The traditional ikat weaving apprenticeship system is allowing the master weavers of Uzbekistan to preserve this intricate textile art and pass it on to the next generation.
"Tying a Cloud" in Margilan, Uzbekistan
Ikat weaving in Uzbekistan is experiencing a modern renaissance after the Soviet years in which this traditional art was pushed underground. During the Soviet push for industrialization and manufacturing, weaving equipment was destroyed and master weavers were sent to labor camps, prisons and mines. After Uzbek independence in 1991, the master weavers who had hidden equipment and continued to weave in secret emerged from the long dark period and began to revive this highly skilled art.
Map of Central Asia
The term “ikat” is an Indonesian word, but it has come to be understood in the West as applicable to all weaving using the same technique. This resist-dyeing and weaving technique evolved independently, and often simultaneously, in several regions around the world, including Indonesia, Japan, Guatemala and Central Asia. In Uzbekistan, the technique is referred to as “abrband,” which literally means “tying a cloud.” Today, the center of ikat weaving in Central Asia is located in Margilan, Uzbekistan, located in the Fergana region of eastern Uzbekistan. Customers from around the region all buy the highly-prized silk ikats from Margilan. Ikat weaving is also be revived to a lesser extent in neighboring Tajikistan, though the Tajik weavers are primarily working with 100% cotton. The production of the Central Asian ikat fabrics is a highly technical and labor-intensive process, involving almost a hundred steps from silk cocoon to cloth. Even after the silk is spun into thread, the remaining dyeing and weaving process involves 37 separate steps. In broad terms, the key steps include: (1) boiling the silk worm cocoons to obtain silk strings; (2) boiling the silk strings to wash away the sticky wax (sericin); (3) creating bundles of 20-40 strings (“libit”); (4) winding the strings on the “dawra”; (5) attaching the warp threads on a patterning loom; (6) marking the pattern on the threads; (7) tying bundles of threads to create the pattern; (7) hand-dyeing each bundle, color by color (with threads coated with wax to avoid absorption of any dye except the desired color); (8) attaching the dyed threads to the weaving loom; and (9) doing the actual weaving. Once the loom is prepared, a master weaver can produce only about two meters of fabric per day.