Mystery and History of Ikat
Mystery and History of IkatApril 12, 2012
“Most people think of ikat as a print,” Jack Laing exacts “but it isn’t a print at all, it’s a weave.” As co-founder and designer at CJ Laing, Laing is somewhat of an expert on the pervasive textile—his charming clothing store in the heart of Palm Beach is literally teeming with it.
The CJ Laing aesthetic, one Laing has coined “ethno-prep”, has most recently manifested itself into a carefully curated retail outpost, one where painstakingly constructed shirt dresses hang alongside punchy men’s Bermuda shorts —all in the rainbow of tropical brights one would expect of Palm Beach.
“Authentic ikat,” Laing continues, “is a very complicated weaving process done along the silk road in Central Asia—one of the main countries of production is Uzbekistan. It’s completely integrated and organic. The people who produce it grow the mulberry trees in their own yard—the very same trees that produce the cocoons that harvest the silk.” From there, the silk is processed, where Laing relays the assiduous craft of dying it. “The Uzbek take each single strand and dab a little dye along it in different spaces. As you weave it, the pattern appears from how the yard is dyed. It’s like a Rubix Cube or something!”
Hand-woven on what’s called a back loom, the width of each ikat yard is only 15 inches wide. This creates a challenge for cutting garments. “Each garment we make has to be engineered to how the fabric is cut - every panel we work with is only five inches.” Specifically, says Laing, “a single coat takes eight yards of fabric because you have to line up the seams—and the pattern of the weave you want dictates that. It’s an incredibly involved process from beginning to end that takes many hands. Each single yard of Uzbek ikat takes up to one month to weave."
Ikat weaves have three distinct grades. Atlas Cloth is one hundred percent silk ikat. Another, heaver-weight blend is half cotton, half silk which Laing uses for constructed jackets and other sturdier items. “Then, there is this incredible one hundred percent cotton ikat,” Laing says, “and that we use for softer things like women’s shorts, men’s Bermudas, and women’s shirt dresses that are not quite as constructed.”
“The fabric is a work of art. We find it so diverse in making so many different garments,” Laing says. Aware of the astonishing journey each yard takes, collectors know a CJ Laing piece is something distinctly special. After less than a year in brick-and-mortar, the brand has created a distinct presence on the Palm Beach retail scene—one with global roots that extend far beyond its tiny island home.
Jessica Nell Graves is the founder and writer of The Love List style and design blog.