Ikat: The word describes a distinctive pattern on rugs, clothing, bags and other textile products; the pattern is a colorful geometric or rows of rich color organized in a vivid palette. Ikat (from the Malay-Indonesian word for to tie or bind) is a fabric made using a decorative technique in which warp or weft threads, or both, are tie-dyed before weaving. Note the feathered edges of the pattern: They represent the handcrafted aspects of the fabrics as well as the skill required to achieve the intricate colors and patterns.
A favorite of designers, ikat appears on the trend radar every now and then. On Friday, January 27, from 6-8 p.m., the Goldstein Museum of Design will celebrate ikat—the process and the product—in a new exhibition on view through May 14.
“For designers, there’s always an interest in pulling inspiration from international style,” says Jean McElvain, Ph.D., associate curator at the Goldstein Museum of Design, and co-curator of the exhibition “Global Technique, Local Pattern: Ikat Textiles.” Adds McElvain, “It really is no different than the British arts and crafts culture borrowing from India and Japan. The 1970s borrowed quite a bit of fashion inspiration from places where ikat is integral to culture, but ’70s fashion focused more on brocades, paisley prints, and embroidery.”
While we may think that ikat has been around for decades, there has been more buzz around ikat in the last 10 years, says McElvain. “I think Kate Spade recently had a bed linen line with ikat print. While there are exceptions, typically fashions and home furnishings with ikat designs are “faux-ikats” accomplished by either printing a pattern onto a woven cloth, or they’re a type of warp print where a pattern is printed onto the warp yarns prior to weaving. Actual ikat is cost prohibitive for the average fashion piece.”
In this exhibition, garments and textiles from Thailand, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Japan and the South American Andes—as well as Indonesia—will be displayed. “In regions where ikat is an integral part of cultural heritage, many different experts are involved in the process,” McElvain says. “Fiber quality, spinning, textile design, dyeing, weaving and sometimes fringe knotting are all part of the process. And although ancient, ikat patterns have a timeless quality. The viewer delights in seeing the airy edges of pattern colors blend into one another. On pieces that minimize the blurry borders of ikat, we strive to demystify the precision involved with dyeing and weaving ikat.”
Midcentury enthusiasts especially are drawn to ikat patterns, she adds. “During the 1960s, places like Marimekko popularized large scale prints and there is still interest in rethinking pattern through scale.”
by Camille LeFevre