Response Blog#1: Silky Fashion

Reading my group mates’ blogs, I came to conclusion that Erika has passion for fashion.  Supporting this subject, I would love  to share an exclusive photo reportage, which describes  one of the unique and ancient techniques of making fabric called ikat.  Made of natural dyes and thread, ikat became very popular among  the Western fashion designers quite recently.

When Oscar de la Renta introduced his Spring 2005 collection, the impressive part of it was made of Uzbek fabric ikat. Since then, a number of runways, such as the recent Gucci Spring 2010 collection, demonstrated the clothing made of Uzbek ikat, bringing the Tribal trend back.

And definitely it raised the interest to  learning the techniques of ikat-making.  Decorative weaving and textiles have been existing  in Central Asia for many centuries.  There are many legends about the production of ikat.  My favorite is very romantic one about a local weaver falling in love with the princess. “….But [of course] princess’ father, the Khan (king) was against the marriage.  Pretending that he was  giving a chance to a poor weaver, the Khan told that if the weaver could come-up with a special cloth to match those imported from China and India [they were the largest exporters ‘killing’ the local manufacturers already by that time,] he might reconsider his rich daughter marrying the poor weaver.  The weaver became upset at the Khan’s teasing and spent the night by the side of a small lake crying.  While sitting by the lake, the weaver noticed how the full moon on the calm waters created a blurred reflection of the trees, fruit and other things  along the shore. The changing shapes were reflecting themselves off of the water in many ways. The weaver saw the design of a special cloth he could create from the reflections.  The next day he worked hardly dyeing and weaving until he created a representation of the reflections seen in the water.  The cloth was presented to the Khan, who liked it so much that he [allegedly] allowed his beautiful daughter to marry the weaver…”

The process of making the fabric ikat is very old and unique.  Although ikat is made in many Asian countries, Uzbek ikat is the special with its glow and bright colors. When I traveled to Margilan city of Uzbekistan, which is known as one of the homelands for ikat-weavers, I watched the process of ikat-weaving, although ikat weaving styles vary widely.

Everything starts with silkworms’ eating mulberry leaves and wrapping themselves into cocoons: in seventy days cocoons get big enough to become moth.  At this period, cocoon raisers try to be very attentive to avoid the moth make a hole in the cocoon — this will damage the thread.

Boiling the cocoons is a pretty harsh process. Entering a small room in one of the silk factories in Margilan, I saw huge boiler pots filled up with cocoons and women who spend at least eight hours a day in a steam.

During the boiling process, cocoons become so soft that women are able to remove thread.

It is combed through many times until a skein of yarn is formed, after this the yarn is spun on a spindle.

After the yarn is wound onto a turning frame to strengthen and even it out.

When the yarn is ready, it is prepared for dyeing.  Dyeing is one of the most complicated and significant stages of ikat making.  There are many variations of dyeing:

Yarn tie-dye (ikat): A weaving process in which thread or yarn is tied, according to a pattern, before it is dyed. The pattern emerges as the fabric is woven.
Hand tie-dye (bandhani): A patterning technique in which cloth is tied to resist pigment penetration before dying.
Batik: A “wax-resist” technique for creating patterns on woven cloth, in which melted wax is applied to cloth before it is dyed.

A dye can generally be described as a colored substance that has an affinity to the substrate to which it is being applied.  The dyes in ikat making are traditionally obtained from either vegetable or mineral origin with no or very little processing such as indigo, skin of pomegranate and onion, madder, nuts and many others.  Knotted together yarns are dipped into single or multicolored baths.

Dyed yarns then are dried.

The yarn is then woven on a loom.

Traditionally, loom is as narrow as up to 55 centimeters (21 inch.)

So, the product is ready for sale.

Price for ikat varies from $3 to $15-$20 per meter in Uzbekistan.  However, because of the narrow width and complicated process of matching the pattern while sewing, production of clothes might require double length purchase of fabric.

The tradition of hand-weaving continues to be preserved today primarily in the small towns and villages of the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, including Margilan, Namangan, and Kokand.  One of the biggest exhibitions of ikat fabric, Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, is currently displayed at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC.

[All photos from Uzbekistan showing ikat and the process of  production are taken by me.]


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