by Jonquil Dun

Woman posing with Ikat fabrics (image from Goodnews from Indonesia)

In the villages of the island of Flores, in Indonesia, lies a thriving ancient art of making textiles – the Ikat.

Ikat is a complicated labourous process of textile- making; from producing the cotton for the materials of the thread to dyeing the yarns before they can be weaved into a beautifully-printed yard of fabric.

It’s more than just a commerce for many of the weavers in the island. It is an inheritance. A pride, a tradition that has been handed down from the first person who learned this weaving process to the generations after.

We managed to locate one of local weavers from the island; Maria Hendrina, about the process of their textile production. Like many others in the village, she is one of the heir of a long line of weavers traced back to the first weavers of Ikatan in Flores.

The matured cotton plant, where they harvest the fibers (photo courtesy of Maria Hendrina)

They cultivate their own cottons for manufacturing of their yarns. Cotton plants are perennial shrubs and take 5 to 6 months to grow, with flowers to fully mature and harvested.

Cotton separated and seeded off (photo by Maria Hendrina)

After the cotton is harvested, they will be sorted out, seeded off and cleaned, spun into long threads for dyeing.

Maria admits that it is the dyeing process which takes the most part of the textile production. They still use the natural techniques of dyeing which are obtained from tinctures of natural fruit barks and roots such as turmeric, chilies, hazelnut, galangal, mahogany, indigo and ketapang or Indian almond. After dyeing they hang them for days until dried, washed again, dried and re-dyed to get the pigment to settle.

Dying process (photo by Maria)
hanging the threads to dry (photo by Maria)

But the technique for the Ikat is different. The looms are tied in knots before dyeing them. The knotted parts will usually resist getting the color of the dye. Depending on the types of patterns that the weavers want to create, the process of Ikat will take longer if a multi-colored pattern is to be achieved. The parts that they don’t want the color of the dye to affect will be binded or tied.

Ikat, or binding technique (photo by Maria Hendrina)

The Ikat fabrics usually has a blurry pattern because of the difficulty in aligning the threads to create the patterns. In fact, the blurry the ikat is, the more expensive the fabric is.

The ikat fabrics in display. (photo from getty images)

These fabrics are favorite among designers, and is becoming an oft-seen piece of incorporation to the modern looks in the runways. They are breathable and made with natural fibers, processed naturally- in an ancient-old ethical way of producing textiles.

However, these style of fabric-making may not necessarily Indonesian or Indian of origin. Some historians and anthropologists believed that this textile technique developed in other places too, independently. But some have strong argument this may have originated in sub-Indian continent and since the Malays were actively exploring the seas, it is not hard to believe that they could have reached South America and other places including Madagascar in Africa, as evident as far as the travel of the Bahasa language is concerned. (The proto-Bahasa is still traceable in this part of Africa.)

With the growing threat of cultural extinction, climate change and environmental pollution brought by the textile industry, it is about high time that we look into the natural way of producing fabrics. It will help the small industry of fabric manufacturers in the remote places in the world. And if designers start considering the use of such fabrics, they will help eliminate hunger and unemployment from places that needed it most.


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