The International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) in Lincoln, Nebraska, is partnering with American Patchwork & Quilting to share information on quilting traditions from around the world.

Global Perspective: Ikat Fabric

Written by Linzee Kull McCray

An appreciation for richly colored, lustrous textiles unites fabric lovers worldwide. This rare coverlet, made from silk ikat fabric dyed and woven in the country that today is Uzbekistan, was highly prized when it was created in the late 19th century. Today, stitchers thousands of miles and many years away still appreciate its luminous beauty.

Producing ikat fabric is a time-consuming process that involves resist-dyeing: Thread is bundled, dyed, then unwrapped (and sometimes rewrapped at specific points in the dyeing process) to produce a pattern. In some fabrics, both the warp and weft, or cross-wise threads, are resist-dyed. As ikat warp threads are strung on a loom they shift slightly, creating soft patterns.

The Central Asian region began producing ikat fabric in the 1800s. Because producing the fabric took many hours and required meticulous attention to detail the cloth was used for special occasions, such as weddings, as well as to indicate high rank and social status.

Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2007.007.0001.

The ikat fabric in this coverlet is especially intricate. It features five different colors that are both resist-dyed and overdyed. Five woven strips sewn together make up the quilt top. The three center panels are stitched together with the pattern slightly offset, creating a serpentine shape, while the outer borders incorporate the boteh or paisley, a much-loved motif in this area of the world. The batting and red cotton back may have been added later in Russia, for trade in Central Asia.

This silk coverlet is the only piece from Uzbekistan in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. In many parts of the world, quilting traditions aren't well documented or preserved. "Because they're domestic, they often aren't thought to be significant or memorable," says museum curator Carolyn Ducey. She notes that the Center is just beginning to learn about quilting in many areas of the world, including Central Asia, China, India, South Africa, and others. "Finds like this Uzbekistan quilt are an important step in helping us learn about many little-known quilting traditions."

The IQSCM exhibition South Asian Seams: Quilts from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (May 15 to Nov. 7, 2010) will explore quilts from this area rich in textiles.

To learn more about the IQSCM's extensive collection of more than 2,300 quilts and the history behind them, visit quiltstudy.org.

Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2007.007.0001.

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