2009 Weave of the week #28: Faux ikat


Since I recently wrote about super-labor-intensive Japanese picture ikat, I thought that it would be fun, this week, to feature an imitation ikat fabric that I designed in 1976 for Wollman Industries, NYC.  My fabric is shown above, next to a photo,  in an unidentified catalog, of a skirt that was made from it (left).

The fabric was a yarn-dyed cotton (woven in western Pennsylvania) that I designed to look as much like a hand-dyed, handwoven Mexican textile as possible. My faux-ikat cloth was mostly tabby with irregular, supplementary-warp ikat-like motifs edged by 3/1 raised twill stripes. Since all of the non-tabby ends were sleyed more densely than the tabby ends, this was not a cheap knockoff and in fact it was probably pretty expensive fabric. The pattern sold very well in red and in other colorways, two of which are shown below:

faux ikat colorways

The 1970s were turbulent years for the New York textile industry. Wollman was my first solo design job, and they had hired me during a painful recession. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Wollman was in, or was soon to be in, Chapter 11, and almost as soon as I started working my salary was cut and the merchandiser whom I was counting on for help left the company.

We were competing not only with much bigger companies from lower-wage states, but also with two-dollar-a-yard cottons from India, so the market prospects for five-dollar-a-yard cotton fabrics weren’t promising.

But one of the benefits of being a designer in a small, family-owned business like Wollman was that I had almost unlimited creative freedom to come up with new and fashionable designs to entice the apparel manufacturers who were Wollman’s customers.  I was extremely anxious about my — and the company’s — survival but somehow ended up doing some of the best and most spontaneous (read panicked) designing that I’ve ever done. I don’t recommend fear as a motivator, but in this case, it probably was.

Below is a rare picture of me, from that period, taken at Wollman by my boss.

Designer (me) at work

Designer (me) at work

I wasn’t always as cheerful at work as I look in this photo, but it seems to me, now — all things considered — that it was a pretty good gig.

Update: The original textile was not from Mexico after all,  it was from Guatemala.  If you’re interested in how I accidentally discovered that,  and for information about the real ikat,  read this post.


4 Responses

  1. Your designs are beautiful, Fern, such lovely balance and harmony of colors and form. Thanks for sharing the photo, that’s how I remember you from those earlier times…


    • Eva, I’m speechless. Thank you.

  2. I just loved the story AND the cloth. Great designing!

    • Bonnie, Thank you. Your comment is especially meaningful to me since you make such beautiful REAL ikats.

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