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  • Goodbye Bali, Hello Ikat!

     

    Bali – what a magical place! I spent one of my last days touring Besakih temple – the ‘Mother Temple’ of Indonesia. It sits at the base of Mount Agung, an inactive volcano. The central temple, at the center of smaller temples, is over 1000 years old and was miraculously spared when the volcano last erupted in 1963. The Balinese people saw this as a great miracle and this blessing has solidified Besakih as a very holy place.

    That afternoon I toured coffee plantations (I tried the famous Kopi Luwak coffee – never heard of it? Look it up, you’ll see why its worth mentioning here) and visited a batik and ikat workshop with a fair trade store owner from Petaluma, CA. We learned more about the processes behind these art forms and were able to see a weaver creating ikat on a large wooden loom. Below is a short description of the process with a little history thrown in for context. I hope that, by sharing this information with you, you will be as seduced as I have been by these beautiful textiles… and hopefully want to purchase a piece or two!

     

    While the art of Batik is known worldwide as an archetypal Indonesian craft, it is the Ikat cloths of Indonesia that are most revered as an art form, as ikat cloths require much more technical skill and concentrated labor. Evidence of the ikat technique appears as early as the 6th or 7th century, with earliest known examples found in India and Japan. This technique is most prevalent among inland, mountain-dwelling societies, like the Batak of North Sumatra, Toraja of Sulawesi, and Iban Dyek villages in Kalimantan, as well as other outer-island communities. Like batik cloths, ikats are also important elements of Indonesian culture, often exchanged during ceremony.

    Perhaps the most renowned ritual cloth among Indonesians is Balinese double-ikat, called geringsing. Geringsing cloths are believed by some to contain magical and protective powers, and weavers in the village of Tenganan Pageringsingan refrain from cutting the cloth off the loom until used in a ceremonial context.

    The word ikat has roots in the Indonesian language, and literally means ‘to tie or bind,’ but today refers to the finished product. Ikat as a process involves selectively binding parts of yarn as it is stretched across the warp of a loom so that, upon immersion in a dye bath, the bound areas of yarn are protected from the dye. Oftentimes, yarn must be immersed repeatedly for proper saturation of color.  After the first color has been achieved, some areas are untied and new areas retied so that different areas of the yarn are affected by the dye. This process of tying, dyeing, and drying is repeated again and again, beginning with the lightest, palest color and ending with the darkest.

    Once all color has been applied to the yarn, it is once again attached to the warp (vertical stretch) of a loom, which, when one end of the loom is wrapped around the weaver’s back, and the other end is tied to a tree, pole, or other stable landmark, enough tension to pull the yarn taut is created by the weight of the user.  The weaver is then able to weave weft (left to right) yarn of a monochromatic color through the loom, pushing a long wooden trowel down upon each weft pass to create the actual cloth.

    Due to the unique nature of the loom, the width of cloth is limited to approximately 18” or less. Sometimes slightly lighter/darker yarn is used for different effect. Ikat’s most recognizable characteristic is a slight bleeding of color with hazy edges. Sometimes weavers manipulate sections with fingers while on warp to further blur the edges. Folding half of either weft or warp and tying both sides at once can achieve mirrored ikat patterns.

    Although technical and stylistic characteristics vary by region, the ikat technique in Indonesia appears in three major formats: warp ikat, in which the design is applied to the vertically hanging yarn, and weft ikat, which is essentially the same process in reversed direction, dyeing only the yarn that is to pass through the loom horizontally. The warp technique is by far the most common throughout Indonesia.  Weft ikat weaving is usually reserved for silk yarn and has been associated with Muslim weavers.

    The third and most sophisticated form is called double-ikat.  As the term implies, this technique involves the binding and dyeing of both the vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) yarns. The double-ikat technique emerged out of East Bali. It is a decidedly more time and labor-intensive process that sometimes involves months of dyeing. Because the desired pattern is to emerge from synchronized intersection of dyed warp/weft yarns, more precision and skill is required.

    Ikat and batik share unique characteristics, common only to each other, in that neither process requires painting or embroidery as a basis of the design. Both employ a reverse application technique, where an artist can affect the surface not by applying color, but to protecting it from color; in other words, achieving the design happens through the manipulation of negative space.

    I’ve hand selected a few pieces to feature in this season’s selection of handmade textiles that range in size from table runner to king size bedspread. Each piece is unique in color and design but all are vibrant and gorgeous!

    As always, please visit JUST's Facebook page to see more photos of ikat and other fairly traded crafts. Like? Like!

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