The traditional art of textile weaving in India has been as old as the world's creation, if the scriptures are to be believed. The first instance of weaving came about when sage Markandaya was asked to weave cloth to cover man and god. According to Markandeya Purana, since he did not know how, he offered a sacrifice, out of which a ball of yarn made from lotus stems appeared to him.
For a long time, the art of weaving has been considered sacred, and it is not only limited to India. The Japanese art of braiding 'Kumihimo' is used to bind sacred scriptures and as rolls for shrines and museums. Ikat weaving, which is derived from the Indonesian/Malay word 'mengikat', meaning to tie or bind, is found around Southeast, South, and Central Asia, Japan, and South America.
The ikat cloth in India started as being used for religious activities and was considered sacred. One of the most intricate and elaborate methods of weaving, the art of ikat requires the most skill and labour and produces some of the finest pieces of art prints. The method involves the resist-dye technique, and weaving loose threads after the dyeing.
Ikat's journey in India goes back thousands of years. The murals of the Ajanta caves, which are some thousand years old, offer some of the earliest references to the craft. Historian Archana Roy says the 'Lalitavistara Sutra', a Buddhist text dated 3rd Century CE, mentions a fabric called 'Vichitra Patolaka', which is said to be a reference to Gujarat's 'double ikat'. The weave resulting from resist-dyeing warp and weft is called 'double ikat' and is primarily associated with the patola ikats of Gujarat's Patan region. However, Odisha's Sambalpur region is considered the heart of ikat weaving in India. Together with Telangana, it forms the trio of the ikat hubs in the country.
There are two types of weaving ikat --- single ikat and double ikat. Unlike the double ikat technique in which both the warp and weft are dyed, in single ikat, only the warp is resist-dyed. The double ikat technique is used only in India, Japan and Indonesia. Like the double ikat patola of Gujarat, Telangana and Odisha also have distinct weaving techniques.
Paagadu Bandhu, the traditional ikat weaving art of the state uses a form called 'Telia Rumal', which is practised in the Nalgonda and Prakasam districts of the state. Oil (or telia) is used to soften the threads before dyeing them and hence the name.
Being one of the highly-strung religious cities in the country, the ikat cloth is linked to the religious practices of the region. The ikat craft is known as 'Bandha' in the state, and the villages of Cuttack and Bargarh are the areas where the craft is predominantly practised. Apart from the red and white square of the Saktapur design, single ikat is the prevalent method in the state.
Machines can replicate the patterns of ikat, but the ancient art that is ikat weaving is a challenge to produce except by the hands of traditional weavers. The familiar 'blurry' effect of the ikat design is due to the extreme labour pain in laying together the dyed yarns. The finer the handiwork, the less blurry it looks, leading to the demand for lofty prices. In India, fashion designers have employed the ikat textile since the very beginning, but with newer, more eco-conscious methods in design taking root, upcycled fabrics are all the rage.
Delhi-based slow fashion label, WeAreLabeless, uses scrap ikat fabric and turns them into chic, everyday wear. "We generally work with clusters of weavers all across the country," explains Mehak Tariq Beigh, co-founder of the brand. "As we're majorly an upcycling brand, no virgin fabric is used in our processes instead, we take leftover stocks or 'dead stocks' from our weavers." Another sustainable clothing brand, Bohemian Dream, works with indigenous artisans and weavers for their products with ikat and kantha work.
Japan is one of the countries that practises the ikat weaving technique. Japanese artist, curator and researcher Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada has written several books on traditional weaving art forms, including the first technical instruction book in English on kasuri, which is the Japanese ikat weaving art.
Amami Ōshima, Japan's largest Satsunan islands, is considered home to some of Japan's finest textiles, including ikat, traditionally used in kimonos. The island is known for its double ikat or tate-yoko gasuri weaving, which involves 40 individual processes. Since the process is intensely demanding, fine patterns can take up to 18 months for a single roll of fabric used in one kimono. The art of ikat is dwindling in Japan due to the highly precise technique involved, and the once-thriving ikat industry of the island now has only a handful of skilled artisans left.