Technique: Ikat


When visiting markets around the world to find inspiration, we love discovering one-of-a-kind products. Which is why some of our favorite items at The Little Market are our huipil bags, because each one is unique. The bags are made from recycled huipils (pronounced wee-peel), the traditional blouse worn by Guatemalan women, woven to represent her personality and her heritage.

Some of our favorite items at The Little Market are decorated with a beautiful pattern called ikat – a dyeing technique that has been used to pattern textiles around the world for centuries.  The word ikat comes from a Malaysian word, “mengikat” meaning “to tie,” because the technique involves tying loose threads into bundles, then dyeing them to create beautiful patterns. This technique developed independently on many different continents; it has been seen in Southeast Asia, India, China, Japan, Turkey and South America.

Ikat is a technique that has been used around the world for centuries to create beautiful fabrics. The technique developed independently on different continents, and has been found in the countries of Peru, Guatemala, India, Malaysia, Japan and many more. Each region has its own variations, but throughout the world ikat has been a symbol of status because of the skill and precision required to produce it.

To create ikat, artisans tie a water-resistant material around small bundles of fibers, creating intricate patterns that the dye can’t touch. Tying the bundles is a complex process, and is usually performed by highly-skilled women artisans who have been practicing ikat techniques  for years. These patterns become the ikat’s identity, and can be highly individualized to certain artisans or regions. In Indonesia, ikat patterns are associated with gender, femininity, and fertility. In rural communities, it is often older women who have the knowledge to create certain ikat patterns, and the secrets of their techniques are only passed on to their female kin. There are many legends and taboos associated with ikat weaving as well; in Borneo, it is taboo for young girls to weave certain spirit figures into their looms, because it is believed that their souls are still too fragile.

After tying the bundles, they must be dyed, a process that can vary widely between cultures. Traditionally, ikat is treated with natural dyes, a time-consuming process that can require up to 20 dye baths. Finally, the bundles are untied and the threads are carefully placed on the loom, preserving the pattern of the ikat. The threads are woven tightly together, and the ikat is finally complete.


Maya Traditions


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Nappa Dori


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