Introduction

This chapter tells us about Ikat textiles. We read about a Social Studies class where the teacher brings in various types of Ikat fabrics to tell her students the story of Ikat. They get to know about the beauty and history of this wonderful fabric.

Characters

Teacher Janaki– the Social Studies teacher of the class

Ramya– a student who loves Teacher Janaki

Raghav, Ahmed, Ravi– other students in the class

The Social Studies Class about Ikat

The bell rang for the next class but the teacher did not come. The children started wondering if she was absent. They asked Ramya about it because she loved Janaki teacher who taught them Social Studies. Suddenly they noticed the teacher carrying bundles of cloth and walking towards the class.

A few of them went to help her. They all liked her as she was fair to everyone. The brilliant red and black checked rumals, and the shawls with black and blue geometric patterns caught the attention of the class as the teacher handed over the material to the helpers.

She pinned them neatly on the soft board and the dull class suddenly looked vibrant. The children asked her what the fabrics were. She smiled and wrote on the blackboard- “Textiles of India- “Ikat” of Andhra Pradesh”. No one could spell “Ikat”. Janaki teacher said it is pronounced as “I”, “ka” and “t”. 

She said “Ikat” was an Indonesian term that meant “to bind” or “knot”. Ramya asked if the fabrics were from Indonesia. Teacher shook her head and asked the children if they had seen similar designs. Raghav said the pattern on the rumal was similar to the one on his mother’s sari. Janaki was pleased.

She asked if anyone could tell her the name of the place the fabrics were from. She gave them the clue that it was close to the State capital. Someone said “Nalgonda” which was correct. The teacher said the fabrics were from Pochampally village in Nalgonda district.” Everyone immediately connected to the name because they all knew Pochampally.

The Making of Ikat Textiles

Teacher said she would tell them the story of Ikat handlooms. Ahmed asked what handlooms were. Teacher said they were hand operated looms which wove fabrics. Janaki began with the story of Ikat. She said it was called “chitiki” in Telugu, “Patola” in Gujarati and simply “Ikat” in Oria.

She opened a silk patola sari from Patan, Gujarat. It had a red design on a black background with rows of flowers in the border. Teacher asked whether they were thinking about the word ‘Ikat’ or ‘tie and dye’ while looking at the fabrics.

She continued that in hand weaving, threads stretched lengthwise were called “warp” and threads intersecting them widthwise were called “weft”. She told them to imagine it like a graph sheet.

Janaki said that in ‘Ikat’ the threads were carefully sorted- the warp and weft were divided into bundles, tied with locally available water proof materials like plastic sheets, rubber strips from car and bicycle tyres, and then dropped into colour. Once the knots were untied, white threads dotted with colour at intervals were seen.

Ravi asked how they knew where to tie the knots. Janaki said it was not easy. First one counted the threads, measured the distance, and calculated when to repeat a pattern. Then they could tie the knots.

Ramya commented it seemed like difficult maths. Teacher said that was correct. Weavers might not be formally educated but they did complex calculations. Janaki told them to close their eyes and imagine threads stretched out long with dots of different colours shining.

She had seen such a sight in the villages of Nalgonda. Someone said that the dots were like raindrops. Teacher said that is how the name ‘chitiki rumal’ came to be. It was the favourite headgear of fishermen and other labourers. It was also the towel on the shoulders of traders in Gujarat.

She suddenly thought of another explanation. She asked children what word they used in Telegu when they had to measure a small quantity of a material. Ramya answered “chitikedu”. The children then understood and said that chitiki meant small and small dots of colour were characteristic of Ikat.

Teacher said that when there had been a lot of trade with other nations in Southeast Asia, “tie and dye” or chitiki was a favourite export item, both in silk and cotton. She said there were other interesting stories on Ikat. Different regions fought about its origin. There was no systematic historical documentation to resolve the dispute.

The class was fully attentive. Teacher said that for raksha bandhan, the tying of the knot was done by yellow and red Ikat dyed threads. Traditionally, tying the knot was sacred and maybe that had a relation to the tying and dyeing process. But in parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Deccan, designs in Ikat were much influenced by Muslim culture.

The bell was ringing but the class was lost in a period where vibrant colours and interesting stories were woven into beautiful fabrics.

Conclusion

This chapter helps us understand the heritage of our textiles and handlooms. Although we live in an era where machines are rapidly replacing handlooms, we must try to preserve the rich traditions that have endowed our country with amazing textiles such as Ikat.