CHENNAI: Exquisite silk ikat stoles from Thailand, jacket ikat dresses from Uzbekistan, a Cambodian ikat design of Andhra Pochampally sari, and an assortment of ikat saris from all over Indian clusters are elegantly displayed in the drawing-room of danseuse Anita Ratnam’s home. The elaborate showcase of the heirloom collector’s edition was only a colourful prelude to her hour-long Instagram live session with textile researcher Sreemathy recently. In an enriching conversation on The Wonder of Ikat, the duo offered a fascinating narrative into the history, origins, and cultural context of Ikat.
The term ikat has an Indonesian and Malaysian origin, meaning to bind. The patterns are created on the yarn even before the weaving, began Anita Ratnam, as she let Sreemathy delve into the royalty of the textile, how it travelled the world along the famous trading routes, and how it’s reimagined for today’s fashion by young designers. “We have the ikat weaving clusters across the world. The beauty of this dyeing technique is that the yarn is patterned and dyed before it’s mounted on the loom. The weaving process is laborious involving the painstaking efforts, expertise, and mathematical precision of weavers. This is precisely why the pricing of finished products ranges from affordable to quite exorbitant,” shared Sreemathy.
While ikats are popular across Cambodia, Thailand and Uzbekistan, one cannot pass over the Indian ikats. Proving her point with an intricate patan patola double ikat sari sporting navaratna bhat motifs, she said, “This piece is a traditional design, handwoven with precision. The pre-production activities took four months. Patola weaving is challenging as they use traditional slanting looms and the motifs placement is the expertise of the weaver. The final weaving takes over four months. Legend has it that late king Kumarapala brought 700 weavers to Patan in Gujarat so that they could wear a new patola every day when he went to a Jain temple for worship.”
A few miles away, Odisha makes single, double and compound ikats in finer cotton yarns and in silks too. The Bichitrapuri Aanchal is a work of art which combines ikat techniques on the body along with a cross border pallu. Patterns like pasapalli and Utkal Lakshmi can be found at the cooperative societies like Sambalpuri Bastralaya, Utkalika and Boyanika in Odisha.
Coming down south, Sreemathy brought our focus to Andhra Pradesh which is famous for Pochampally ikats. “The art travelled from Chirala and the cluster is adept in making various designs from South east, Rajkot and Patan. The classic telia rumal sari has a signature pattern evolved from the rumals or handkerchiefs. The rumals were the cloth used to wipe the face of deities, the Persians controlled the trade of rumals which was supplied to Arab countries for the Haj pilgrims, and was used as a shoulder cloth. It evolved into a sari and yard later with the distinct colour schemes and geometric patterns,” she shared.
The Palani cluster in Tamil Nadu has single ikats woven in silk cotton, just like a Pochampally hazy single ikat. Patola has also got a cultural link to Kerala, thanks to the spice trade. “Called ‘Viralipattu’, the Patola designs adorn the walls of Padmanabhapuram palace and Ettumanoor temples. The art of ‘Kalam Ezhutu’ has the five basic colours of patola and the Kerala murals,” she added. Besides India, Japan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia and many other Southeast Asian nations, including Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand have long histories of ikat.
Drawing the curtains, Anita reiterated, “Every state has a weavers’ cooperative society and we must interact with them to find out more about textiles. If you’re interested in reading about ikat then there’s a wealth of information at the Calico Museum of Textiles. We have to admire the genius between the mind and fingers and appreciate the creativity of weavers. It’s imperative for us to look out to support such genuine craft clusters.”
For details, visit Instagram @sthree_creatives