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 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.


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.

 

1

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

6

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.

12b

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.

  

 


August 2016

August 31, 2016

This month celebrates all things weaving and the fellowship/friendship of weavers. It was the month for Convergence and travel to the USA and Canada.

I arrived at 1.00 in the small hours of Monday morning after a delayed stopover in Dallas. My friend Judith greets me and of course we have to celebrate.

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It was also time to do our biennial scarf exchange. This challenge started by dying a warp using a starting point of mid-blue. This warp was then separated into 2 lengths with one length being swapped. The warps were then combined. We could weave it however we wanted. I think this challenge was in some ways the most challenging yet as the two warps that were to be combined ended up being very different. Here’s what we ended up with.

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 Now we both have an additional 2 scarves to add to our Judith and Kay collection. Their first outing: the fashion parade at Convergence. And as always they’ll be worn together.

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I would have to give an award to the most dedicated class of weavers to this group. There was a fire evacuation in the convention centre. No problem: we’ll just do a bit of theory while we wait.

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I celebrate the class results of Ties: decorative, functional and unconventional.

And I celebrate the results of the East Meets West Class.

 And the Sotis class.

But Convergence also means getting to see exhibits: The fashion parade with the winner’s circle and details of cloth.

The yardage exhibit.

Convergence is also about shopping. All the loom makers were there and an interesting mix of other traders.

Y shopping Outside the convention centre, I came across this unexpected delight.

And then Convergence was over for another two years. I wonder where it will be next time.

Then on to more adventures and I was very fortunate as I got to go and visit Kati and of course get to see her studio. As we drive in their driveway this is what I am welcomed with.

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And from there onto Canada. This time I get to stay with Jette.

I also get to teach. And here we celebrate weaving East Meets West with the Huronia Guild: weekend 1

 And also celebrate the weaving of the weekend 2 group.

What does one do when two weavers get together? Well obviously have a grand time but sometimes it’s also a chance to play.

To all the weavers (and others) I spent time with and the friends I caught up with, it was a grand trip. Thank you!

 


May 2016

June 2, 2016

Rosemary has been spending time in the studio. She is a new weaver with an aim of weaving with her own hand spun mohair. She is raising a few goats. Firstly though she has woven a few hand towels so that she can understand the process and play with colour.

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Just starting…

DSC03065 and finishing! Congratulations Rosemary.

I was a birthday present! And I was delighted to be one. Anne Mette’s husband gave a weekend of private lessons to celebrate a special birthday. She had got hooked on weaving following a workshop I did at Go Create last year. She also has a Danish background and was interested in weaving rugs. This was her second warp and was partly woven. We explored all manner of basic weave structures on this warp.

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And then learnt about efficient ways of winding and putting a warp on. A trellis was a convenient place to hang a warping board.

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We then repeated the patterns on a balanced weave. It was a very busy weekend and she had a party in the middle. We covered an extraordinary amount of ground as well as fine tuning her countermarched loom. Well done Anne Mette!

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It has been a busy time in the studio. I have even managed to weave off three of scarves with variations on a theme. They combine plain weave and twill with some supplementary warp patterning.

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And some collapse weave scarves using a weft of overspun alpaca/silk. I do not spin regularly but as I required an overspun yarn, it was one way to get it.

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On books and magazines:

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This is a marvellous book. I was delighted to do a review for TAFTA. Robyn Spady, Nancy A Tracy and Marjorie Fiddler have created a beautiful hardcover book full of wonderful images of fabric swatches and full documentation of the work of Dr Bateman. I had seen some of his samples and documentation in folders of his work in Seattle. These are much better and so easy to understand. For those who don’t know about Dr Bateman, on his retirement he was prolific in his experimentation of weaving drafts, often taking them in new directions. 398 warps x 6 to 12 samples sure produced a lot of samples. The authors chose “the most innovative”. I was very happy to recommend it.

At the end of last month, I received the latest issue of the Complex Weavers Journal. I’m delighted to have an article in it.

Just arrived is the latest issue of Shuttle Spindle and Dyepot, the publication of the Handweavers Guild of America. I was honoured when they approached me for an article am delighted with how they presented it.

The highlight of this month though has to go to my latest adventure. On my ‘bucket list’ for ages has been a trip to Lake Mungo. Why? The remoteness, the landscape, the history, all have called.

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Lake Mungo is a world heritage listed national park in the far south west of NSW, just north of Mildura. Normally it would be classed as dessert but it had rained and it was green. In some ways it was not what I was expecting but I was so fortunate to be there. Maybe I’ll have to go back to see it in another light.

It is the site where Mungo Lady and Mungo man were found. The Lake Mungo area is ancient and is a most significant Australian archaeological site. There’s evidence of man having lived here for over 50,000 years. That’s nearly beyond comprehension. Mungo lady was found first and is the earliest known human to have been cremated. A few years later, Mungo man was found. His remains had been coated with red ochre and is the earliest known use of pigments for artistic, philosophical or religious purposes. Both are around 40,000 years old with a possibility of them being even older. The mere fact that I was standing there was remarkable. We could see artefacts emerging from the sand.

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Lake Mungo is a dried up lake. On one side is a crescent “lunette”. Here there is erosion and large sand dunes. The sand is moving. It is remarkable scenery.

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You can see the sand being blown off the top of the sand dune.

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Vegetation is being covered up as well as artefacts uncovered.

It is also the place where explorers passed through and of pastoralists trying to make a living raising sheep. Here are old shearing sheds and stories of early life on the land.

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The remnants of an old tank stand provides a perch for swallows.

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Bits of wire and weathered wood provide an interesting study.

I shared my adventure with two other textile artists. Judy Wilford is a well- known embroiderer and Truda Newman is a lapsed weaver who is finding a new voice in different media. It was really interesting to see how we each reacted to the environment and for me it certainly added to the experience. There’s much inspiration here. I’ll share some images. Firstly a flight over gives an idea of scale and how it all fits together. It also flattens the landscape allowing pattern and textures to emerge.

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Spinifex circles. The plant dies from the centre and new growth creates pattern. This wasn’t visible from ground level.

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A straight line dissecting the land as far as the eye can see.

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Truda and I back on the ground having had the most extraordinary experience.

On the ground:

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A grove of rosewood provides a place for contemplation.

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Some Mallee and spinifex/porcupine grass.

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Saltbush and a kangaroo.

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Emu. When driving one certainly needed to keep an eye out for emu and roo.

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The sun goes down looking back from the Walls of China over the lake bed.

As we were in the ‘area’ and it was on the way home, of course a stay in Broken Hill was also on the agenda. It’s also been on my list. It’s dessert country, a frontier mining town of another era where the mine dominates,

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the home of the movie, “Priscilla Queen of the Dessert”, an Australian cult classic celebrating 20 years (Do you recognise the murals and shoe in the foyer of the Palace Hotel?),

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and where a group of sculptors did remarkable work.

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The round trip: over 4,000km. What remarkable country!