting village, creating traditional masks, papier mâché, sculptures, and wooden toys. The village also has a series of temples dedicated not only to Bhuasuni, the local deity, but also to various Hindu gods.

Ikat Weaving: Silk and Cotton

Cotton ikat sari cloth from Sambalpuri.

Cotton ikat sari cloth from Sambalpuri.

In Odisha, it’s all about the ikat! Artists here bind some of the most intricate designs in the world into threads for the weavers here. The precise and careful person who binds the threads into a complicated pattern to be resist-dyed is not necessarily the same person as the weaver. This specialization helps to create even more complex patterning because the artisans have help with the processes and can concentrate more completely on their particular skills. We will visit many ikat dyers and weavers so you can understand the techniques and see as many different examples as possible. Vendors in many towns will offer many motifs, styles and qualities of silk and cotton fabrics for sale. You’ll learn about excellent quality ikat and the skills involved to achieve it. Sometimes we may buy directly from the weavers themselves, which always makes a more personal experience and memory. Most fabric in Odisha is woven in long 6-9 yard lengths for saris. This allows for plenty of yardage if you want to make clothes yourself at home, or have it made into pants, tunics or dresses  by a local tailor.

Pipli Appliqué

Pipli is the center of appliqué and where the Indian version of the craft of originated. Here we’ll meet some of the many artisans in their workshops. And we can watch them practice the appliqué technique, creating both traditional and contemporary items. The Pipli applique work owes its origin to Lord Jagannath culture during 12th century. Long ago, umbrellas and canopies were prepared by gajapatis for the annual Jagannath ceremonies of  Ratha Jatra, the Hindu festival of chariots. And some specific appliqué items are still used mainly during rituals/jatras of the deities. Nowadays the technique has also been adapted for household, decorative and similar festival products; you may find some colorful treasures in the shops here.

Variety of Spices from INDIA

Seasonings used in typical cuisine, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, fenugrek and chili.

Cuisine of Odisha

The foods of eastern, coastal India are delicious. Little containers at right show some of the typical ingredients, such as star anise, fenugrek and cardamom. Panch phutana is a blend of five spices that is widely used in Odia cuisine. It contains mustard, cumin, fenugreek, aniseed and kalonji.  Garlic, onion and ginger are used in most of the food.  Turmeric and red chillies are used regularly, but typically cooks use less oil and dishes are not as spicy as elsewhere. Mustard oil is used in some dishes as the cooking medium. Fish and other seafood are of course eaten mainly in coastal areas. Several curries are prepared from prawn and lobster with spices. A favorite Odia (Odisha) dish is Prawn Curry, served with the rice that is the staple food of this region.  Freshwater fish is available from rivers too. Delicious food like we will eat in Odisha!Unusual ingredients used in Odia cuisine are plantains, jackfruit, and papaya. Curries are sometimes prepared with curry leaves and tamarind, and garnished with dried raw mango. There are many versions of pilaf, rice and lentil dishes, and dozens of varieties of vegetable combinations. Yoghurt is used in many dishes. Many sweets of the region are based on chhena (cheese). In the past, food was traditionally served on banana leaves or disposable plates made of plantain leaves.

When we dine in Odisha, some meals will be excellent buffets at hotels and other times, you will order your choice from the menu. In some small towns, there may not be hygienic local places to eat so we will take meals at our hotels.

Weaving Villages

We’ll head out to Nuapatna and Maniabandha countryside villages for a special weaving experience. Most villagers make a living by being involved in some process of sari weaving. Weavers’ cottages line the lane between the two towns. You’ll hear the rhythmic beating of working handlooms, and you’ll see stretched warp yarn in the streets.  Multicolored, dyed yarn hangs to dry around the dyers’ workshops.

The Lingaraj Temple complex, dating to the 11th century, is set around sacred Bindusagar Lake. The Odisha State Museum is focused on the area’s history and environment.

Spice dishes photo: WikiCommons by Joe Mon Bkk.