Home PageDyeingScarf of the Month: Naturally Dyed Weft Ikat from Laos

Sep 12

Scarf of the Month: Naturally Dyed Weft Ikat from Laos

In last week’s blog, I introduced you to the various types of ikat. Admittedly, ikat has intrigued me since college when, without really understanding its complexity, I registered for an independent study in ikat. Without any direction, other than a few books available at the time, I figured out a primitive process of warp ikat, only to have my professor call my final weaving a schmatta. Yes—a rag. But through it all, I learned, and isn’t that what failure is for—great learning?

Weft ikat, naturally dyed scarf woven by Mrs. Keo.

Weft ikat, naturally dyed scarf woven by Mrs. Keo.

My love of ikat continues in my pick for the ClothRoads Scarf of the Month–a simple, naturally dyed silver-and-black silk, weft ikat, called matmee, from the Laos weaving cooperative, Ock Pop Tok. While visiting there a few years ago, I had the good fortune of learning some simple weft ikat from a master ikat weaver Miss Phet. This month’s scarf pick was woven by Mrs. Keo, also a master weaver of ikat and supplementary designs (as well as a star chef!).

Weft Ikat

In looking at the scarf pattern, you might think the weft is simply a handpainted yarn which creates this feather-like pattern. But, that effect would not yield such a consistent, repeatable, almost arrow-like, weft ikat as this.

Detail of weft ikat pattern. Note the small loops on selvedge.

Detail of weft ikat pattern. Note the small loops on selvedge.

Many steps were taken before Mrs. Keo could even begin weaving. She had to figure out the width (15”) and length (70”) of the scarf, as well as how many weft picks would compact in an inch—this one has 18.  The silk was then wound on a wooden device designed for ikat wefts–the size of the frame based on the width of the weaving.

Weft tied and ready for dyeing

Weft tied and ready for dyeing

Next, each section was tied off with plastic–the plastic being a resist where dye can’t penetrate. Once tied, the silk was then released from the frame; the next step would be natural dyeing.

The Silk and Natural Dyes

This scarf uses a combination of handspun silk from wild silkworms, the Bombyx mori and eri. The Bombyx mori is the fine, dark warp thread. The weft used for ikat is a thick, irregular singles silk from the eri worm.

The eri silk was prepared for natural dyeing using mordants of lime, lye and mud; the ebony and grey coloring derived from local barks and fruits. Once dyed and dried, the plastic resist was removed and weaving could ensue.

The Weave and Final Scarf

After all these steps, the actual weaving goes rather quickly. It’s plain weave, the weft going over and under every warp thread. (This structure can be woven on a rigid heddle loom if you’d like to give it a try yourself.) Tiny weft loops form at the selvedges, some a bit bigger than others, as the ikat pattern was adjusted to the design. Once the scarf was woven and removed from the loom, the silk warp threads were twisted into a simple, elegant fringe.

Similar weft ikat used in shawl.

Similar weft ikat used in shawl.

This weft ikat pattern is used in a number of different products from Ock Pop Tok available in the ClothRoads store—scarves, shawls, and prayer flags. I make no promises that ikat won’t crop up again in future blogs, but right now, I’ll give it a rest and simply enjoy wearing my scarf.

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