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Dr. Guido Goldman
The term "ikat" is derived from the Malay-Indonesian verb mengikat, which literary means “to bind, tie, or wind around.” It refers to a complex ancient technique, a method of wrapping yarns to form areas of resist and then dyeing these sections before the cloth is woven. Unlike other textiles, therefore, the individual motifs and overall design of an ikat have to be determined and established prior to the actual weaving.
Although ikat dyeing is known in many parts of the world, ikat textiles associated with the oasis kingdoms of Central Asian (khanat) are unrivaled for their brilliant palette and bold designs. Their superb quality and high level of production in the eighteenth century is a direct result of the cultural and economic renaissance of the khanat before absorption into the Soviet Empire.
Produced in the cities of Bukhara, Samarqand, in present-day Uzbekistan and in the towns of the Farghana Valley in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, ikat wall hangings and robes brought the vibrant colors of a blooming garden to a stark desert region. Also referred to as abr (cloud), ikat hangings embellished mud-plastered walls and were used to construct outdoor pavilions and tents for special occasions. Ikat coats, often worn in many layers, established the social status of men, while women proudly included them in their dowry and wore them at weddings and other family festivities.
Ikat production required the skill of many workers: women raised the silk-moth larvae, whose cocoons supplied the filaments for weaving. Men dyed the threads, wove them, and polished the finished fabric to give it luster. In Central Asia, diverse ethnic groups specialized in different skills: Tajiks, for instance, were responsible for dyeing red and yellow colors; Jews controlled the trade and indigo color, and Uzbeks wove most of the adras, or silk and cotton ikats. This division of labor offers a fascinating look into textile production in Central Asia and the traditional guild system.
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