Friday, July 31, 2015

The wonder of Ikat

The MAFA workshop was total immersion for both yarn and me

Ikat warp on the loom and mini-skeins
ready for the indigo bath
I am deadline-oriented. If it's important, give me a deadline. I'll meet it. 

With my transition to full-time fiber earlier this year, I set two concrete deadlines for for myself. Each addressed a specific goal. The first, which was Stephen&Steven MixTape Tour at my LYS, Woolbearerswas to expand my thinking and approach to knitwear. It did.

The second was to sign up for the MidAtlantic Fiber Association's (MAFA) biennial weekend retreat, also known as MAFA. This goal imposed a deadline for re-immersion into weaving.(Coverage of the event here.) 

Since weaving was my goal, my workshop had to be one that required a loom. I have always loved Ikat, which involves dyeing and weaving, so settled on "Expand Your Design Repertoire with Ikat" with Polly Barton as instructor. It was a good choice.

I hadn't warped my loom I did a trial run on my 
Schacht eight-harness table loom. I forgot to tie the yarn cross properly, but otherwise, the how-to memories were there. The loom is portable, but just barely. It's mostly bulky. It took me three trips to get all my paraphernalia to the workshop room, but if getting me back on the loom was the goal, the weekend was an unqualified success. 

Planning and preparation

The process of making Ikat is not quick. In addition to standard prep for warping, there is dyeing, tying, and overdyeing. Often the processes are repeated. Double that if you plan a complex Ikat weave that involves both warp and weft. 

A design and tying plan for an Ikat warp
There were nine people in my workshop. Each of us brought a warp. Mine was white 5/2 perle cotton purchased from Yarn Barn of Kansas and did not require scouring so one step was  eliminated. As my first project, I chose a straightforward design, tying off the warp at regular intervals as opposed to a  more complex design such as the one shown at left.

Dyed warp
After mordanting the warp yarn with alum, I dyed it first with Shibuki dye. The dye stuff--from wild peach bark--produced a rich yellow gold that you can see at right. Then, after learning the proper tying technique, I tied off the warp at 8 inch increments with Poly Ikat tapecovering about half an inch sections to protect them  from the next dye.

Then it was into the indigo dye bath. This was a new hands-on experience for me. Three separate dips, opening up the fibers between each dip to allow the color to develop, dyed the yarn with rich colors that transitioned from deep green to blue to yellow. I love the resulting warp. 

The bloom of color after each removal of the yarn from the dye bath and exposure to oxygen entranced me. If you are a 'how?' person, J.L. Liles provides straightforward details of the oxidation process in his book, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use. 

Next step: Get it on the loom. I warped back to front using a 12-dent reed with a tabby threading on two harnesses. Threads are double-sleyed on the outer two inches and single-sleyed in the center section, which you can see in the photo below.

Ikat warp and weft on the loom

There is a lot less love with my overdyed  weft threads. Time was running short and I shortcut the processes (Do note the plural.) I didn't dye the whole mini-skeins first, so my ties produced a white contrast, rather than a yellow. Second, and even more disappointing, the indigo bath was spent by the time I got to it and even after three immersions, the color was pale blue. But, as Polly noted, the result is very 'Monet-like.' Indeed, it is.

Deadlines met...for now

Now, little more than a week later, my mind is still entranced with the colors and the potential--and filled with 'what if's' and 'how can I do...?' It is a good mindset for me, even if I do wake in the night with ideas!

It has now been six months since my focus on fiber was set in motion. As I tick off projects--and meet self-imposed deadlines--I find that I continue to add projects to my to-do list. Reluctantly, I must conclude that there will never be enough time to do all the things I want 


  1. Even if it is muted, it looks great! I miss going to MAFA, they always have great workshops.