Antique Russian Silk Ikat Wall Hanging. Silk with cotton lining, Uzbekistan, Russia, 1880. H: 75″ W: 60″. Alexander’s Antiques, Gallery 43/212.935.9386
In the 19th century, in the desert oases along the Silk Road, the eye-catching art of ikat flourished. Likely one of the oldest forms of textile decoration, ikat is common to many cultures around the globe. The word “ikat” itself originates from the Indonesian language, where, depending on context, it means to bind, knot, thread, or cord. Before it became commercialized, ikat produced between 1800 and 1890 was considered a particularly unique and creative artistic practice, and among the Central Asian desert cities of the time, the most exemplary ikat came from the city of Bukhara, today known as Uzbekistan.
An Unusual Antique Silk and Cotton Russian Ikat Jacket. Very rare colors, cotton lining and beaded trim. Silk and cotton, Uzbekistan, Russia, 1860. H: 49″ L: 70″. Alexander’s Antiques, Gallery 43/212.935.9386
Of all the desert trading cities along the Silk Road, Bukhara had “the best economy, the most trade and the most surplus wealth,” which naturally lent itself to cultivating the best artisans. Each stage of the elaborate ikat process was performed by a specialized craftsman. Briefly, ikat employs “resist dyeing,” which is the process of tightly binding bundles of thread in a desired pattern before dyeing. The bindings can then be altered and the thread bundles can be dyed again to form glorious multi-colored patterns such as the ones showcased in this post. After the dyeing is finished, the threads are woven into cloth.
Woven Ikat from Central Asia made of silk and cotton, Uzbekistan, 19th century. 5 1/2 ft x 4 ft. Les Looms, Gallery 59/212.752.0995
Uzbek ikat were symbols of prestige, wealth, and power. It is said that a stranger walking through one of the desert cities in Central Asia could guess the status of a townsperson just by what they were wearing. It wasn’t uncommon for the poorer members of society to add torn or discarded pieces of ikat to their outfits, as evidenced by old photographs. To learn more about the ikat featured here, contact Alexander’s Antiques and Les Looms.