Ikat: The Original Ombre

Ikat…50 shades of indigo.
It’s interesting to see how popular ‘ombre’ effects have become in design. A term used more currently to describe a graduated look in hair highlights, cakes & tonal bridal bouquets, the word OMBRE is French in origin meaning ‘having colors or tones that shade into each other —used especially of fabrics in which the color is graduated from light to dark’


 

It seems to me the century old traditional technique of textile dying and weaving known asikat was the original ombre. I recently came across some fabulous panels of Ikat which I picked up for the shop. I’ve always loved working with cloth and at age 15 learned how to spin yarns to make hand knit sweaters. I used natural elements such as lichen and indigo to create natural beautiful colors. ( In addition to my fine arts education I continued to pursue  textile design and ceramics as I loved the hands on feel.  I went on to develop my own bespoke  line of  handprinted fabrics for interiors which sold to the trade and through finer boutiques across Canada in the 80’s and 90’s ) Indigo, while rarely in its natural form nowadays is a die color that came from plant material. The color actually starts green but oxidizes in the final stage of the dying process to the fabulous indigo blue we all know and love now as denim!

The leaves are soaked in water and fermented in order to convert the glycoside indican present in the plant to the blue dye indigotin.] The  the fermented leaf solution is mixed with a strong base such as lye, pressed into cakes, dried, and powdered. The powder was then mixed with various other substances to produce different shades of blue and purple.

 

While there are many ikat ‘look’ textiles the true process starts with dying just the weft threads which are set up on a loom before it is woven. Much like tie-dye the threads are selectively wrapped and protected to prevent die from taking on certain areas of the threads while other areas on the loom have a die such as indigo applied. Then the warp threads (which are the fibers that go across that the fabric ) are woven back-and-forth in and out between the weft threads. 

Typically the weft is  not died except in certain areas to create a specific pattern or motif… when combined with the interspersed dyed weft treads you get this wonderful feathery shaded textile. There are many gorgeous examples of Ikat textiles in a myriad of tones such as this panel I picked up in a lovely coral, indigo and soft grey/green.

 

There is something so classic and beautiful though about a traditional blue and white Ikat fabric that looks so gorgeous whether it’s in a beachside cottage, a crisp guestroom, an exotic abode. It is striking in a sophisticated living room or bedroom used as upholstery fabric or toss cushions.

 

More complex than tie dye, more elegant than batik, and certainly more timeless than Ombre, Ikat has been around for centuries and will endure.

 

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