What is Khmer Ikat?

Cambodian textiles stand out from others produced in the Indochina Peninsula....

 

"...best known is the intricate silk Ikat. It's lustrous colours of beauty and the precision of its thread binding techniques surpass that of other Ikat produced in Asia."

The Textiles of Cambodia, by the Fukuoka Museum 2003, Etsuko Iwanaga

 

Cambodian Ikat has survived since the times of the Angkor Dynasty. Carved into the temples of Angkor Thom, you can see figures in the traditional Cambodian costume. It is this centuries old tradition that brings its craft such quality, that and Cambodia’s unique natural environment.

 

Cambodia's land mass is mainly flat with both the Tonle Sap lake and the Mekong river as it's main water supply. It's abundant water resource means it has always been a rich and fertile land, before the war Khmer people enjoyed a self sufficient lifestyle and agriculture flourished. Consequently weaving and sericulture has always been a central part of rural life. 

 

Ikat is a technique seen practiced by many world cultures, from South America through too much of Asia. Before the fabric is woven bundles of thread are tightly bound into designs, they are then dyed. Dependent on the complexity of the design these bundles may be tied and dyed at multiply intervals, and in various colours. Once the dye process is over the thread is then woven into cloth.

 

Cambodian Ikat is a weft Ikat, woven using a multi shaft loom. It has an uneven twill weave, meaning the weft threads are more visible on the front side of the fabric. The most complex Khmer Ikat is that of the Pedan.

 

The Pedan is a fabric traditionally woven as a wall hanging for religious ceremonies. The most refined of which show no repetition at all and are a true testament to the skill of a Khmer weaver. They show various motifs, typically with Buddhist connotations such as temples, asparas, buddas, elephants, lions and nagas.

 

Ikat silks are worn by men and women, the men wearing the Sampot Hol Kaban and the women the Sampot Hol, Sampot meaning wrapping skirt and Hol meaning Ikat. It has been said that the Sampot hols can have more than 200 motifs all memorised from the hand. 

 

At the IKTT we specialise in reviving these traditional Ikat silks, as well as other traditional Khmer weaving techniques, using both silk and cotton. By working to the level of master artisan we are also able to bring about new traditions, built on the centuries of knowledge passed down to us.

 

Copyright © Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles. All rights reserved

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