|Reviewed by Wendy Weiss|
“Ikat is not a technique for the faint of heart,” says the author, Mary Zicafoose. Writing a how-to book on ikat is even more daring. Very few texts exist on the art and practice of warp and weft resist binding, and you will find them listed at the back of the text. Mary Zicafoose has created a beautifully illustrated volume on ikat that is more than a project-based book for resist dyeing although it is that too. She demystifies warp, weft, and double ikat in one slim volume of 160 pages. In chapter one, I was surprised to see the author use the phrase “exotically embellished” to describe the cloth that she so carefully elucidates and contextualizes. It is clear that the astonishing beauty of ikat continues to inspire and awe her, providing motivation for writing the book.
The author deftly combines technical details of ikat in the first four chapters with short essays by textile specialists to introduce the reader to ikat fabric from Uzbekistan, Indonesia, India, and Mexico and Guatemala. These essays establish the cultural context of ikat in relation to geographic areas and form the backdrop for the exploratory projects that practitioners already conversant in the basics of weaving can try in their own studios. A weaver with no experience dyeing will have all the instruction needed to delve into ikat using natural indigo, synthetic acid or fiber reactive dyes. In fact, the preliminary chapters provide important guidance that the aspiring ikat weaver will want to refer back to while working on the projects.
The author is self-taught in the art of ikat, having observed and researched various methods different cultures around the globe have devised. She generously offers the reader her studio strategies, developed over many years of practice. In chapter two, she introduces tools and warp shifting systems that she has devised for easy adaptation to ikat on a floor loom, and in chapter three she demonstrates how to bind threads with ikat tape. All figures are referenced in the text, making it easy to work between image and description.
In chapter four, she discusses dye processes with a range of dye classes in a clear and concise way, injecting humor and humility into the text. For example, she understands the reluctance the reader might feel as she urges you to “concoct an indigo vat in a plastic garbage can in your garage, keeping it warm with an electric blanket and feeding it with sugar as regularly as you feed your dog.” She then proceeds to provide an illustrated guide for creating a sugar fed indigo vat, known as a 1-2-3 Indigo Vat, by Michel Garcia.
Mary is a consummate teacher, having taught workshops for decades. This experience shows in the text, as she conveys her passion for the technique and her desire that readers bring their own skills and experience to the work, while she provides essential information directly, clearly, and with detailed illustrations, both in photographs and drawings.
The projects in the book are organized sequentially. Thoughtfully arranged steps in each project lead from binding a warp resist directly on a warping board to shifted warp designs, to a multicolored warp ikat, then weft ikat and finally double ikat, with an emphasis on a variety of methods to shift the warp for design effects and time-saving measures. Mary offers the reader her own systems for achieving shifting warps, some ingenious adaptations of tools used in specific ikat locales, such as the Japanese warp shifting device. I am not sure the novice weaver will have an easy time following the project directions for the warp ikat because they assume the weaver can easily understand how to wind, stretch, and wrap the warp; however, the careful reader can refer back to illustrations in previous parts of the text to help resolve questions. Mary’s specialty is weft ikat, and her description of how to set up the weft ikat project is very clearly defined and easy to follow.
Some captions are incorrectly attributed or lack specific details that would be interesting, but these are minor problems and will not matter to the typical reader. An appendix provides guidance on building an ikat board and a warp-shifting device. Listings for suppliers, bibliography, study opportunities, and an index enhance the value of the book. Weavers and dyers of all experience levels will find this a useful reference book and a visual delight. Collectors and historians will gain an appreciation for the complexity of the craft and insight into how to look at an ikat woven textile.
Wendy Weiss is an editor of Journal of Textile Design Research and Practice and a former TSA board member and past newsletter editor. Note: two images of Wendy’s weaving appear in the text. You can see additional ikat weaving at wendyweiss.org.