What is Ikat Fabric?

Stacy C.
Stacy C.
Ikat fabric can be weaved on a loom.
Ikat fabric can be weaved on a loom.

Ikat fabric is a type of fabric created by a special, complicated process of hand-dying yarn or thread and then weaving it on a loom. Before the fabric is woven, some of the threads are tied off, in sections, and dyed. When the fabric is then woven with the tie-dyed and non-dyed threads, a distinct design of colors and patterns is created. The cloth is then used in a variety of ways, from apparel to tapestries and for home interiors. Ikat can be created from most materials, including wool, cotton, and silk.

Warp Ikat, the most common style of Ikat fabric, is created when the warp threads — the threads that run lengthwise in fabric — are tie-dyed before the fabric is woven. The warp threads are bundled, then tied to create patterns and dyed. Depending on the desired effect, wax or rubber seals can be used to cover parts of the bundle so the dye will not seep through and color certain parts of the thread. These steps must be repeated for each color desired in the fabric. The entire process is very time-consuming and requires the skills of an advanced artist.

Similarly, weft Ikat is the result of dying just the weft threads, or the threads that run crosswise in fabric. Weft Ikat tends to result in a blurrier pattern than warp Ikat. When both the warp and the weft threads are dyed, it results in a textile called a double Ikat. Dying both warp and weft threads typically gives a pattern that is less precise.

Ikat fabric is popular around the world, but is especially prevalent in Central America, Asia, and South America. Japan, Cambodia, Thailand and the Andes people of Central and South America all have Ikat patterns that are specific to their regions and heritages. Indian and Indonesian Ikat fabrics are known for their precise double Ikat, a technique that is very difficult. Thai Ikat was traditionally worn for ceremonial purposes and by nobility, but has since become more common.

In other places, such as North America and Europe, the fabric is used in apparel from high-fashion designers to mass production retailers. Mass production of Ikat tends to be Ikat-inspired prints and not the actual woven Ikat fabric, as it is too expensive and time-consuming to create in mass. The Ikat patterns were especially trendy in fashion apparel in the 1960s and the late 2000s.

Discussion Comments


@Monika - I think it's interesting that Ikat has ritual meaning for some cultures, but you can go to the fabric store and buy imitation Ikat fabric by the yard.

I almost feel like the imitation fabric used for fashion is disrespectful to cultures that consider Ikat important. Obviously Ikat fabric isn't used for any kind of ritual purpose when it's made into a shirt for mass production.

Also, I think it kind of cheapens the labor of people who still take the time to produce real Ikat fabric. I feel like the mass produced fabric takes business directly away from people who sell real Ikat.

I know we live in a culture of mass production, but sometimes I wish we would have a little bit more respect for other cultures instead of for the almighty dollar!


@strawCake - Ikat fabric is very beautiful. I read somewhere that Ikat fabric might be one of the oldest kinds of fabric in the world. Apparently the style developed in parallel in a lot of different countries, which I think is very interesting.

Also, Ikat fabric tends to have culture specific meanings. I guess it's kind of like plaid in that respect!


I actually saw some genuine Ikat upholstery fabric awhile back. It was quite expensive, but now I understand why! The whole Ikat creation process sound complicated and time consuming. This fabric probably should be very expensive.

I have to say, Ikat fabric is very nice looking too. The patterns look even more interesting because of the tie dyed thread that is used to make it. I don't know that I would have the patience for such an undertaking, but I'm glad someone does!

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    • Ikat fabric can be weaved on a loom.
      By: JMFontecha
      Ikat fabric can be weaved on a loom.