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Luminous Threads: Traditional Indonesian Textiles

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Indonesian textiles are as varied as their sources, with each displaying distinctive motifs and unique symbolism. Their beauty and craftsmanship are clear even to the most casual observer, but a deeper value lies in their history and varied and diverse origins; their motifs rich in cultural lore; their ceremonial uses steeped in tradition. They reflect a rich and diverse heritage.

In the context of great ethnic and religious variation, the textiles of the Indonesian archipelago are extraordinarily varied, in terms of their weaving and dyeing processes, in their design, in their functions and in the meanings attributed to them.

When used as clothing, ikats are worn in the form of rectangular shoulder or waist cloths, or as wrap-around skirts or tubular sarongs. In Indonesia ikats were considered to possess a myriad of ritualistic, ceremonial and spiritual functions. They are required for ceremonies, but not just as traditional dress for participants. The cloths themselves are a necessary part of the ritual. Warp-ikat cloths act as burial shrouds, as part of exchange of gifts before marriage, and as a way of preserving local history and legends.

The Indonesians Islands are strategically located for trade in South East Asia, lying at the coastal cross roads of shipping for thousands of years, with the resultant exchange of trade goods and cross cultural influences between China, India, Japan, the Middle East, the Iberian Peninsular  and Holland. Ancient clove remains from the Indonesian Spice islands have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and archaeological digs at ancient Mesopotamian ruins dated 5000BC . Some popular motifs  on Indonesian Ikats and Songkets such as the Tumpel border triangles can be found in Australian aboriginal art works, Middle East  carpets, antique Timor wood panels, ancient Vietnamese Dong Song drums and early Patola trade cloths from India

IIkats . The ikat process is a resist-dyeing process, which involves the binding of sections of warp (horizontal)and/or weft (vertical) threads with dye-resistant material (such as strips of palm leaf) prior to fabric construction. When immersed in a dye bath, the uncovered areas of the threads take up the dye. Further colours can be obtained by successively rearranging the resist-protected areas and immersing the threads in the dye bath again. On completion of dyeing, the resist material is removed and the threads are arranged carefully before weaving. The resist may be applied to the warp, the weft or to both sets of threads. Resultant products are referred to respectively as warp-ikat, weft-ikat or double-ikat, with warp threads, weft threads or both sets of threads being patterned. Since in double-ikat both sets of threads are patterned and overlap in the final design, this is the most complicated type. A typical visual characteristic of any of the ikat variants is a feather-like effect which is caused by the colour in the dye bath bleeding under the resisting material, and by slight movement of threads caused by the strains imposed during the weaving process

Supplementary weft techniques are commonly used in Indonesia. With this technique additional weft threads are used in the construction of complex patterns. A particular variety, known as songket, uses quantities of supplementary gold or silver metallic, cotton or other fibre yarns to enhance the decorative effect. Often such textiles play an important role in ritual and ceremony (including marriage, birth, and funerals).

 

           
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