You cannot talk about handloom sarees without a mention of Ikkat. Collectors who are fond of handloom never fail to have at least one Ikkat saree in their collection as this saree is not just a fabric but a piece of art. And hence it is very important to understand its making process to tell the difference between handwoven ikkat and machine printed ikkat.
There are broadly two categories of ikkat based on where it is made. Sambalpuri & Naupatna Ikkat is made in Odisha and Pochampally Ikkat is made in Telangana. Pochampally Ikkat design has geometric patterns and zigzag lines. Sambalpuri sarees are known for their incorporation of traditional motifs like shankha (shell), chakra (wheel), phula (flower), all of which have deep symbolism, but the highpoint of these sarees is the traditional craftsmanship of the 'Bandhakala', the tie-dye art reflected in their intricate weaves. These sarees first became popular outside the state when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi started wearing them.
The fabric’s uniqueness lies in the very complex process of weaving it. The design of the saree is all in the creative minds of the weaver. The weaver dyes each thread of the fabric with precision at various spots over it’s length. Looking at the un-woven threads it is very difficult to make out what the end result is going to be. But finally when all the threads are woven together it starts forming the correct pattern and design as imagined by the artisan. Complicated patterns are more difficult to imagine & create and therefore often more expensive.
Once dyed and dried, the yarn is then set on the hand loom. The loom is completely mechanical with no supply of power. It works with the rhythmic motion and co-ordination of hands and feet. Setting up of yarn on the loom takes several days. First the yarn required for weaving the border is set in place. With one setup, 40 sarees can be made with same border design. Similarly the yarn for the middle portion of the sarees is set. With this setup, 4 sarees of same body design & colour can be made. After 4 sarees are done the shade of the yarn for the middle portion can be changed but border remains the same. Weavers tend to mix and match the borders with different colours for middle portion. Thus 40 sarees with 10 different colour combos are created. Two contrasting shades of body yarn is also used to get the shaded effect also know as ‘Dhoop-Chaav’. This entire process of dyeing, washing, drying, setting up of loom, and weaving takes several weeks or months to complete.
What’s noteworthy is the fact that there are no computers or any other machines involved to make the transfer of intricate design and colouring onto the fabric and that’s what makes these sarees very unique. Because the dye is applied to yarn directly instead of the woven fabric, designs of ikkat saree are equal on both sides unlike surface printing by machines and hence it is also called as Double Ikkat. If you can easily tell the difference between the two sides of fabric then it’s definitely not a genuine ikkat. Also there are high chances of overlapping threads or inconsistency of motifs in genuine ikkat whereas machine printed ones have very crisp, straight and uniform design patterns. Once you know how to look for these signs you can never fail to notice a genuine double ikkat saree.