Ancient Resist Dyeing Techniques: Ikat & Tie-Dye
Dyeing fabric is a process that has been around for thousands of years. There have been a huge range of dyeing techniques developed by different cultures throughout history to create beautiful and functional clothing and textiles.
Several of these ancient dyeing techniques are forms of “resist” dyeing, including ikat and tie-dye.
What is resist dyeing?
Resist dye techniques are those that involve blocking certain areas of a textile from receiving dye. This allows for lighter and darker colors to be achieved in the same dyeing process.
Blocking of the dye can be achieved through mechanical means, by physically tying or folding the textile, or through chemical means, by coating the fabric in wax or paste. Ikat and tie-dye are both resist dyeing techniques that involve mechanical blocking of the dye through tying or binding the textile.
Difference between ikat and tie-dye
While both ikat and tie-dye are achieved by tying up the textile so that certain areas will resist dye, the two techniques are actually quite different. With ikat, the threads are bunched, tied, and dyed all before weaving. The ikat dyed threads are then used to weave intricately patterned fabric. Tie-dye, on the other hand, is achieved by tying up and dyeing portions of finished garments or cloth.
Ikat, a term derived from the Indonesian word mengikat, meaning “to bind or tie,” is a beautiful ancient dyeing technique that was developed and used across many different cultures throughout history.
What is ikat
Ikat dyeing is a resist dyeing technique where threads are bundled and tied in specific ways to achieve certain colors and patterning. Experienced artisans in ikat dyeing can incorporate multiple dye colors, dyeing the thread to create complex, intricate designs when the textile is woven.
History of ikat
While the term “ikat” originated in Indonesia, it seems to have been independently developed as a dyeing technique in many different regions and cultures, especially in countries in South Asia and Central Asia. One of the oldest pieces of evidence of ikat is in cave paintings that appears to depict ikat-dyed garments from as early as the 5th to the 7th century in India.
While there is ancient evidence of ikat in many non-Asian cultures worldwide, including Peru, Guatemala, Ghana, and Nigeria, the most complex and diverse ikat patterning and weaving is found in Southeast Asian and Indian textiles.
Types of ikat
There are three primary types of ikat – warp, weft, and double ikat.
Warp ikat is used to refer to ikat textiles where the warp threads were the resist dyed threads. The weft threads are not resist dyed in a warp ikat. A warp-faced weave is often used to showcase the design of a warp ikat, since it will be more prominent when the weft threads aren’t visible.
A weft ikat is exactly the opposite of a warp ikat – the weft threads are resist dyed and the warp threads are not. The patterning process is much more complex since the design won’t be visible on the loom before starting to weave in the weft threads. Because of this, the design may appear less sharp than in a warp ikat. Sometimes a weft-faced weave is used to bring out the design more.
A double ikat is created when both sets of thread, the warp and the weft, are resist dyed before weaving. Double ikats are complicated and time-intensive to produce since creating the right dye pattern and weaving in the designs requires a lot of skill and precision.
Designer Oscar de la Renta is often credited with bringing ikat into contemporary western fashion. He was introduced to ikat on a visit to Uzbekistan and was so impressed with the intricate designs that he hired local weavers to create ikat textiles for his brand. One of his earliest and most well-known collections inspired by Uzbek ikat was his 1997 spring/summer haute couture collection designed for Balmain, which included bold, geometric-patterned robes. Oscar de la Renta continued to include ikat and ikat-inspired looks in his designs until his death in 2014.
Since Oscar de la Renta introduced ikat to western fashion, it has become very popular in fashion and interior design textiles.
Brands using ikat
Today, there are a range of brands offering beautiful, handcrafted ikat prints in contemporary designs.
Neeru Kumar, the designer behind Tulsi Online, is working to preserve ancient Indian weaving techniques, including ikat, through her sophisticated pieces. She works with skilled ikat weavers in India to create modern ikat designs that can be used in contemporary fashion, helping the weavers to create an income through their craft. Her designs are stylish, elegant, and timeless.
Established in 1992 by David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore, Abraham & Thakore is an Indian luxury fashion brand. They create fashionable and contemporary, yet seasonless, pieces that are crafted in limited quantities. They incorporate gorgeous, handwoven Indian ikat into many of their pieces.
Upasana is a sustainability and social responsibility minded brand based in South India. They focus on representing the rich textile history of India by working with weavers and other artisans across India to develop beautiful clothing from traditional textiles. Upasana is responsible fashion at its finest.
While thinking of tie-dye may bring to mind images of America in the 1960s and 1970s, with brightly colored tie-dye t-shirts and big, fluffy hair, tie-dye is actually an ancient art, tracing its roots back thousands of years.
What is tie-dye
Tie-dye is a resist dyeing technique that involves tying or binding up sections of fabric or finished garments before dyeing to create unique designs and patterns. Artisans who used tie-dye techniques could create intricate, complex designs through careful tying and dyeing of the fabric.
History of tie-dye
The earliest evidence of tie-dye was found in Peru, dated to around 100-200 B.C. However, tie-dye, similar to ikat, seems to have independently popped up in different regions throughout history, including China, Japan, and some communities in Africa.
Perhaps the most well-known version of tie-dye originated in China before 552 A.D – shibori dyeing. While shibori was born in China, it was in Japan where it really became popular. In the 17th and 19th centuries, lower class citizens of Japan were banned from wearing silk, so in their quest for beautiful, non-silk clothing to wear, shibori dyeing really took off. Shibori traditionally utilizes indigo ink – shibori textiles are recognizable by their distinctive, often intricate, blue and white tie-dye appearance.
Tie-dye first became popular in America during the Great Depression in the early to mid 1900s, when, mirroring the Japanese popularization of tie-dye, most Americans didn’t have enough money to afford nice clothing. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s, when hippies looking for a sense of individualism and with a strong Do-It-Yourself mentality, embraced bright, psychedelic tie-dye designs.
These days, with the ongoing pandemic, many people have spent a lot more time at home, learning new skills with their free time – including tie-dye! This has led to a resurgence of this ancient art with a history of appealing to those looking for a unique, beautiful piece of clothing that they created for themselves.
Today, tie-dye is trending away from the bright, multi-colored designs of the 60s and 70s and towards a simpler look. One dye color against a stark white garment is a popular, chic look. Random spots or blotches rather than the bold swirls of the past provide a more laid-back, stylish tie-dye.
Brands using tie-dye
You can find a great selection of brands using tie-dye in their designs. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Elder Statesman, founded in 2007 by Greg Chait, is a luxury fashion brand based in LA, California. They offer high-end, hand-dyed sweaters and other garments. The Elder Statesman offers a range of stylish tie-dye garments, from brightly colored spirals to blue and white shibori.
Karen Kane is an ethical fashion brand based in California. They are committed to using eco-friendly practices and source their high-quality fabrics from mills and partners that work to reduce impact on the environment and are transparent about working conditions. Karen Kane prioritizes inclusive design and sizing, making sure to include sizing up to 3X. They offer a selection of laid-back, fashionable tie-dye pieces, mostly in muted, sophisticated colors.
Ninety Percent is a London-based, sustainable fashion brand launched in 2018. They share 90% of their profit between charitable causes and the people who bring their collections to life. Ninety Percent’s aesthetic is laid back luxury – the kind of staple pieces you’ll be wearing and loving for years to come. They have a range of tie-dye items available in elegant, simple patterns.