our artisan partners: indonesia
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HOME TO ONE OF THE MOST VIGOROUSLY SURVIVING TRADITIONS OF HOMEMADE BATIK
A region of small farms and communities surrounding Tuban in Java are home to one of the most vigorously surviving traditions of homemade batik - drawn entirely on textiles woven with locally grown, handspun cotton.
The batik process is very specialized, meaning artisans tend to dedicate themselves only to one step of the time-consuming process. Each batik cloth truly takes a village as it passes through the hands of 5-6 different artisans before the final textile is complete. Farmers plant small areas in cotton amongst their main crops. Weavers card the cotton and weave the cloth before it is passed on to the batik makers. Batik artists create the main patterns with hot wax using fountain pen-like tools, while apprentices apply wax to large areas that are intended to be white (to protect them from the dye) in the final design. Then master artists create the backgrounds of repeating patterns, perfectly aligning them without using pencil or ruler. And only then is the textile dyed by male dyers.
WEAVING COMMUNITY CHAMPIONING THE TRADITION OF NATURALLY-DYED HANDWOVEN TEXTILES OF THE FINEST QUALITY
Renowned across Indonesia and revered for their quality, Suvanese naturally-dyed handwoven textiles are truly among the finest of the Indonesian archipelago.
Pride in their quality of work stems from the fact that the women’s community on the island has traditionally been divided into two main bloodlines and sub-lineages, each one distinguished by its own textile designs and motifs. Ikat weavers must be as skilled in the dye work and, if still using natural dyes, adhere to certain rituals. Such as the annual ceremony of their dye house opening timed to the indigo harvest. With dyers of each sub-lineage belonging to their own particular dye house, women from the one sub-lineage may not visit that of the other one for fear of social ostracism and supernatural peril.
Traditional textiles are still very much an integral part of the Savunese community life. Handwoven and dyed fabrics are worn as ritual garments, used as decorations and funerary wrappings. True to age-old techniques of ikat weaving, their weavers create desired pattern for their textiles by binding the yarns prior to dyeing them in plant-based dyes. Once unwrapped, the yarns are set up and woven on backstrap looms. Motifs that feature un-dyed white patterns (a testament to the skill of the weaver) are considered superior to the rest and are worn by senior leaders of the Savu community.
A remote island with little rainfall and few exploitable resources, Savu has recently become a regency with its own local government and has seen arrival of big business. Both of which has led to enormous change.
LARGEST NATURAL DYES WORKSHOP IN BALI FOCUSED ON SUSTAINABLE DYING PROCESS
Bapak Made first conceived Tarum in 1998, in response to growing concerns over use of synthetic dyes coming from outside of Indonesia and negative impact on the environment as a result of the processing of their waste. Family-run, Tarum was to focus on deriving and processing colors from natural dyes. Spoiler alert. They’ve achieved that and more in the two decades they’ve been around - becoming one of Bali’s biggest all-natural dye workshops.
Years since their launch and 30 artisans later, Tarum’s workshop now produces over 500 different colors. All derived from leaves, reducing impact on the tree population. Some of their main dyes? Indigo derived from the tarum leaf, after which the workshop is named. Yellow from the mango tree leaf. And red from the secang tree leaf.
While tree roots provide more vibrant colors, Tarum opts for a longer but more sustainable dyeing process. First, the leafs are gathered and chopped up. Then boiled for 6 hours. Depending on the intensity required, the threads are dipped in the dye up to 8 times. And when the dyers have achieved the required hue, leftover water runs through a field of enceng gondok plants for filtration, prior to flowing into the river.
Continuously looking for ways to modernize traditional textile techniques in a sustainable way, Tarum has also expanded into footloom weaving, creation of patterns using their natural dyes and production of recycled textiles from leftover fabric. And we can’t wait to see what they get up to next.
BATIK MASTERMIND MARRYING MODERN DESIGN AND AGE-OLD WAX & DYE TECHNIQUES
Known for his modern and bold motifs in both his textiles and jewelry, Lou Zeldis is a late American artist who for many years lived in Indonesia, working alongside Javanese artisans conserving traditional batik and ikat techniques.
The epicenter for his creativity was a traditional batik studio in the town of Solo, which Lou’s work sustained in between orders from the Surakarta palace’s royal family. It is there that he and his master dyers created textile works of art - modern as can be yet executed using age-old Javanese traditions of batik making.
Motifs in Lou’s works ranged from images of rice paddies to maps and numbers to the dome of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All made in the traditional natural-dye colors native to Java. All created using a time-consuming series of waxing and dyeing repetitions, overdyeing the colors to create just the right hue within the right portion of the motif. And each one, a true testament to Lou’s and his dyers’ mastery of the complex traditional processes.
Since Lou’s passing in 2012, the studio no longer produces his works. Making those batiks that are available, treasured collectibles. We are incredibly lucky to have been able to curate and share these pieces of textile art, reimagined into home accessories, with you.
CRAFTSMEN OF SACRED TEXTILES WHICH TO THIS DAY PLAY AN INTEGRAL ROLE IN CEREMONIAL FUNCTIONS IN THE REGION
Few roads penetrate the rugged mountains of western Sulawesi. Reaching the farthest villages takes three days from the coast. The first day of travel by communal four-wheel drive taxi on dirt roads. The second day by motorbike taxi along mountain paths, and the third day by foot. Isolation has made the To Mangki Karataun people who live there entirely self-sufficient. They grow their own food and supply their basic needs.
In the mythic past, God descended from heaven to give Karataun weavers four basic motifs, known as ba’ba de’ata, the ikat of God. It is said that since that time, the To Mangki Karataun have woven those four patterns in numberless variations into sacred textiles called morilotong and sekomandi, which to this day play an integral role in ceremonial functions in the region.
Crafted entirely by hand using traditional ikat processes, colored with natural dyes and woven on a backstrap loom, the price of these cloths used to be so high that only the wealthiest of families could afford them. But with drop in local demand and outside traders driving the price of the textiles down, the weavers began to replace natural dyes with synthetic - ultimately, resulting in low quality textiles. In an effort to encourage resurgence of traditional techniques and natural dyes, our textile partner Threads of Life (Indonesian Textile Arts Center), has spent years visiting and building relationships with the weavers, encouraging them to reestablish their traditional processes.
INDONESIAN TEXTILE ART CENTER WORKING WITH 1000 WEAVERS ACROSS 12 ISLANDS OF INDONESIA
Located in one of Bali’s most picturesque towns - Ubud - Threads of Life is an Indonesian Textile Arts Center established in 1998. Following fair trade principles, they work with over 1000 women weavers on 12 islands across Indonesia, sourcing high-value heirloom-quality textiles and baskets made with local materials and natural dyes.
Spearheading conservation of indigenous culture, Threads of Life helps the weavers form independent producer groups and facilitates their sustainable management of natural resources, alleviating rural poverty. Partnering with smallholder farmers, they cultivate dye plants for the weavers they work with and for their natural dye studio in Bali.
To preserve the traditional designs and natural dye processes in Java, for example, they work in retraining local dyers in the use of indigo and Ceriops tagal as well as facilitating renewed cultivation and sustainable harvest of these dye plants. In Savu, where the weavers are going through a number of changes, they support them and the dyers maintain their textile traditions that embody sustainable ecological practices. And in Sulawesi, they have so far helped fund weavers’ groups in four communities and reestablish natural dye production.
A feast for the eyes for any textile aficionado, their gallery is truly a must-visit in Ubud. And for those wanting to learn more about and try their hand in the dyeing process, they host half-day and week-long workshops.