I made a pilgrimage across Tokyo yesterday to Blue & White, a tiny store in Roppongi that specializes in ikat, a unique dye-resist fabric that to me as a designer is one of my favorite graphic representations of Japan. The two scarves I bought were beautiful: hand-made, hand-dyed using traditional Japanese indigo and individually numbered, and as I was leaving the lady that owned the store gave me a small piece of a new fabric “just arrive from artist” as a souvenir. As a TCK, analog (and digital) memory capture is very important to me as I travel, and this experience is one I will remember.
Ikat is a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles that employs a resist dyeing process similar to tie-dye on either the warp or weft fibres.
Bindings, which resist dye penetration, are applied to the threads in the desired patterns and the threads are dyed. Alteration of the bindings and the dyeing of more than one color produce elaborate, multicolored patterns. When all of the dyeing is finished the bindings are removed and the threads are ready to be woven into cloth.
The defining characteristic of ikat is the dyeing of patterns, by means of bindings, into the threads before cloth construction, the weaving of the fabric, takes place. Herein lies the difference between ikat and tie-dye. In tie-dye the fabric is woven first and the resist bindings are then applied to the fabric which is dyed. In warp ikat the patterns are clearly visible in the warp threads on the loom even before the plain colored weft is introduced to produce the fabric. In weft ikat it is the weaving or weft thread that carries the dyed patterns which only appear as the weaving proceeds. In weft ikat the weaving proceeds much slower than in warp ikat as the passes of the weft must be carefully adjusted to maintain the clarity of the patterns.
Double Ikat is where both warp and the weft are resist-dyed prior to stringing on the loom. Traditionally, and still commonly, a back-strap loom is used, though any variant or modern loom may be used.
Indigo is among the oldest dyes to be used for textile dyeing and printing. Many Asian countries, such as India, China, Japan and South East Asian nations have used indigo as a dye (particularly silk dye) for centuries. The dye was also known to ancient civilizations in places as diverse as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Britain, Mesoamerica, Peru, Iran, and Africa.
In Japan, indigo became especially important in the Edo period when it was forbidden to use silk, so the Japanese began to import and plant cotton. It was difficult to dye the cotton fiber except with indigo. Even today indigo is very much appreciated as a color for the summer Kimono Yukata, as this traditional clothing recalls Nature and the blue sea.
What Of It? Ikat is one of those fascinating phenomena that celebrate old trade routes and ancient cross pollination of cultures - appearing in various forms all over Asia, it pops up in diverse ways, demonstrating the nature of travel back then - not just going somewhere and seeing it, but also as a way of cultures exchanging ideas and blending into one another. You see the same phenomena with overlapping cuisines and musical styles as well - where one culture has meshed with another, each allowing a little of the other to influence them.
I Am Curious about cultural cross-pollination, about crafts that have withstood the test of time, about the unique colors, textures and patterns that symbolize a culture, and about collecting story-based memories as I travel.