I recently returned from a lovely vacation in Bali (and Taipei, but that’s not the topic at hand today). While there I had the chance to visit the Threads of Life textile museum in Ubud. It’s quite small but well done, very well lit and (really rare for a building in Bali!) with a door that actually closed all the way. Best of all, admission was free! They had a fantastic display of the process of Ikat dyeing, so this is going to be a photo-heavy post! The text is taken from the signs on display at the museum.
Step 1: Ikat means to bind and refers to a tie-and-dye process employed by Indonesia’s weavers. For warp ikat the warp threads are arranged on a tying frame. Groups of adjacent threads are then bound together using lengths of palm-leaf fibre. The length of each binding seals a section of thread; the resist pattern of bindings forms the intended motif. Two sets of bindings, differentiated by the knots with which each is finished, are tied initially.
Step 2: Both sets of binding resist the indigo dye and only unbound areas become blue. Threads are dyed and dried six to ten times to produce a deep color. To maintain a light blue new bindings are created after three or four dyeings to seal the desired shade against further coloring. (These new bindings have been opened here for demonstration purposes.)
Step 3: One set of bindings is now opened, revealing white sections of thread, while new bindings are applied to seal some of the indigo work. The application of kemiri oil is required as a mordant for the red dye. Once the threads have been thoroughly soaked they are sun dried to evaporate volatile oil components that would otherwise cause the final colors to migrate. Care must be taken not to overheat the threads to the point that the oil combusts.
Step 4: The red dye then colors the newly exposed white sections red, and over-dyes the unsealed indigo with red to produce a midnight-blue. Opening one set of the remaining bindings reveals sections that have received neither dye and remain white; opening the other set re-exposes the pure indigo work.
They do this for warp and weft, and then the finished product looks like this:
And just for fun, here is some hand-spun, hand-dyed with natural dyes cotton thread.