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.


May 2018: Part 3 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/ The Limestone Islands.

June 20, 2018

This post follows on from the previous one. It is a record of my experiences on a textile research trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands hosted by Sea Trek.

From Lembata Island we head south across the Sunda Straight to West Timor. (see map from Part 1). From there we’ll be heading west to create a loop that will eventually take us back to Flores.

The landscape changes. The mountains are less steep. No more volcanoes to be seen. Accessibility to plant materials for dyeing appears to be impacted.

I had been to West Timor in 2007- that’s 11 years ago. I wondered what Sue and David Richardson had planned for us to visit and whether I’d see any change.

We landed in Kupang and traveled in this bus.

We visited the Bolok weaving group and saw an extensive dye demonstration. Here an essential ingredient in morinda production, symplocos can’t be grown and candlenut may not be accessible. The conditions just aren’t right for the symplosos so they have to buy it in. In this case in a powdered form. Candlenut may be replaced by nita nut. More to follow in the technical notes in another blog,

We also visited the Museum of Nusa Tenggara Timor with some great displays of textiles.

Then it was onto Baun (Kelompok Kai Ne’e)  and then Barat . Our destination was to an audience with the King and Queen of Amarasi in their Royal Pavillion. The king and queen are in the background while the children perform an opening ceremony.

After the reception we were taken to the complex where we saw textiles and a demonstration of papermaking. I had been here before.  My impression is that it was now a much more active and viable community. It seemed much more prosperous than what I remembered.

This is the royal motif being woven, interspersed with some float work stripes. Note that the additional design element is being picked up as it is being woven.

At the nearby village of Barat we saw yarn skeins of yarn in an extensive colour way. This is just one section of line.

There were also a variety of textile techniques.

There was ikat with lots of morinda, though there was some pale indigo too. The designs were bold. Obviously the design is popular or they have an outlet requiring textiles of the same design. It had a commercial feel.

 

There was also some warp float work done on alternating coloured warp threads. On one side there were warp floats while on the back there were weft floats. Note the appearance of uncut circular warps. From my previous trip, I knew that this was a way of identifying desirable new textiles. There were other designs but it is interesting to note that the design while woven individually is the same.

The patterning was very familiar and it stirred memories of other great textiles and interesting techniques I’d seen in 2007. Maybe I need to come back again. It was only a fleeting one day visit.

We sailed west to Sawu or with an alternate spelling: Savu. Here we visited Ledatadu and Namata. Here was another demonstration and with a couple of noteworthy aspects. Here they were removing the seeds from cotton not with a gin but rather by rolling the fibre on a piece of wood with a round stick.

Plied cotton in 2 colours is used as an extra design element in a stripe.

Some areas of bound ikat were being hand painted. This enables isolated areas of motif being dyed as opposed to whole areas being bound and redyed in the required dyebath. The process is repeated at least 4 times with drying time required between each application.

The motifs in the textiles to have an elegance and to be quite refined.

 

These children in their ikats are just too good not to share.

As well as warp ikat there was some textiles using float work (warp floats on the front and weft on the back)

The village of Namata provided us with a dance performance. It was a chance to check out the textiles.

And of course there was another opportunity to buy. There was evidence of more chemical dyes used for the ikat. This piece has a more contemporary feel.

On Raijua Island we visited two textile villages: Uoja Dima and Namo. It was the second village that proved the most interesting.

There was another indigo demonstration. Until now we had seen only indigo being used from fresh leaves. We were told that because of the “extended drought” indigo was being converted into indigo paste. There will be more on this actual process in a later blog. I suspect perhaps that it is an effect of living on the “limestone islands” with what I understand is their lower rainfall. It seems a well-entrenched process.

Cotton is spun using the drop spindle in a different manner: “upside down”.

The textile motifs here remind me very much of damask patterns from Europe.

There is also a strong Dutch influence. Note the crowns and the KN which stands for Koningsland der Nederlands or Kingdom of the Netherlands

We also saw these solid indigo dyed cloths with tie dye patterning. We were told that these are often worn for funerals and other important ceremonies.

Our last island was Sumba. These textiles were one of the reasons I’d joined this trip. They didn’t disappoint. We visited the villages of Uma Bara (King of Pau), Pau and Rindi, Waingapu as well as the studio: Tenun Ikat Sumba at Prailiu. Freddy, the owner acted as our guide for the time on Sumba.

Here’s some background to the social hierarchy. Sumba has “slaves”. They can never move up the social ladder. They can never own land. The children will also be “slaves”. However if they weave and sell textiles they do get the money. Some textiles are sold as being done by royalty. This may mean that they are produced by the “slaves” of that royal. The word “slave” didn’t seem to imply that they were abused but rather describes a position in society.

The importance of textiles in that community was confirmed. We saw a burial tombs for royalty. There was often a weaver carved into the stone as well as other auspicious objects.

When a royal person dies, the body is wrapped in a foetal position and over time till an auspicious date for the burial textiles will be added. This princess has been covered with 75 textiles in 6 months. The burial we were told will probably be in September at which time there will have been many more textiles added. Apparently the best two textiles will be next to the body and on the outside. A slave always sits with the body.

We saw demonstrations of dyeing at Freddy’s studio. I’ll note now that indigo paste was also used, however actual technical details will come later.

There are two main textile techniques: ikat and weaving with supplementary warps. They may be on their own or combined. The actual technique of weaving with the supplementary warps will be covered later. These are the textiles. The motifs are often strong and bold.

I love the large scale motifs found on the ikat. Here are a couple of examples.

 

 

Just blue but look at the complexity and detail with shades of blue.

This one is just a bit extreme though it did make me smile.

Supplementary warp fabrics are different on both sides. The front imagery is definite with the back having the negative design but with long floats being tied down at regular intervals. The back can just be seen on the underneath fabric. This image also shows the stored pattern behind the heddles on the left. The weaving edge is not shown. As the fabric is woven, the supplementary warp is not used at the same rate as the background fabric. To take up the slack and to control tension, it is wound onto extra sticks. This is the roll of sticks on top of the loom. The full process will be shown in a later blog. The colour showing behind the heddles is not a dyed warp but rather the background warp showing through.

 

 

 

A fuller look at the two sides of the fabric. The wrong side looks as though it has lines in the design.

 

 

Supplementary warp on a striped warp woven beside ikat for a woman’s tube skirt. The top fabric is woven separately and joined.

After weaving, the supplementary warp fabric may be hand coloured.

 

Lastly, here’s an interesting fringe treatment. A weaver sits with a small circular warp and the fringe of a completed weaving is woven as the weft. Here’s a completed fabric. The warp of the finished narrow weaving is just cut. The remaining original fringe is then plied.

The next blog covers all those technical details I’ve been promising.


May 2018: Part 2 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/ The Volcanic Islands/Andora, Lembata, Ternate, Alor, Pantar

June 20, 2018

This blog continues my experiences of the textile research trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands by Sea Trek. We sail east from Floes. There’s a map on the previous post.

At Bama on Adonara Island we saw more ikat dyed indigo and morinda. This ikat was decorated with sea shells. The shells are placed in the eye of a coconut and the top sliced off before being stitched onto the cloth.

 

An overview of textiles produced.The ikat stripes are very fine.

On Lembata we visited Mawa and Dikesara* (I had this noted as Lowelain). Here was a case of how living in a actively volcanic region influences life. At Mawa village, there is no drinking water as it is very high in sulphur. Water is imported. Imported water is also used for dyeing though we told that the local water gives yellow on yarn. The dye pots used come from another village. They are bartered for corn, textiles and cocoa. Perhaps the pots are also full when they arrive. We also saw more broken threads in weaving. Is this a case of seeing less experienced weavers or weaving with no sizing to help strengthen the handspun yarn or does the atmosphere or water if it has been used create weaker threads? There were some very beautiful warp striped fabrics here. Dikesara had similar textiles. I think that it was here that when they changed the water pipes, the dye colours also changed.

The colours are more “earthy”.

These are all those broken warp threads I referred to.

What a delightful way to go shopping. Yes that’s the sea in the background.

A more detailed look at stripes and combinations of ikat patterning in one textile.

What a colour feast awaited us at Uma Pura on Ternate Island. Up to now we’d seen predominantly morinda and indigo with an odd spot of other colour, but here was a magnificent array of colour. All were natural dyes, some obtained by plant matter with others from the sea.

Yellow is obtained from turmeric and lime fruit. Orange is the yellow dye bath + lime powder (used for indigo). Both are hot processes. (orange above)

Another group dyed yellow from turmeric, milk weed leaves and candlenut.

 

Pink from the bark of the hong tree. It has very hot water poured over it 5 – 6 times to get the deepest colour. Bone (front) from sea weed or sea grass.

Rose brown comes from the sea hare. The sea hare is shown at the back and yarn is being dyed in the dish at the front. You may also see it in the image above.

 

This orange/brown from a sea urchin.

 

Beige from the castor plant leaves.

Dark green from the Indian Almond tree + indigo. Mustard is from the jack fruit bark. Blue is of course indigo. Black is from indigo + lime. Dark brown from morinda and candlenut.

Bright green is from the Indian almond tree. Here’s a comparison of the two greens.

This deep purple came from the sea sponge. The sponge is beside the yarn.

Here’s a couple of interesting additional information on dyeing. Men must not be involved in dyeing with indigo. It will affect their fertility. Dyeing must be done during daylight hours. The dye baths must be taken in at night or “the moonlight will change colour”.

There were 5 weaving groups represented here with about 20 members in each group. Lines of interesting textiles with various colours and imagery were stretched around an oval. The imagery was also reflective of life by the sea with various sea creatures: whales, sting rays, fish, crabs, turtle though there were other more “usual” styles of imagery too.

The Kalabahi Museum was the highlight of our visit to Alor Island. The museum had a wonderful collection of textiles all displayed in glass cabinets though the staff were more than willing to open these doors for us.

On our arrival at Tama (Tamakh*) on Pantar Island, everyone was presented with a scarf; all different. Usually it is just the representatives of the group who receive one if at all. I am delighted with mine, not because it is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship but because it is a true weavers delight. Here is a scarf that obviously combines a whole lot of leftovers: hand spun (yellow) and commercial cotton, natural and synthetic dyes all overlaid with a bit of patterning. It’s something that I might do to use up all those odd ends. The pattern is a result of creating warp floats (weft on the back) on alternately coloured warp threads. The locals trade textiles as there is none made in the village.

Lamalera on Lembata Island is a whaling village where whaling is done from small outriggers. Another aspect of textiles in daily life is shown here. The sail is hand woven.

However there are also textiles produced here. Naturally coloured cotton is grown and spun.

 

This is the first time that I saw plying of cotton being done. It is used as a decorative stripe in woven fabrics. One ply is natural white cotton, the other is a naturally coloured or dyed cotton. Note the end of the spindle is a whale bone.

Whales and boats did feature in some of their textiles. We’re back to a more limited colour way. The dye demonstration showed red (morinda), blue (indigo) , yellow (turmeric) and green being produced.

Place names updated by Sue. Thanks Sue. *

The next stop: The limestone islands of the Lesser Sunda group.


May 2018: Part 1 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/ The Volcanic Islands/Flores

June 20, 2018

In May 2018, I went on a textile tour to the Lesser Sunda Islands, organised by Sea Trek with Sue and David Richardson (UK) as textile experts.

To put it all in perspective, here’s a map of Indonesia with the area to be visited identified.

Overview

There was a 3 day pre-tour land based tour that started in Ende, Flores. We then crossed the country to Maumere, visiting Ndora, Kelompok and Nggela villages. For those who wished this could be taken independently or omitted. This was followed by a 13 day cruise around Flores, Lembata (formerly known as Lomblen), Alor, Pantar, West Timor, Savu, Raijua, Sumba before returning to Flores.

This map, supplied by Sea Trek shows where we went.

I had long wanted to explore Flores and Sumba in particular as some of my friends had already been there. I had seen the textiles that they had acquired and had heard their stories and I was fascinated. I hoped to see some similar as well as researching how they were made. In addition it was an ideal way to get an overview of textile production on the smaller islands. In all reality visiting these would be unlikely otherwise. In essence, I thought that this trip would be an ideal opportunity to gain an overview of textile production in this area. It would also inform me of any area which I would like to revisit to do more in depth research. And I’d get to revisit West Timor which I had thoroughly enjoyed in 2007.

Sue and David are both avid collectors with a passion for ethnic textiles and in particular traditional cloth, dyed only with natural dyes and lean towards museum quality pieces. Each night of the cruise Sue or David would give a comprehensive lecture. The lecture, on the regency to be visited, would cover such textbook topics as ethnography – cultural linages (matrilineal, patrilineal), marriage laws and settlements, language; European history in particular, geography and examples of textiles found in collections including their own extensive one. Included were handouts with comprehensive bibliographies. I’m sorry to say that some nights I did find it hard to concentrate (as did many) especially after a day out and about and a relaxing drink in hand. The handouts will be helpful if I wish to research any theoretical aspects at a later date. However they do know their stuff and their years of travelling around this area have certainly enabled them to put together a comprehensive trip. Thanks Sue for the updated place names.*

In addition Sea Trek provided two guides, Anastasia and Narto. They were wonderful: professional, friendly, extremely helpful and obliging. A tour can really be enhanced by the local guides and they certainly filled that category. I’ll also mention the wonderful staff on the boat. It was a truly wonderful experience because of their friendliness, care and willingness to go out of their way and help. And the boat, Ombak Putih – what a truly wonderful way to get around the islands. Sea Trek run other cruises. I’d highly recommend the experience. www.seatrekbali.com .

 

There were 14 on this tour. It was a great group to get to know. Everyone was widely travelled and all with interesting stories.

To get to shore we were taken by these zodiacs.

I will divide this blog into two main sections: one covering the volcanic islands, and the other; the limestone ones. Yes, there are many active volcanoes in this area. Some were even “smoking”. They are all on the northern side of the Savu Sea. The other islands on the southern side are limestone. This is late afternoon cruising with a volcano in the background.

Before starting though, I’ll do an overview of traditional dress. Usually when we visited a village, we were given a welcome event with everyone dressing for the occasion. I guess after all here is their opportunity to show off to those foreigners and perhaps encourage income. This is just one of our many welcomes.

 

At Dokar  (Umauta), Flores, our two representatives, Irene and Phil were taken and dressed for the occasion. This picture will illustrate the requirement of traditional dress for both men (a sarong and shoulder cloth) and women (a tubular sarong). The shirt for a woman may be made from hand woven fabric but is usually a commercial blouse.

 

At the villages we did see demonstrations of the steps from cotton fibre through to weaving. In fact we were to see this a number of times both on the volcanic and limestone islands. While they demonstrated spinning, it did not necessarily mean that they only used homespun. Here’s a pretty typical presentation that we saw throughout the trip; a collection from several places.

Cotton being ginned using an often beautifully decorated wooded hand gin. (Mawa Village)

Cotton is fluffed using a bow. This is a preparatory step to facilitate spinning. (Kelompok Kapo Kale*)

 

Spinning is carried out on a drop spindle. The thread that is produced is fine and even. It is very labour intensive, Commercially spun cotton is also being used. Sometimes rayon was also used. It dyes as well as cotton. In the market place trust the feel of the fabric to tell you the fibre whether it is hand spun or commercial cotton or a much more drape-able rayon.

Cotton being spun. (Mawa village)

After spinning it is wound into a skein or ball. (Mawa village)

 

Dyeing is carried out on either a skein for the weft or solid colour warp, or on a wound and bound warp for ikat. More will be covered on these steps in a later blog.

We’d see warps being prepared and dyeing demonstration. In this area, the typical colour was orange/red from morinda and blue from indigo. In fact, the orange/red was by far the most predominant colour that we saw. (Ndona)

The results of dyeing in morinda on an ikat warp. (Ndona )

 

We’d see many versions of warps being put on a loom. This is one in Kelompok Kapo Kale. The warps are circular and need to be cut off the loom when weaving is finished. There will be just a small distance left unwoven.

 

And warp faced fabrics woven on a back strap loom. Back strap looms were only used in this area. This image shows both a complicated combination of different warps being prepared and a woman weaving. (Bama)

 

Much more detail will be provided on winding the warps, binding for ikat, putting the warps on a loom and weaving in a later blog. There’s way too much information for here. This is just an overview.

The volcanic Islands: Part 1 Flores

Here’s an overview of what we saw and experienced.

Flores

We arrived in Ende and drove across to Maumere  staying in the Kelimutu Echo Lodge for two nights. This gave us the opportunity to visit 3 weaving villages at Ndona, Kelompok Kapo Kale and Nggela.

Travelling by road is challenging as they are not smooth or straight. However it does give you the opportunity to look for looms or warps drying that may indicate the presence of weaving. I do like trying to get that glimpse into daily life as we travelled along these roads.

Weaving is done in the coastal villages. In the mountains at Saga, we were told that it is bad luck to weave. They acquire textiles by barter.

Here is a typical textiles from this region.(Kelompok) Some of the images above are also from this area and show cloth.

This market gives an idea of what was both on sale and what was worn. The dyes used here are synthetic but the colour aesthetics is typical: predominantly red/orange with some blue.

And then it was time to board the boat. From Maumere we sailed to another village in Flores, Umauta. What was very interesting here was that we saw several forms of weaving. Cotton is used (handspun and commercial) with natural dyes (mainly morinda and indigo). There was ikat; check out the skirts too.

 

 

 

There were lots of interesting stripes.

And fabrics that had supplementary weft patterning.

 

Here’s a very interesting technique. I had never seen a reed being used on a back strap loom. This simple technology resulted in a more open fabric. It is, when questioned, a traditional technique. As nowhere else was doing this, here is some information on this specialised technique.

The trick is: how to put on a warp that is circular, that will be woven on a back strap loom AND that is threaded through a reed.

A close up of the reed and a stand to stabilize it for threading. The spacing tells you how fine the fabric will be. Two threads go through each space or dent.

Winding the warp, creating heddles on one layer on every second warp thread and putting through the reed.

Here’s a diagram that may explain it.

This woman is weaving with a reed and with supplementary weft patterning. Note all the sticks that have pattern stored. (perhaps from another village in this area)

This movie shows the basic process of weaving with a reed on a backstrap loom.


May 2017: Textiles of Siem Reap, Cambodia

June 9, 2017

This is the final post on my textile tour to Laos and Cambodia in January/February 2017.

Siem Reap is the place to stay when you go to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is both a significant tourist destination, an engineering marvel from the Khmer Empire and an extremely significant Buddhist temple complex.

For those who go to Angkor Wat (and there are busloads!) keep your eye out for pattern.

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However the reason I was there was of course to check out some textiles. I had heard of some places where textiles could be found and that there was lotus fibre produced in the area. I also discovered others while I was there. For those places off the known tourist trail, I would recommend that you take with you the address and the phone number of your destination to give to a tuk tuk driver. Our driver was very obliging and willing to find out where these places were, often with a group discussion with a group of drivers. However we did also end up in interesting places.

A new and little known gem of a museum is the MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum. I was fortunate to meet with Prof (Mrs) Charu Smita Gupta who is the director of this museum and has been involved in its development since the beginning. This is an extremely well set out museum with 4 exhibition spaces. The museum represents textiles from countries on the two major river systems: the Mekong: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar as well as India on the Ganges. Exhibited are historical pieces as well as contemporary ones. www.mgcattmuseum.com

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Prof Charu Smita Gupta with Libby, Truda and I in the entrance at MGC. Photography is not allowed in the galleries.

Artisans of Angkor is on the tourist map. It is also a destination for school groups and that was very pleasing to see. On site in Siem Reap are some working studios as well as the gallery. The work in the gallery is exquisite and well presented. The working studios included carving on wood and stone, metal working including silver plating, lacquer work, jewellery, gold leaf and painting. There was a very sad static display of a loom to represent weaving. The threads were broken and the loom looked as if it couldn’t even work- not a very good advertisement for weaving or for weaving as representative of this place.

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Students watching stone carvers at work.

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The loom at Artisans of Anchor- not a very attractive example of weaving.

However if one has time I would recommend a visit to their offsite complex where the process from spinning through to weaving is very well represented. It certainly wasn’t clear at the facility in Siem Reap that this would be the case. There is very beautiful work produced here.

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Silk being reeled from the cocoons.

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Ikat being tied.

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An example of weft ikat being woven.

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The space housing many looms. It was extremely noisy.

The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) has a retail space and an area under the shop where the women gather and produce the woven textile. In the main, they are using natural dyes and producing traditional textiles. www.iktt.org

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A section of the gallery

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Documentation of the natural dyes that are used.

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Fabrics being woven with natural dyed yarn.

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Complex weft ikats were also being tied and woven.

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Here the ikat is being rebound after the first dye bath.

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An example of ikat after several dyebaths.

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Ikat on the loom.

I had heard about Lotus textiles before I had come to Cambodia and had spoken to Carol Cassidy about the yarn so some serious research came into play. There are many lotus farms. We even stopped and walked on boardwalks through the lotus.

We did eventually find the Lotus Farm by Samatoa, the organisation the spins and weaves textiles from the fibre. www.lotusfarm.org

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All stages of the process is well documented.

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We saw how the fibre is actually produced. After harvesting the lotus stems are cleaned.

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The fibre is extracted by breaking the stem and pulling out the fibre. Several fibres are then twisted together to make the yarn. Many hands are required to extract a small amount of yarn.

As each length is twisted it is collected in a basket. This yarn is then taken and skeined.

There were looms here but we didn’t see any weaving being done.

Closer to Siem Reap was the headquarters of Samatoa.

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Here it was obvious that negotiations were undertaken for commissions in lotus cloth. We saw some examples of it being used in combinations with other yarns and test samples of woven fabrics.

The lotus yarn is extremely expensive so combining it with other yarns makes sense. I must admit that the yarn itself is not necessarily inspiring (it has no lustre) however it is extremely valuable because of the limited quantities produced. It is marketed as a sacred fibre. Originally it was used to weave Buddhist monks’ robes. Samatoa also produces handwoven silk cloth.

The following are some additional observations that I found interesting.

I found the contrast between the speed used in weaving plain weave cloth and the slower approach to weaving ikats of interest. This was extremely evident at Artisans of Angkor.

What is also of interest is the variation of the treadles to what we would normally use.It appeared that these treadles were standard in this area. You can see them in the movie. Here’s another examples at Samatoa and IKTT.

Note the use of two hanging devices either side of the loom that hold the shafts up while they are needed for weaving. Complex twills can be woven using this system. It require two shafts that are treadled in combination with extra pattern shafts. The two treadled shafts are behind the ones that will be picked up. The operation of this system can also be seen in the movie.

This is the final instalment of the textile tour to Laos and Cambodia. Meanwhile in the studio much has been happening. The next blog will attempt to catch up on that.

 

 


March 2017

April 5, 2017

In January and early February I went on a textile trip to Laos. This is the continuing report on that trip from last month. For this report, I continue to discuss the textiles that we came across based on the areas that we visited. Last month I began with Phonsavan.

Textiles in the Luang Prabang area.

Luang Prabang, the northern capital of Laos is a hub for textiles. Local and more distant ethnic groups sell their wares here in markets, villages and galleries/shops. In addition both traditional cloth both new and old as well as more contemporary designs can be found.

 

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The Hmong are known for their wonderful batik textiles in combination with applique and embroidery. We braved a local village where we saw women and young girls stitching. These are very high powered saleswomen.

Ock Pop Tok. They have both a gallery and a “Living Crafts Centre”. Both display contemporary textiles. The Living Craft Centre also has information on textile production including silk production and natural dyes. There are also weavers and batik dyers producing product for the gallery. The following images show yarn and batik drying, and some contemporary weaving.

In addition there are facilities for people to attend a workshop. I took advantage of weaving a supplementary weft recipe. I did not need to pick up the pattern nor thread the loom. Yes, all I had to do was decide what colour weft threads I wanted to use and weave for a couple of hours

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Weavers use the long box loom with a vertical storage unit. String loops are used to store the patterns. The stored pattern is transferred to behind the shafts and put back on a sword to select the pattern for the supplementary weft designs. Many string loops can be used to store very complicated patterns. My pattern only used 40 loops. Several hundred loops can be used in a complicated pattern.

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One doesn’t need language to communicate with weaving. That’s my completed weaving hot off the loom.

And a closer look.

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In addition to the pattern being used as a single supplementary weft it may also be used as a discontinuous supplementary weft for brocade.

On my last trip to Laos and Thailand in 2015 I fully documented how these looms worked.

There are several places that sell textiles. There are local markets of course but here are some shops/galleries/organisations that impressed me.

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum have some great displays of various aspects of textile production and a shop selling textiles.

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Gallery Asiama is run by Linda Mackintosh and exhibits traditional cloth. As well as having many beautiful old textiles, there were a couple of “funery wraps”. These wraps are quite different to anything else I had seen from a weaving structure perspective either on this trip or the previous one. I was told that the technique is no longer being done and were produced in NE Laos and NW Vietnam.

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The technique is either two tie woven as “bricks” or three tie to achieve several colour areas. I saw both examples. The designs were large in scale. These were also found in another gallery exhibiting antique silverware and textiles where they were referred to as “banners”.

Ma Teˊ Sai is run by an Australian who supports weaving in the villages and sells in her gallery. While the techniques are traditional her designs and applications are for the western taste.

Caruso Lao is a gallery selling contemporary Lao textiles, wood carving and turning and silver smithing.

Textiles in Pakse and Boloven Plateau

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In a village just outside of Pakse we saw mat mi or weft ikat being woven. They used a box loom with only 2 shafts for plain weave fabric. The vertical storage is not used here.

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An ethnic village has been set up outside of Pakse that is aimed at the tourists wishing for an overview of traditional crafts from the Atapu region. Each area was represented by a house with representatives from that area often demonstrating or selling their crafts.

There were various warp faced textiles for sale which were woven on back strap looms. Some of these included that woven by the Katu. I loved the warp faced stripe combinations.

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A Katu village. The weavers here use beads on the weft. The yarn may be naturally dyed cotton however I also saw some commercially dyed in brighter colours. Sometimes synthetic yarn is also used.

The process for weaving with beads on the weft.

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As well as many older women, I was delighted to see this young girl weaving with beads. While her design is simpler, the basic technique can be seen. The back strap loom is set up with as a combination of warp stripes to create an overall pattern and to enhance the pattern of the beads. There is only one weft thread. This has many beads threaded on it. The shuttle is to the left.

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When the beads are required they are counted off and woven in the approximate position. The weft is beaten.

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Then the beads are placed in the correct position according to the pattern before being beaten into place.

Here’s a movie of the full process.

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The Dream Home supports women who were victims of human trafficking.

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Pakse Souveni had some exquisite mat mi.

Textiles along the Mekong River south of Pakse.

We saw no weaving being done. In fact there was very little weaving being worn. Life here revolves around farming and fishing. Of note we did see some fishing nets and baskets being made; all useful for this lifestyle.

Textiles in Savannaket area

Laha Nam Village produces mat mi in natural dyes. We participated in a dyeing workshop here.

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The ethnic minority group of the Phu Tai originally came from northern Vietnam. They brought indigo and cotton weaving to the area many generations ago. Around 1975 weaving and dyeing stopped because of competition from Thailand. In 1989 -90 when Laos reopened after the war, a government company was set up to encourage people to work again. The company is no longer working with the villagers and instead they have been encouraged to form cooperatives to weave and sell their produce.

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Cotton is raised on the banks of the Mekong and processed in the village.

There are several cooperatives in this village and over 200 weavers. The one we visited has 22 weavers. Details of the dyeing workshop will follow in another blog.

Here’s some examples weaving that was produced.

We visited another mat mi village in this area. They were producing yardage of a standard size: 75 x 160cm. This was using commercially spun cotton/rayon on a synthetic warp. It was also typified by two weft rows of mat mi alternating with 2 rows of solid colour. The designs were quite contemporary. We bought in what appeared to be the communal shop where the weavers bought the yarn and then brought back finished product for sale probably to an established buyer.

Textiles in Vientiane Area

Carol Cassidy is a western entrepreneur working with the Laotian weavers to created contemporary designs based on tradition. I have visited Carol whenever I have been in Vientiane. As well as being the driving force behind the gallery and studio, she is also engaged as a consultant in Cambodia and Myanmar. She is very much aware of what is happening in textiles in Vientiane, nationally and in SE Asia. She employs several weavers on the gallery site.

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Nikone has a gallery and usually an attached workshop. Unfortunately the weaving workshop was closed due to flooding. She has also developed a range of textiles for sale in Europe and Japan. It is exciting to see that her daughter is becoming involved in the business and catering towards the Lao wedding market. This fabric woven with an ondule or fan reed was one of the treasures I found in the gallery.

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Phaeng Mai- gallery and weaving studio. There are some delightful contemporary woven fabrics in the gallery. It was great to return to Phaeng Mai where I had studied last year.

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Magic Lao Carpets is the first and only carpet making business in Laos. The carpets are hand knotted and are stunning. As well as seeing the finished product, we were able to see all the stages that go into weaving them.

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Each carpet is worked on by a team of young girls. They work from printed graphs.

The silk is hand knotted around the warp. Note the line to check the pattern. Then they are beaten in.

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The pile is trimmed with shears regularly.

There are several other galleries. Mulberries, which I had visited in Phonsavan, also has a gallery in Vientiane.

Some interesting bits and pieces and overall impressions.

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This is how convenient a loom can be to set up. A weaver arrives with the warp all threaded through the heddles. All that needs to be done to weave is to put it on the loom, attach treadles and suspend shafts.

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Often the very long warps (up to 90 m) for the supplementary weft weaving is loosely coiled in a bag and suspended from the back of the loom. In this case the warp has been wound on a board. This will result in even tension across the full width of this loom. Note that this warp board is tied onto the loom and not permanently fixed.

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Bamboo stretchers are usually used. They are placed under the weaving, out of the way. You can tell on this weaving how frequently it has been moved. They are very useful when weaving weft ikat to keep the ikat consistently aligned.

Textile production form a part of daily life. Looms are found under the houses. Here chickens roost on the loom with the most complicated mat mi.

Many communities that are close to the Thai border have been impacted by the death of the Thai king. This is a year of morning. This has affected the sale of textiles for use in ceremonies including weddings. The village of Laha Nam has had a major downturn in indigo mat mi production. It has also resulted in an upturn in entertainment offered on the Laos side of the border with weekend tourism increasing.

It is sometimes difficult to identify which ethnic group is producing which cloth. At one gallery we were told that it comes from “the north”. This may be because a middle man/woman is involved in buying the cloth or that they are directing villages into producing cloth of a particular style because it is popular and readily saleable.

The issue of copyright is seen as a major one by many galleries. The best galleries aim at staying one step ahead of the competition. There are no laws that protect copyright.

How prevalent is handwoven fabric in today’s society? In general daily life women are the only ones who wear traditional dress in the form of the sinh or skirt. Along one road, I surveyed how many women were wearing the sinh as opposed to western dress. In this instance it was about even. It does however depend on where one is. Remote villages are more likely to retain traditional cloth and certain ethnic groups seem to value it more than others. Areas where there are government or public jobs often require women to wear the sinh as a uniform. School uniforms require the sinh to be worn though it is a commercially woven version.

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I thought this market we stopped at along the road between Savannaket and Vientiane provided an insight. On one side of the aisle was a shop selling western clothes while directly opposite was one selling the sinh.

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The one area that still has high regard for traditional textiles and dress is the wedding industry. This will be the only time that men wear traditional dress. The cloth here exhibits a high standard of exclusiveness and workmanship.

We heard that the generation of Laos and International women who had dedicated their lives to promoting weaving either traditional or contemporary were approaching retirement with a lack of young blood coming through. This must impact on the future of weaving and textile production in Laos.

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I saw these two panels in the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum. They reflect the diverse attitudes in ethnic minority groups as to the value of traditional textiles.

The government will play a vital role in the future of textiles. It was very evident that Laos is undergoing great development with financial partnerships with China, Thailand and Vietnam. This is creating new jobs which pay so much more than textile rates. The rate of growth was extremely evident in Vientiane with high rise buildings appearing and in the proliferation of petrol stations along major roads.

The issue of the survival of traditional crafts in contemporary society is not new. As Laos moves into this new era of economic growth and the impact of the popularity of western dress increases, I hope that the knowledge and skills of those working with textiles will continue to be appreciated and for them to have a place for their work.

 

Coming: I will document the stages of mat mi, the indigo dyeing workshop we participated in and eventually a report on the textile experience in Cambodia.