Designs on ikat: How the Indian fashion industry is helping revive the traditional textile technique

From breezy tops to funky footwear and bags, ikat is being used by designers in ever-more contemporary ways

Ruchika Kher February 12, 2017 10:26:42 IST
Designs on ikat: How the Indian fashion industry is helping revive the traditional textile technique

You may have seen Pochampally ikat or Patola ikat saris in your mother's wardrobes, which she is sure to count among her prized possessions. But today, ikat is not just limited to traditional garb. From breezy tops to funky footwear and bags, the textile technique is being used by designers in a more contemporary avatar.

Designer Amit Aggarwal, whose recent collection has Patola saris (a double ikat woven saree) transformed into his signature sculpted forms, says it is crucial to make an age-old art like ikat relevant and more accessible for people today, and designers have taken up the mantle to do just that. “Through new collections, designers are making an effort to keep this beautiful textile in use,” he says.

Most popular in the states of Orissa, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, ikat designs make use of silk and cotton, which are dyed in banded patterns and hand-woven to create an attractive pattern. There are three kinds of ikat — warp ikat, weft ikat and double ikat. For precise patterning, weavers typically use warp ikats. With weft ikats, the pattern is less exact. In the case of double ikat, both warp and weft are resist-dyed prior to weaving.

Designs on ikat How the Indian fashion industry is helping revive the traditional textile technique

Amit Aggarwal's collection

“With a little skill and technique, ikat gives you the flexibility and the freedom to modify in several forms. It is a global fabric, and hence, it is being modernised by designers to suit all palates. I have paid a tribute to the double ikat weaving technique of Patan Patola through my collection Stridhan. This technique, practiced by the weavers of Patan, Gujarat, is intricate and time consuming. The weavers spend at least a year to weave one sari,” says designer Gaurang Shah, who regularly uses varied kinds of ikat in his collections, and actively works with the weavers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

He says the community of ikat textile weaves is showing gradual growth after many years of lull. “The biggest push that is helping them grow is the challenge introduced to them by the designers every single day with new and innovative designs, concepts and textures. I feel proud that the number of ikat weavers working with me in Patan Patola have increased over the years. It's always a joy to see them flourish and help our nation preserve our ikat textile heritage,” he adds.

Even in Orissa, designers are making sure that the weavers get their due and are lifted from their present state. Veteran designer Ritu Kumar is running a revival project in Neopatna for the past two years, and finally has a collection of 12 outfits ready, which will hit the racks in March 2017. She reveals that the weavers she works with used to create ikat wall hangings that were hung behind deities in the region’s temples. But over the years, they stopped getting the orders, as the temples resorted to mechanically made synthetic hangings instead.

“They used to weave full scripts of Gita-Govinda in those wall hangings, which is a very skilled, cumbersome and complex job. But once they stopped getting the orders from the temples, to survive, they started making more graphic designs for the local market,” says Kumar. The designer visited the weavers two years ago, and started working with them on a collection, which is contemporary, and something that the younger generation would like to wear. “Not many people would wear heavy Orissa ikat saris. So, the collection will have easy tops, blouses — something you could wear with a pair of jeans, but at the same time, is very handloom-y,” she explains.

Designs on ikat How the Indian fashion industry is helping revive the traditional textile technique

(L) Ikat revival project by Ritu Kumar; (R) the distinctive ikat pattern can be found even on shoes

Taking a similar cue, Laksheeta Govil, who is behind the footwear brand Fizzygoblet, started using ikat for jooties with the philosophy that a textile like ikat is an essential landmark in the history of a culture, and it needs to be preserved. “Since it's silk, ikat’s handling needs care and it has to be washed in cold water. Design wise, it can be stunning to layer this textile with industrial materials. Ikat comes in strong and subtle motifs. Thus, one should style it as per what looks balanced,” she advises.

Other than Govil, of late, several designers such as Anita Dongre, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Suket Dhir, Gautam Gupta, among others, and internationally, Keith Brewster, Ralph Lauren, Giambattista Valli, and more, regularly divert their attention to ikat for their lines.

While the design community in India feels that the government has been forthcoming in providing aid to facilitate the sustenance of this textile, including movements such as #Iwearhandlooms, they say a little more effort is required. Most designers are of the opinion that while the government makes policies and schemes for the betterment of the handloom industry, what is vital is their implementation at every level. Shah says the government needs to make active efforts to not only find ways to help the weavers with friendly policies, but also scout ways to forge stronger ties with the ecosystem and its catalysts like the designers and other market forces. “They need to give the weavers avenues to grow organically, but without losing their glory. Every sector needs governmental support to sustain, and it is equally vital for the Indian handloom industry,” he adds.

On the other hand, Kumar reveals that while the government can go a long way in providing the infrastructure to ikat weavers, what is primarily required is a design intervention between the weavers and the designers. “They understand the process and the designers understand the market,” she says. The couturier also says that it is the responsibility of designers to keep a skill like this alive. “When we give an order to a set of weavers in a village, they get their means of livelihood. Children of many weavers move to the cities to find other work even though they know weaving because of lack of funds. So, when they get orders, they have a reason to ask their children to stay back. It’s much better than the children of these weavers becoming manual labourers or truck drivers,” adds Kumar.

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