On show at Fibre2Fabric from April – July 2006.
A Brief History of Ikat
The origin of ikat isn’t known, but it is woven as far away as south America, and in Africa and all over Asia. The word ikat is Malay for tie. Kat means tie in all Indian languages. In Lao it is called matmee which directly translates to ‘tie the row’.
Ikat is a tie dye technique that requires a weft thread to be dyed before weaving. Ikat cloths are revered in most cultures and would be woven for ceremonial purposes.
The ikat technique is practiced by many different ethnic groups in Lao, and in many provinces.
Five Steps to Making Ikat/Matmee
Step 1 – Wrapping the frame.
Make a frame the same width as the comb and wrap the silk around it. Every motif is made up of rows, it’s the layering of row upon row that forms the motif. In Lao the row is called a louk. The wrapped silk must be one continuous yarn.
Step 2 – Tying the pattern
Ikat is a dye resist technique that when woven forms a pattern. The weaver takes a dye resistant material to tie in specified places in each row. In this case we have used the original material used in Lao; banana tree fibre.
Did you know?
In the old days Lao people used to use string made from the banana tree to tie an ikat pattern. In Laos we have many types of banana tree, even the type that has no banana fruit; a jungle banana tree.
To make the string, we have to cut the trunk of the jungle banana tree and leave it to dry for one day. Then we need to peel the innermost past of the trunk. We leave the peeled fibre to dry and the string is ready. The jungle banana tree it is very sticky, so perfect for making the string.
Step 3 – Dying the silk
After the string has been tied in, the silk must be removed from the frame and dyed. In this case we are taking mak saet (annatto) dyed silk and dying it to darker orange and red colours. These darker colours are made by boiling an inedible fruit calledmak bow. To achieve the dark red colour the silk must be dyed multiple times.
Once the silk has been dyed its left to dry in the sun.
Step 4 – Spinning the silk
Now the silk is dry the banana string can be removed. The silk must be spun onto spools for weaving. We use bamboo for spools. As the yarn is one continuous thread it is imperative that the pattern is kept in order. If the order is lost it is impossible to weave the pattern. The weaver does this by threading the spools onto string.
Step 5 – Weaving the cloth
Most of the hard work has been done now and the weaver can sit at the loom and weave. The weaving is slow as care must be taken to line up the rows. One way to determine if the pattern is an ikat is to look closely at the cloth and see the colour of the warp strings. In this case it’s black.
This cloth took approximately four days to make. This ikat design was taken from one of the patterns in the Khammouane skirt below (skirt 10).
These tubular fabrics are all Pa Sin or skirt lengths. They are a combination of silk and cotton depending on their purpose; silk for ceremonies and cotton for everyday use. Pa Sin consists of three parts the waistband hua sin, a main body purn sin and a border tiin sin.
Certain details communicate things about the wearer such as marital status, social class and aptitude as a weaver. For example in Sam Nua a red or blue waistband means the wearer is unmarried.
Ikat skirts are rare as not every weaver is proficient in this art.