iE066094+01 Click to enlarge image
Ikat, made in 1972 by the Manggarai people of West Flores, Image: AM, Anthropology Dept - Luisa Garfoot
© Australian Museum

The ikat is a traditional hand woven cloth from Indonesia. The word ikat, meaning to ‘tie’ or ‘bind’ in the Indonesian language, implies the process of weaving. Ikat-making includes several stages: spinning the thread, binding and dying the thread; stringing the loom and weaving the cloth. Typically cotton or silk hand-woven thread is used, coloured with natural dyes, such as a native Indonesian indigo plant, Indigofera sumatrana, a common source of blue-black tint and variety of other local dyes. The weaving is done on a back-strap or shaft loom to create intricate cloth designs.

Back-strap or body tension loom. This is one of the earliest loom types, once common throughout the Indonesian Archipelago. This loom takes its name from a back-strap by which weaver’s body holds the warp threads in place and adjusts their tension. The loom is made of two bars with a back-strap passed around the weaver’s back and secured to the breast beam. The weaver controls the tension of the warp thread by leaning forward or back. These types of looms were easy and cheap to make and did not take up much space for storage.

Shaft loom or frame loom. This non-mechanical loom consists of a wooden box-like frame with a flat warp beam slotted into a pair of supports, suspended from a cross-bar. The frame loom allows tension of the warp thread to be regulated by the beams, without a need for a back-strap. This loom became increasingly popular during the colonial period in Indonesia and slowly replaced the traditional back-strap loom. It allows textiles to still be produced by hand, but at a much faster rate and so they are favoured by weavers who make the ikat for the market. Shaft looms also allow for different types of textiles to be created. For example skirts no longer needed to be produced as two panels and sewn together, but could be made as a single piece. Although the shaft loom became more widespread in Indonesia, cloths for ritual or ceremonial use are still made using the traditional back-strap loom. 

Read about ikat design


Ikat – the word, borrowed from the Indonesian language, describes the method of weaving that uses dyed threads to produce coloured patterns, as well as the type of fabric made in this process.

Warp is the set of threads running lengthwise in the loom (or vertical threads).

Weft is the set of threads that are woven across the loom (or horizontal threads).

  • iE066095+01
    Ikat, made by the Manggarai people of West Flores, Indonesia, in 1970-1972, Image: AM, Anthropology Dept - Luisa Garfoot
    © Australian Museum
  • iE066101+01
    Ikat, Indonesia. Image: AM, Anthropology Dept - Luisa Garfoot
    © Australian Museum
  • iE076371+05
    Ceremonial cloth (tampan), South Sumatra, Indonesia. Image: AM, Anthropology Dept - Stan Florek
    © Australian Museum
  • iE085828+02
    Batik, detail, Simalungun Region, North Sumatra, Indonesia. This bulang or women’s headcloth is a ritual textile of the Simalungun (Batak) people of Northern Sumatra, made in the early 1970s. These traditional cloths feature a three-paneled design, created through a complex and lengthy weaving procedure. The cloths are said to possess supernatural powers and the notion of being woven using an unbroken circulating warp is a metaphor for the link between the male and female realms. Size: 32.5 x 178cm Image: AM, Anthropology Dept - Luisa Garfoot
    © Australian Museum