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.