The art of textile making is ancient, dating back to some 10,000 years. Over time, decorations were added to woven fabrics, turning textiles into myriad forms of wearable art. Of all the decorative textile traditions in the world, ikat cloths stands out not only in terms of history but also the vibrancy of the finished cloth.
The word ikat means a decorative technique in which warp or weft threads, or both, are tie-dyed before weaving. Making them is a time-consuming process and requires dedication and great expertise. In some cases, it takes months to assemble the material, imagine the patterns, tie the resist dye before actual weaving begins (that itself is another time-consuming process). The finished product has the distinctive “blurry” look that both mesmerizes the eyes and reminds the wearer of the value of the inexact. Put as one ikat specialist puts it, “with ikat, we are taught to appreciate illusion, not illustration.”
The ikat tradition spans many cultures, from South America and Africa, to Central and Southeast Asia. The focus of this post is on Central Asian ikats – those made in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, regions that form the heart of the ancient Silk Road. As you will soon see, the ikat cloths of this region are remarkable for the vividness of their colors and design, a fitting complement to the exotic cultures these countries represent.
Selected Examples of Central Asian Ikat Textiles