Ikat Fabrics Highlighted at D.C. Museums
By CARL HARTMAN
WASHINGTON - A complex art form called ikat is weaving a spell on Washington museum curators and New York fashion designers.
Ikat is a style of weaving that has been performed worldwide, from Japan and India to Mexico and Argentina. Before weaving, the threads are tied into bundles, dyed and untied. ("Ikat" is a Malay word meaning "tied" or "bound.") The dyed threads are then woven into intricate patterns.
Collector Guido Goldman recently donated more than 100 robes, covers, curtains, wall hangings and other items made with ikat to the
Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Goldman directs the program for the study of Germany and Europe at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.
The Sackler will display its new collection little by little, beginning Friday with a small wall hanging woven of bright red and blue silk, cotton and wool. It was probably made between 1850 and 1875 in Bukhara, in what is now called Uzbekistan, according to the gallery.
Another Washington gallery, the independent Textile Museum, is showing its own collection of ikat from Indonesia. The items range from short skirts to panels more than 18 feet long, which were used to encircle the small houses used in funeral ceremonies.
Fragments and records of ikat go back 1,200 years in Yemen, on the Arabian peninsula, and in Java, one of Indonesia's big islands, said Massumeh Farhad, chief curator at the Sackler. It may have sprung up independently in many places where weavers were seeking new patterns and color effects.
"Fabrics are fragile and there aren't many fragments of old ikat left, so it's hard to trace connections," Farhad said. "But there must be some."
Because it is so difficult to create, some cultures believe ikat has magical powers.
One village on Bali specializes in clothes made from double ikat. The warp — the vertical threads — and the weft — the horizontal ones — are separately tie-dyed, but both are part of the intricate patterns.
In Uzbekistan, women in rural areas wear ikat as holiday dress. But the meticulous handwork was largely replaced by industrial processes when Uzbekistan was under Soviet rule.
Today's designers use printed cloth based on old ikat designs.
"I have many old Indonesian ikats in my textile collection and I have used them from time to time to create prints," said designer Diane von Furstenberg.
Oscar de la Renta's fall collection also used prints based on ikat and its striking colors — rich red, yellow, electric blue, deep green, purple and brown.