What is Khmer Ikat?

Khmer 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

 

Khmer Ikat has survived since the times of the Angkor Dynasty. Craved into the temples of Angkor Thom you can see figures in the traditional Khmer costume. It is these centuries-old traditions that bring 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. Its 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. Bundles of thread are bound tightly together in a complicated resist-dye technique, dependent on the complexity of the design. These bundles may be tied and dyed at multiple intervals and in various colours, they finally weave the threads at the end of this process, matching each strand to the complex design dyed into each thread. 

 

Khmer 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 Pidan.

 

The Pidan 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 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.

 

Traditionally men and women wear ikat silks, the men wear the Sampot Hol Kaban and the women the Sampot Hol, Sampot meaning wrapping skirt and Hol meaning Ikat. Sampot hols are rumored to have more than 200 motifs, all memorised by hand in their designs. 

 

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 a 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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