May 2018: Part 5 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/Looms and weaving processes

June 23, 2018

This blog continues my experiences of the textile research trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands by Sea Trek. It will be the final in this series. This blog covers all aspects of weaving.

Back strap looms are nothing if not portable. They can be easily packed up at the end of the day and put away. They can be easily transported and set up somewhere else. All you need is some sort of structure to anchor it too. The other end is attached by a strap to a means (fabric or carved support) that when passed around the back of the weaver allows tension to be created. By bending forward, tension is removed, allowing the weaver to change a shafts. Here you see the basic elements: the frame provides both a seat and a means of slotting in the back beam. There’s the back strap ready to be put around the back of the weaver. Note that not all back strap looms have a frame. Sometimes it’s just a couple of posts in the ground.

The loom may fit into an existing structure or be tied to one.

The length of the actual loom correlates to the length of the weaving. One end will be anchored by a physical means, the other by the body. This warp must have a very long loom.

A weaver must be able to create good tension. To facilitate this, she or he must be able to push against the opposite end. Here extra pieces of wood have been put to shorten the distance.

How looms are actually used in daily life can only be seen when you look at home. Often they are outside under some sort of roof or under a house.  Sometimes they are in a favourite location. It is probably unlikely that the looms used in demonstrations are usually used on this site. On a wander around Umapura, Bettes and I came across a woman weaving beside a man making a canoe. It was away from the area where the demonstrations and selling were so one could suppose that this site may be used often. I was pleased that we both had an opportunity to weave. We realised how heavy the weaving was to lift to clear each shed or row of weaving. That warp is very dense and there were a lot of threads.

All weaving is done on a circular warp, resulting in only a small gap where it cannot be woven. Only one item is woven at a time.

Ikat.

Making sure everything is aligned when it is on the loom is the tricky bit. I have 5 warps and they are all secured differently to go on the loom.. From top to bottom the first is tightly bound at the top end and individual sections are loosely tied at the bottom. There are multiple warps here with different lengths, thereby indicating several projects. The second is woven at the top at the top , and loosely tied at the bottom with a short stick attached that would float. That might be useful in dyeing of finding the opposite end. The third is undone ready to go on the loom and only has a tight tie at one end. The forth has 10 short sticks bound along the length. The last also has sticks bound along the length and an additional series of knots across the top. All the weavers will have developed skills in how to make the imagery stay in place when it is put on the loom.

Here they are put onto a frame to be organised.

Once everything is aligned heddles need to be made so that every alternate thread will lift. This diagram explains the basics. Note that one heddle is made for every 4 threads or every 2 on the top. The heddle may be made over any combination of sticks or a single thick thread to create a required length. We saw quite a bit of variation. Sometimes there was a rod underneath to make sure the bottom  layer remained isolated from the top.

 

 

This video shows combining two warps, separating out the ikat threads making heddles and then adding in an extra solid colour warp with again their appropriate heddles.

Sticks and rods are inserted to enable the creation of the two sheds or the gap between one set of threads being up of down. This gap is where the weft yarn will be inserted. This yarn is often wound onto a long straight stick. In some places it will be used like this. At others, it may be inserted into a hollow tube. This video shows ikat being woven at Freddy’s studio in Sumba. There was an interesting variation here that we saw no where else: the fabric was beaten. That may be to loosen the threads and ensure they don’t catch with its neighbour. Note how much the warp slides forward sue to the force of beating with the sword. It needs to be continually pushed back.

When ikat is not a component and only plain weave is required or supplementary warps are used, it is possible to wind the warp and make the heddles at the same time.

Weaving pahikung (the name it’s called here) or with a supplementary warp.

This is an example to show the basic characteristics.: a clean finely detailed image on the front with the long floats tied down in a horizontal line at the back.

The supplementary warp is much thicker than the background thread. It appears that it is wound at a 1: 2 ratio. We did not see how the warp is made but I suspect that it uses a similar process to ikat with the additional warp being added at the same time. Perhaps 3 balls of yarn were used. We have seen 4 being used for ikat. Heddles will need to be made for the background fabric. Again we didn’t see this done but perhaps it is most logical to expect this to be done while the fabric is being warped.(as for ikat or a solid colour)

The design is picked up and stored on narrow very narrow sticks. They must be narrow as a lot of them may be required. The weaver here has an existing stored pattern on her lay. A long pin marks her current spot.

If the pattern required 2 stored patterns, one is completed first and then the other.

Sometimes you can find old stored patterns in a market or being sold by a trader.

This image shows the basic components to weave pahikung. From the front of the loom. On top of the weaving, there’s a temple or stick with points on the end to keep the weaving at the same with. This was used universally. Sometimes it may be placed under the weaving. It is constantly moved at very small intervals for the length of the weaving. A sword opens a gap (shed) to allow for the passage of the shuttle. Then there is the rod with all the heddles. A large diameter bamboo stick which is used to create the other shed. A series of sticks of the same width that hold the transferred pattern. A set of heddles that are used for the tie down row. A number of very fine sticks that store the pattern.

During weaving the stored pattern is moved to the front of the loom behind the heddles. They are moved forward and used in conjunction with the plain weave lifts underneath. At a regular intervals the ground weave anchors down the floating warp threads on the back of the weaving. As weaving progresses the supplementary warp because it is not used all the time as the plain weave fabric will lose tension and become slack. When this happens extra sticks are inserted to take up the tension. By the end of the project, quite a roll of sticks will be on the top of the weaving. On a western style loom, we would use either a second warp beam or some system of weights to ensure even tension is maintained throughout. This image shows the bundle of stick that take up the tension. All the pattern sticks have been used. A new set will need to be brought forward.

This movie shows transferring the pattern to the front where it becomes usable, tightening the tension and weaving. Note how the weaver has to keep moving the weaving edge back. It keeps moving forward due to the force of the beat used. This is a very dense fabric.

Finishing

Here are two unusual finishes. This decorative fringe was seen on textiles in Lamalera. (Lambata)

We saw several Sumba textiles with this woven fringe.

The warp of the textile becomes a secondary weft. Once the first textile is cut from the loom, it is turned and the warp becomes a weft for a second narrow circular warp on a back strap loom.

 

 

We were told that often beginner weavers do these. There’s quite a skill to keep the lower edge of the main textile from pulling in.

Once finished the second warp is left cut. And the left over fringe is then plied.

This movie shows the weaving.

On Reflection:

I have seen dyeing. How many ways can you dye with indigo and morinda? And then there was that feast of colour at Umapura. I have enjoyed seeing how textiles are produced and enjoyed the challenge of understanding process. There was a wonderful range of textiles. I have come to an appreciation of the diversity of regional cloth (especially as it was all woven on a back strap loom), its motifs and its role in daily life. It has been a wonderful experience and I feel fortunate in having been there. And that boat- what a magical experience! It really wouldn’t have been possible to go there to all those islands and weaving villages in such a space of time apart from by sea.

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May 2018: Part 4 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/Dyes and processes for ikat.

June 21, 2018

This blog continues a report from my recent textile research trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands hosted by Sea Trek.

The technical aspects of textile production: common dyes, ikat preparation.

Dyes: Indigo and morinda

These are the two dyes that we saw consistently through the trip. Localised dyes have already been covered; in particular those wonderful colours found at Uma Pura on Ternate Island.

Let me say first up that this section was the most complex to sort through from my field notes. We saw dyeing at many locations. I will give an overview and then note any variations.

There are no exact measurements used. The dyers put in an amount according to their experience- a bit like a cook who knows how much of an ingredient is required. Sometimes it was also difficult to interpret the identity of a tree or plant. And perhaps, it might be handy to remember that perhaps like any chemist safe guarding a recipe and the edge to their livelihood, there is a secret ingredient that we are never told about. We’ve all known cooks that don’t share the total recipe.

This was our first experience of a dye demonstration in Flores. Having the materials and plants in a nearby garden labelled was very helpful. However it was the only place where this was done. For any of the unknown ingredients we had to rely on our guides ( Anastasia and Narto) who also may have had to interpret the word before identifying or spelling.

It should also be acknowledged that the dye processes are usually speeded up for a demonstration. Often each stage requires several days for each step and a number of days for drying in between.

These are the recipes as recorded. I make an effort to keep an open mind and record what I actually see and not what perhaps I would expect to see based on past experiences.

Reds are obtained from Morinda. These are the 3 basic ingredients but there were variations with additional material being added to both stages.

Stage 1: The first step is referred to as “oiling”. This makes the cotton fibre receptive to the dye. Candlenut is the main ingredient.

In Savu, where the soil is limestone, there is no candlenut growing.  The nuts of the Nita tree are used in a similar way. Sometimes additional ingredients are added. In reality the oiling may take up to a week with the yarn dried in the sun for up to 3 days before dying.  The yarn will be used dry for the dying process. In fact at no stage did we see wet yarn being used for any dye process.

Additional information:

At Bolok (West Timor) the bark and some leaves (perhaps) of the “delas/deras” tree was added to the candlenut. Delas is a local coastal tree. I couldn’t find its botanical name.

At Ledetadu (Savu), we were told that ash (from nitas), fresh nitas, garak,lonton flowers, water, turmeric and para leaves were pounded together.  This oil water was left for a week before adding the yarn. Then it was left for 3 nights in the liquid and left 7-8 months to dry before being used for dying.

Stage 2:

The morinda comes from the outer bark of the root. In Ndona (Flores) we were told that the oldest trees and the smallest roots provide the best colour while there is little difference in the colour according to the season. See also the morinda  both as sticks and shredded in the first image.

The morinda is shredded to make it fibrous. Water is added. (image from Bolok, West Timor) Before dyeing, the morinda matter is removed, leaving only liquid. Morinda on its own will not dye cotton. It must have something that makes the dye “stick” to the yarn or else it will wash out.

This other ingredient is loba (local name). It acts as a mordant or dye fixer. Loba is from a Symplocos tree and is known for its high level of aluminium. In some villages the men go into the hills and harvest it. Other villages that don’t have access to local loba, trade it. We saw bundles that had been bought in the market. It looked like a bundle of sticks and bark.

In West Timor to Sumba, it may be bought as a powder (blog 3 image) or nita nuts used instead. This tree is also high in aluminium. For western dyers we would use alum as a replacement.

The loba may be pounded with the morinda (Ndona). In Bolok, it was added as a liquid to a morinda dye bath. We saw the morinda change colour as the loba was added. The more added, the deeper the red.

Ikat warp and yarn in a morinda bath. (Bolok)

Additional information.

The morinda bark is removed and the yarn immersed. The process may be repeated up to 8 or more times to get a good colour. (Ndona)

At Bolok, nitas are burnt, ground and the water strained and then added to the symplocos powder. This increases the alkalinity of the symplocos (loba).

It is worth noting that the dyed yarn may be left 7-8 months before weaving to gain optimum dye result.

Blue from Indigo: Fresh leaf process

From Flores to Savu we saw cotton being dyed with fresh leaves. This indicates that indigo is readily available in these areas.

The basic process is: the leaves are soaked overnight and removed. Lime is then sprinkled on top and the bath is vigorously beaten. It was then used. In this image you can see the indigo leaves, the next step of frothing and then indigo ready to be used. (Savu)

 

In Bolok, lime powder was sieved into the indigo.

In this series of images watch how the indigo changes colour as it was aerated.

Additional information:

In Bolok we were told that the yarn was put in the dye bath and left for a week. If you wanted a darker colour the whole process was repeated.

In Ledetadu it was quite a complicated recipe for the soaking of the leaves. As well as the indigo leaves, “raru”, betel nut and its flower were used with ash water. This mix was soaked for 8 hours.

Blue from Indigo: Using indigo paste/cake.

Raijua and Sumba use an indigo cake recipe. I understand the climate means that the indigo plant is subject to drought on these limestone islands and so to achieve access to indigo for dyeing the indigo is processed into a form that will keep.

This is the process seen in Sumba at Freddy’s studio: It was identified that hands must be clean and free of soap, creams etc. The indigo leaves are soaked for 12 hrs. A rock is put on top to make the leaves stay under the level of the water. The leaves are removed. This is the size of the vessel used for soaking the indigo. I wonder if it is also referred to as a jar in the process described below for Raijua. Note the lid for covering the jar and rock for weighing down the leaves in the background.

It is then mixed with lime and left for a day. That sinks the indigo to the bottom. The top liquid is removed till there is about 1.5 litres of “sludge”. The indigo liquid is put in a bag and hung to dry for 2 days.

To use the indigo, the paste is dissolved in ash water and an extra unidentified (secret) ingredient from a tree root was added. The dye must be used in 1 -2 days or else it will rot. Multiple dips are required for a deep blue. I have recorded that 500g of indigo paste = 4 times dipping of 500g of yarn. This time of year (May), the quality of an indigo is poor as it is sensitive to heat variations. Freddy’s dye master shows us the paste/cake.

This is the process as told at Ledeunu (Raijua). Indigo cake is made over a three month period. This would correlate to when optimum amounts of indigo can be obtained from the plants.

Indigo leaves (packed in), lime powder and salt water are put in a “jar” and left for a week. The material is then squeezed and removed from the jar. It is then put in basket and the water drips out. This process takes 3 days. Here’s the resulting cake.

 

To use the indigo cake is dissolved in ash water. Nitas are burnt to obtain the ash water. It “lives” for 3 weeks. The quantities that we were given for dyeing was 10 cakes = 1 sarong for 40 dips. Allow to dry between each dip. This is a very dark blue. I didn’t see the yarn go in but I presume it’s had several dips. I didn’t hear how long for each dip or how many or any other details. I just saw them pull this out.

 

Here’s some other interesting observations.

A plastic bag is used to exclude dye from an unwanted area. (Ndona)

 

This bundle consists of several warps all dyed at the same time. They are separate. (Kelompok Kapo Kale)

This warp is partly unwound. Maybe it will be having a second colour applied. However I understand that indigo is usually but not always the last colour. Maybe it will be a 2 tone indigo warp. (Freddy’s studio). How do you identify which bundle to undo if a second process is required? Freddy told us that different types of knots are used for identification.

I was shown that this small section of ikat will be one of the stripes used in a warp to achieve this sarong. (Lamalera, Lembata)

Ikat preparation for dying

As this is often a step before dying, I will cover this topic on this blog.

Ikat here is all done in the warp. So first step is to wind your warp. The warp will be the length required for weaving an item on a circular warp on a back strap loom. A frame is used. The length of the frame will therefor equal half the required length. In the case of a tubular skirt for instance it will be the distance required for the width of the skirt divided by two.

Mostly we saw the warp being wound in a continuous circle for the required number of threads. Usually two people work together. It makes it efficient to reach both sides. Strings were added during the winding process. This will be a means of keeping threads in order for creating heddles for weaving when it is put back on the loom and to keep the sequence in binding for ikat. (Ledetadu, Savu))

In Kelompok Kapo Kale each section of warp was tied in groups at regular intervals. I suspect that this will aid in the design not shifting.

Here’s a close up of the finished warp just prior to binding. Note the strings to keep everything in sequence. Each group of threads has the potential to be wrapped singly as they are clearly identifiable.

This warp is then wrapped for the required design. It is amazing to me how the designs are often just memorised and reference isn’t made to something to do the wrapping. The wrapped areas will be where the dye will not penetrate. The binding at the bottom has secured a straight line and stabilised the warp to prevent slippage. (Ndona)

It is worth noting that the bound design will weave as a mirror image on each side. The blue string was put in during winding the warp. It can easily be seen how it has been used to identify bundles for binding. (Ndona)

Here’s an interesting way to keep everything secure. A band of plain weave has been done by hand. There’ll be nothing getting out of sequence here. I only saw this in Lamalera.

Wrapping is done using this palm leaf. The long leaves are stripped into narrow lengths. (Nggela, Flores)

 

In some areas we did see plastic being used. (Savu)

According to Freddy (Sumba), the palm leaf is better for binding than plastic. It is stronger and plastic breaks when multiple dips are carried out over a long period of time.

The actual process of weaving with ikat warps will be covered in the next blog along with other forms and aspects of weaving.