It's one of the oldest known forms of textile decoration, but pinpointing the precise origin of ikat is virtually impossible. This is largely due to the fact that fabric perishes over time, but also because it appears to have developed independently across different cultures and continents since the Dark Ages, which makes things extra tricky.
What is known is that the term ikat comes from the Malay word mengikat'. This means to tie or to bind and refers to the process by which the pattern is created. Much like tie-dye or batik, ikat uses a resist-dyeing technique, but rather than applying the pattern to cloth, it's created earlier by wrapping bundles of yarn before they're dyed. This is also what gives ikat its signature blurriness as it's very tricky to line up the patterned yarns perfectly on the loom the more precise the pattern, the greater the skill of the weaver.
There are also three styles of ikat, each categorised by how difficult they are to weave. In the simplest method, only the warp yarns are wrapped and dyed while the weft yarns are a solid colour. With this technique, the pattern becomes apparent on the loom before the weft yarns are even introduced. In the second variation, the weft yarn carries the pattern which only appears during the weaving process. The third and most advanced is double ikat, where both warp and weft yarns are resist-dyed. Indeed, this method is so difficult it's only produced in three countries: India, Japan and Indonesia.
These days, ikat has come to refer to the cloth and pattern as well as the process, but no matter how or where it was produced, its simultaneously indigenous and global vibe continues to greatly inspire both fashion and interior designers alike.
Words by Rachel Ward.