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Traditional processes to which handlooms are subjected to, yield fascinating outcomes that both generate interest in the art, and also add considerable value to the fabric in question owing to the obvious effort and the intricacies that are involved. Perhaps, one of the most popular and widely sought after artistic crafts since traditional times, adorning Indian ethnic fabrics with its unique and classy outcomes, is the ikat process.

intro to ikat

Ikat, or Ikkat, is a dyeing technique wherein dye resistant bindings or substances resisting dye penetration are applied over cloth yarn fibres in pre-determined patterns and then the threads are dyed. The resulting creation after the weaving of the threads would expectedly surface in a lyrical colour extravaganza of finesse and precision. The determining characteristic of ikat is the dyeing of patterns, through the use of resist bindings on the threads prior to the weaving of the fabric. More the precision in the application of the resist bindings, finer would be the pattern formed.

The basic ikat process

The basic steps in ikat processing are:

• Warp and weft threads are divided into bundles or sets.
• The yarn is then tied with waterproof material, strips of leaf, rubber or plastic to correspond with the pre-arranged design plates.
• The rubber strips used for tying are a modern innovation replacing the traditional method of tying with coarse cotton thread.
• Then the tied bundles are dyed according to design. (This requires several stages of tying and dyeing, depending on the design).
• Ikat or yarn resist dyeing involves the sequence of tying (wrapping) and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a pre-determined color scheme or pattern, prior to weaving. Thus, the dye penetrates into the exposed sections, while the tied sections remain un-dyed. The patterns achieved by the process on the yarn are then woven into fabric.
• Resists are removed, the yarn threads aligned according to the pattern and put on the loom.


The ikat technique

The Ikat technique allows the weaver to prepare precisely the exact pattern of colors on the finished fabric by wrapping sections of the yarn with rubber strips before dipping it in select dyes. The rubber strips used for tying are a modern innovation replacing the traditional method of tying with coarse cotton thread.

The use of resist or barrier to protect certain portions of the yarn or cloth from the dye is a way of enabling several colors to be used on the same textile. There are several resist techniques, such as tie and dye and wax resist batik. But in the Ikat technique, the resist is applied not to the woven fabric, but to the yarn before it is woven. This process involves careful sorting of threads before and after dyeing, and meticulous arrangement of warp and weft threads, so that the pre-dyed sections appear at the right place in the design.

Alteration of bindings and using more than one colour for dyeing produces multi-coloured thread effect. Removal of the bindings and the subsequent weaving of the threads would form the desired pattern woven in the fabric.

Ikat is a near universal weaving style common to many world cultures. Likely, it is one of the oldest forms of textile decoration. India, Japan and many South-East Asian nations have weaving cultures with long histories of Ikat production.