Events: Upcoming textile events

Several new talks and exhibitions coming soon….

Portrait of John Frederick Lewis. The cloth he is wearing features in the exhibition along with this portrait.

A new exhibition Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art opened yesterday at the British Museum. It has been organised in conjunction with  the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, with the whole exhibition moving there in June 2020.

“The show takes a deeper look at the art movement of ‘Orientalism’ – specifically the way in which North Africa and the Middle East were represented as lands of beauty and intrigue, especially in European and North American art. Often blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, Orientalist art reached its heyday in the mid-1800s, as Europeans and North Americans were looking overseas to fundamentally learn more about other cultures, but its popularity had faded by the 1940s with the decline of the British Empire.” British Museum website.

Julia Tugwell, co-curator Middle East, has written an excellent blog on the subject here.

Location: Room 35, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG. 10 October 2019 – 26 January 2020.

 

Dr Fiona Kerlogue will give a lecture to the Oriental Rug and Textile Society (ORTS) in London on 16 October on the subject of Malay Gold Thread Embroidery from Jambi on Sumatra. Focussing on a collection at the Horniman Museum in London Dr Kerlogue will “explore the historical evidence for the influence of trade connections and the colonial presence on the materials and style of gold thread embroidery in Malay Sumatra, and explain the contexts in which the embroidered pieces were used.” ORTS website.

Location: St James Piccadilly Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL 18:00

 

Andrea Aranow will be lecturing on Japanese Textiles in Philadelphia on 20 October. She will be looking at how patterned kimono cloth is produced from a variety of fibres including cotton silk and bast fibres. With over 200 examples from her collection available to view this should be a very enlightening session. Full details can be found here.

Location: Rikumo, 1216 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19107 14:00-15:30

On Saturday 26 October Dr Elena Phipps will give a presentation to the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) entitled Sacred Surfaces: Carpets, Coverings and Mesas in the Colonial Andes. 

“Textiles formed the surfaces of Colonial life in the Andes, and especially those associated with ritual and faith relating to the sacred realms of Christian as well as indigenous religious contexts. Carpets—woven of knotted pile or flatwoven tapestry– were not in themselves a form used in the region prior to the Spanish arrival. But these were introduced very early on in the 16th century by the Spanish who brought with them examples produced and influenced by Hispano-mooresque and Middle Eastern traditions. Andean weavers adapted to the form and techniques of their production, creating remarkable examples that manifest the complex interchange of the period.” TMA/SC Newsletter

Location: Luther Hall, Lower Level St. Bede’s Episcopal Church, 3590 Grand View Blvd. Los Angeles. 26 October 09:30 refreshments, 10:00 programme. Open to all with no reservations required.

Back in the UK Stefano Ionescu will deliver the annual May Beattie lecture at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on 30 October. The title of the lecture is Anatolian Rugs in Transylvanian Churches: In the Footsteps of May Hamilton Beattie, and it is co-sponsored by Hali.

Location: Headley Lecture Theatre, Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH 17;00-18:00 followed by a reception. Please note – this talk is free but booking by 23 October is essential.

An exciting new exhibition has opened recently at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Entitled East Jazz it presents “more than 30 unique Central Asian robes and fabrics from the collection of Alexander Klyachin and more than two dozen canvases of post-war abstract painting, collected by Swiss collector Jean Claude Gandyur. Having expanded and supplemented the exposition with works from the collections of the Pushkin Museum to them. A.S. Pushkin and the Paris Pompidou Center – Museum of Modern Art – Center for Industrial Design, exhibition curators will talk about the interaction of eastern and western cultures.”

Location: The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Ulitsa Volkhonka, 12, Moscow, Russia, 119019. 01 October – 15 November 2019

Looking ahead, next year the V&A will have a major exhibition on Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk tickets for which have now gone on sale. “This exhibition will present the kimono as a dynamic and constantly evolving icon of fashion, revealing the sartorial, aesthetic and social significance of the garment from the 1660s to the present day, both in Japan and the rest of the world.” (V&A website). Full details can be found here.

Location: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL. Opens 29 February 2020.

 

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Events: Upcoming textile events

Several new talks and exhibitions coming soon….

Chinese cloth banknote

A reminder that this Thursday Dr Paul Bevan will talk about Chinese Cloth Banknotes to the Oxford Asian Textile Group. This event is open to the public. Click here for further details.

Location: The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6QS. 18:00 – 20:00.

©Jenny Balfour-Paul

Also on Thursday, but this time in the US, Jenny Balfour-Paul will be lecturing on Indigo and the Orient: The Story of the Blues at Yale University Art Gallery. In her talk Jenny will look at ” this fascinating dyestuff, focusing on its past and present use in Asia, particularly among the ethnic minorities of Southwest China.” Full details can be found here.

Location: Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street (at York Street) New Haven, Connecticut. 17:30 – open to the general public.

Woman’s funeral tunic and headscarf

The reason for this particular emphasis is that this lecture is being held in conjunction with the exhibition Ceremonial Dress from Southwest China: The Ann B. Goodman Collection. This exhibition, which was co-curated by OATG founder Ruth Barnes, draws on the ceremonial clothing of communities from Guizhou, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, and other provinces of southwestern China. It includes fifteen outfits which use a variety of techniques such as batik, embroidery, and appliqué. Silver jewellery is also featured. For more details, and images of several items from the exhibition,  go to the website of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Exhibition dates: September 6 2019 – January 5 2020.

Jenny will also be giving another talk on indigo, but with a different theme, in New York next week. Entitled Indigo Trail: From Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans! this will clearly be a wide-ranging lecture from an expert in the field. Details of this event, which is open to the public, can be found here.

Location: The Explorers Club, 46 East 70th Street, New York City, NY 10021, United States. October 1, 18:30.

©Karun Thakar Collection

Back in the UK the Brunei Gallery at SOAS will be hosting an exhibition, supported by HALI, of African textiles from the collection of Karun Thakar. With more than 150 exhibits from a wide geographical area this “will examine the links between west and north African textile traditions through a selection of important and rare examples of textile art, being shown here for the first time.” Details are on the SOAS website here.

Location: SOAS University of London 10 Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG. October 11 – December 14 2019.

October has been designated Textile Month in Portland, Oregon, with a huge listing of events taking place. These include talks, exhibitions, and hands-on workshops. One that stood out for me was Symbolism and Significance: The Evolution of the Kimono by Andrea Aranow who will be showing several kimonos from her extensive collection on October 5 – click here for more detail.

I was also intrigued by the work Emily Miller is doing in the Ghost Net Landscape exhibition which runs from 7-31 October. Details are here.

 

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Exhibition: Designing Spitalfields Silks

Exhibition dates: 14 September – 20 October 2019

The remit of this group is, strictly speaking, Asian textiles so I realise I am stretching things here blogging about an early 18th century designer of Huguenot descent living in Spitalfields, London, but some of his designs are clearly influenced by other areas – just look at this gorgeous depiction of a pineapple!

James Leman was born in 1688 and most of his designs were produced in the first quarter of the 18th century. The V&A has a wonderful album containing 97 different designs, many of them with very vibrant colour schemes. The album was in a poor condition and had clearly been rebound too tightly, causing damage to 77 of the drawings. In 2002 the album was disassembled. In 2016 this was chosen as the subject of a multi-disciplinary research project, the intention being to digitally reproduce its contents.

Later the V&A were able to acquire an example of silk which 300 years ago had been woven from one of the designs in this album. This has given them an amazing opportunity to see how the designs on paper were translated into an actual piece of fabric.

The paper design on the left and the fabric on the right.

Lots of further analysis was done on the dyes used in this textile. Among those identified were indigo, weld, cochineal, annatto and safflower. As Lucia Burgio points out in her blog “The results of the dye analysis paint a nice picture of the trade links that London, or at least the dyers which provided coloured silk yarns to the weavers of Spitalfields (where James Leman lived and worked), had with the rest of the world: weld was likely cultivated in Europe, indigo could have originated from both Asia and South America, cochineal was definitely from South America and safflower was originally from the near East. Annatto was originally from South America, but its cultivation had already spread to Southern Europe well before Leman was active.”

The colours used in the paper designs were also analysed and it was found that large quantities of arsenic glass were used to produce the vibrant orange colours.

For more information go to the V&A website or follow the links in this blog to a variety of V&A articles.

Location: NAL Library Landing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 

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Focus on conservation

Sufiyan Ismail Khatri. ©two circles

Next Friday, 20 September, the Met Museum in New York will be hosting a Textile Conservation Colloquium focussing on recent research.

Participants will “gain an inside perspective on the fascinating work of The Met’s Department of Textile Conservation. From investigating silk production in Japan and block printing in India to conserving precious tapestries and exploring applications for new technologies, conservators share their research and discoveries from the past year.” – The Met website.

In the afternoon there will be a demonstration of traditional Indian block printing by Sufiyan Ismail Khatri, a tenth-generation artisan whose family has been involved in the art of Ajrakh printing since the fifteenth century.

Advance registration is required for this event as space is limited. For more details and booking for this free event click here.

Photo ©TAASA

The Asian Arts Society of Australia (TAASA) recently met with textile conservation expert Kate Chidlow from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney forms part of this museum. They looked at a variety of conservation-related topics such as how to protect home textile collections from the negative effects of insects, PVC or cardboard, folding, pressure, sunlight and time. The MAAS website has a series of excellent information sheets which you can download, which will help you learn how to best care for your textiles. These include How to store a fragile garment in an acid-free box, How to create rolled storage for flat textiles, How to brush vacuum an object, and many more.

Another good source of information on caring for your textiles is the Threads of Life Gallery, based in Ubud, Bali. Take a look at their practical hints and tips here.

Maria working on an Egyptian mummy. © National Museums Scotland

On a lighter note I really enjoyed reading this blog by Maria Armstrong, former Assistant Textile Conservator at National Museums Scotland on things you might not know about working as a conservator – apparently it requires very strong core muscles!

 

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Events: Textile events in the UK and beyond

 

Several new textile-related events have caught my eye this month.

The first of these is the exhibition of over 100 pieces collected over a period of forty years by Silke and Roland Weise that will take place in Traunstein, Bavaria, from 14 September to 6 October 2019. According to Hali “The Weise collection comprises an eclectic mix of knotted carpets from court and town workshops, flatweaves and bags of nomadic origin, and antique woven silks, silk embroideries, velvets and ikats. In provenance, its range extends to almost every country of the Near and Far East with any historic importance for the textile arts, including the classic sources for carpets and rugs in Persia, Turkey, the Caucasus and the Silk Road lands of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as India, Tibet, China, Morocco and Egypt. Pieces span a time frame of more than 2000 years, from the 1st century BCE to around 1900. Some 120-140 items will be on show in Traunstein, with a focus on early fragments and carpets from around 1800. Many are of museum quality or of international importance, and almost 60 of them have already appeared in HALI and other international publications.”

Three of the exhibits have a radiocarbon dating from the 1st century BC, but the main focus is on early fragments from the 14th-17th centuries and rugs from around 1800.

Details: 14/09 – 06/10

Kulturforum Klosterkirche
Ludwig Straße 10, 83278 Traunstein
Wed, Thu, Fri 13:00 to 18:00
Sat, Sun 11:00 to 17:00

The Weise exhibition is linked to the upcoming ICOC Alpine Tour, as is this new exhibition at the Museum der Völker in Schwaz. Entitled Richter Guter Stoff (True Good Fabric) – Woven and Embroidered Stories this runs from 7 September 2019 to the end of February 2020. Ten German collectors have brought together examples from India, Greece, Albania, Indonesia, Central Asia – the list goes on…

Details: 07/09/19 – end of February 2020.

Museum der Völker
St. Martin 16, A-6130 Schwaz
Thu-Sun 10:00 to 17:00

Moving now to India, this month the National Museum in Delhi are showcasing the work of the Asha workshop in Varanasi. This workshop has been producing top quality silks for over 25 years, using a wide variety of techniques. Examples will be shown alongside textiles, jewellery and paintings from the National Museum’s own collection. The Asha workshop was established in the 1990s by Rahul Jain and Ruth Clifford has a very interesting interview with him on her Travels in Textiles blog.

 

Details: 10/09/19 – 08/10/19
National Museum
Janpath, Delhi

The India theme continues with an upcoming talk entitled Chasing Tensions: A lifelong pursuit of an understanding of stitch and textile by Professor Anne Morrell as part of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society (ORTS) programme in London. She is a respected artist and some images from a recent exhibition of her work can be found on the Selvedge website here. Anne is also consultant to the Calico Museum at Ahmedabad and has written many books on Indian embroidery.

 

Details: 18 September 2019
St James Piccadilly Conference Room
197 Piccadilly
London W1J 9LL

Over in the US on 21 September Martha Bluming will give a talk to the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California entitled The Octopus Enigma. In 2017 Hali published an article of the same name by Martha (Issue 193, pp76-85) in which she described how she and her husband Avrum had acquired a beaded sarong, known as a lawo butu, in an auction two years earlier.

Fascinated by this unusual textile Martha set out to discover more about how it was used and what the motifs on it signified. Its two main uses were in the muré rain dance – performed in periods of extended drought – and during the reroofing of a clan house. She pursued many different avenues of research into this textile – consulting experts on ancient beads, specialists in marine biology, and perhaps most significantly, having threads from the sarong carbon 14 dated. The results gave quite a wide range of dates, with Roy Hamilton of the Fowler Museum being fairly confident it dated to the period 1650-1800.

A beaded lawo butu sarong being worn over another longer sarong in the village of Nggela, on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Much of Martha’s Hali article – and presumably her upcoming talk – focused on the motif which local people referred to as an octopus. Was this simply an octopus, or did it convey other meanings associated with female fertility? More background on Martha’s textile can be found here.

Details:

Saturday, September 21, 2019, Refreshments 10 a.m., Programme 10:30 a.m.
Luther Hall, Lower Level St. Bede’s Episcopal Church
3590 Grand View Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90066-1904

There is a charge of $10 for non-members

A three yuan cloth note from 1933

Last but certainly not least, back in the UK on 26 September Dr Paul Bevan will give a talk to the OATG in Oxford on Chinese Cloth Banknotes. In China the Communist revolution began in the 1920s and many base areas were set up known as “Soviets”. The largest of these was the Jianxi Soviet, set up by Mao Zedong in 1931. Many of these Soviets issued their own currency – both coins and paper money. In at least one area, due to a shortage of paper, money was printed onto cotton cloth. Examples can be found in many museums, including the British Museum and the Ashmolean.

Dr Bevan will examine  the iconography used in these banknotes. This one shows the hammer and sickle, clenched fist, and the slogan Workers of the World, Unite. He will discuss how this imitates Russian Constructivist design and modern Art Deco. According to him “It is this aspect of Soviet Russian art and design, adopted by the creators of the cloth banknote in this remote area of China in 1933, that makes it so important in the fields of numismatics, textile history, and the history of art and design in China.”

A five FEN paper note with similar design features

Many of these notes had slogans such as “Uphold the soviet economic policies, break through the enemy’s financial blockade”, “Guarantee active trade and unify the currency standard”, “Land to the farmers, jurisdiction to the soviet. Eight hours work!”. An interesting article by John E. Sandrock with lots more examples and images can be found here. More details can be found on the Eventbrite page here. Do join us for what is sure to be a fascinating talk – who knew that a simple banknote could tell us so much?

Details:

Thursday, 26th of September 2019, 6 pm for a 6.15 pm start
The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS
Free for members and £3 for non-members

 

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Articles: Object of the Day for New York Textile Month

September is Textile Month in New York and Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum are celebrating it in style.

Every Monday to Friday a new addition will be made to their blog by one of their curators or a leading scholar. According to their website “With over 210,00 objects spanning thirty centuries of decorative arts and design, Object of the Day explores the material culture of textiles, graphic design, furniture, products, architectural drawings, wallcoverings, and much more.”

You can subscribe to their Object of the Day email to ensure you don’t miss any of these posts.

So far this week Elizabeth Pope has written on Peruvian Painted Patterns, Cynthia Fowler on Nature and the Embroidered World, Janine LeBlanc on Eye-catching Appliqué (mola blouses), Richard Landis on Warp and Weft, and Elena Phipps on a Fragment of the Cahuachi Great Cloth. You can also listen to audio versions of these items. With such a great list last week I can’t wait to see what else they have in store for the rest of the month.

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Event: Lloyd Cotsen and His Textiles – A Lifetime of Collecting and Connoisseurship

 

Fragment from a ramayana, India for the Indonesian market. ©Lloyd E. Cotsen

Event date: 10 August 2019, Los Angeles

Lloyd Cotsen died in 2017 but his legacy lives on in his textiles. This talk by Lyssa Stapleton is part of the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) regular programme of events. Lyssa is the Curator of The Cotsen Collection, Los Angeles and Consulting Curator for the Cotsen Textile Traces Collection at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

“For more than 70 years Lloyd Cotsen collected experiences, objects, and knowledge that mirrored and exemplified his profound interest in the world around him. As the CEO of Neutrogena Corporation, he began to assemble several world-class collections including folk art, textiles, Japanese bamboo baskets, and children’s books. His nearly comprehensive textile study collection, known as Textile Traces, has recently been donated to the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. An exploration of this collection reveals how his extraordinary appreciation for human creativity led him to become an inquisitive and acquisitive collector, and illustrate how his life experiences contributed to his deep commitment to children’s literature, the history of weaving technology, to the support of declining artistic traditions and living artists and to the stewardship of the objects he acquired.” TMA/SC newsletter.

A 1787 book with samples of tapa cloth collected by Captain Cook during his Pacific voyages. © Lloyd E. Cotsen

In 2018 the George Washington University and The Textile Museum was gifted over 4000 textiles along with an endowment to support further study.  A study centre with state of the art equipment also forms part of this bequest. You can read more on this, as well as viewing a great selection of images of textiles from the collection here.

Location:

Luther Hall, Lower Level St. Bede’s Episcopal Church

3590 Grand View Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90066-1904

Refreshments will be available from 10;00 and the programme will begin at 10:30. This is free for members of the TMA/SC, guests are welcome for an admission charge of $10.

 

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Exhibitions: Peruvian and Guatemalan Textiles in London and the USA

Today’s blog focusses on two exhibitions featuring textiles from South and Central America.

Exhibition dates: 21 June – 8 September 2019

A proto-Nazca culture tapestry. Photo courtesy of Paul Hughes Fine Art.

The first of these is Weavers of the Clouds: Textile Arts of Peru which recently opened at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. This exhibition has traditional textiles on one floor and those by contemporary designers on another. Running alongside the main exhibition is a display entitled A Thread: Contemporary Art of Peru, which showcases the work of seventeen Peruvian artists.

Hugh Thomson, the author of Cochineal Red, has written a very interesting article about this exhibition for The Design Edit. In it he stresses the importance textiles have always had in Peruvian culture and how when the “conquistadors arrived in 1532, they could not understand why so many Inca warehouses were stocked with textiles rather than gold or silver, which the indigenous people considered less valuable.”  Among the many highlights of the exhibition are thirteen pieces from the British Museum, a hat which dates to 600 AD and a tunic made of macaw feathers.

Some of the pieces from Peruvian artists such as Meche Correa and Chiara Macchievello are simply stunning, with intricate embroidery and weaving techniques. A dress that was inspired by Peruvian designs, but was actually part of a Vivienne Westwood collection, also features.

Floral skirt designed by Meche Correa. Photo © Momtaz Begum-Hossain.

For full details of opening hours and how to book visit the website of the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Location: Fashion and Textile Museum. 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF

 

Exhibition dates: 21 July – 13 October 2019

 

The second exhibition is on at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles and looks at Mayan Traje: A Tradition in Transition. This exhibition explores how the clothing of the Maya of Guatemala was once specific to each village, and how and why that is changing over time.

Photo © Rachael Myrow/KQED

Rachael Myrow has written an article for KQED Arts giving more background to how this exhibition came about and the links to Mayan people who now call San Francisco their home. Many of the textiles on display come from private collections and date to the early twentieth century.

For full details visit the website of the museum.

Location: Turner and Gilliland Galleries, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, 520 S. First Street, San Jose, California.

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Events: Northeast India with Anna-Louise Meynell

Publication of this guest blog is for information only and does not indicate an endorsement of this tour by the OATG.

Anna-Louise Meynell, the author of the summer 2018 Asian Textiles cover story is leading 2 exciting textile tours of Northeast India. This is her guest blog about these tours.

Eri silk fibre and thread

Last summer I had the privilege of contributing to Asian Textiles. My research on the eri silk textiles and traditions of Meghalaya was the feature of the article, and I am excited to now announce two textile tours to Northeast India, to the location of my research. It is an opportunity to visit the villages, to meet the artisans and learn from them in a workshop of spinning and natural dyeing.

The colourful Hornbill Festival

Textiles and Tribal Festivals Tour of Northeast India: 27th November – 11th December 2019.

This tour will start in the Ri Bhoi District in Meghalaya, Northeast India, exploring the textile culture and traditions of the matrilineal Khasi tribe. There will be a focus on understanding the diversity of tribal life in Northeast India as the tour moves across into Assam to meet the Mishing tribe who work with complex supplementary weft designs. It will finish in Nagaland, exploring Naga culture and backstrap weaving and with 2 exciting days at the vibrant Hornbill Festival. A full colour pdf brochure can be downloaded here.

Traditional dress of the Khad Ar Lyngdoh communities,
Khasi Bhoi ethnic group

Textiles and Tribes Tour of Assam & Meghalaya: 26th March- 7th Feb 2020

This tour will also begin with the artisans in the Ri Bhoi District and a natural dye workshop. From here we drive to Majuli, the largest river island in the world and the cultural heart of Assam. There will be visits to weavers, potters and mask makers along with visits to the monasteries of the island. The tour finishes in Upper Assam, with the Singpho and Tai Phake tribes. These tribes are fascinating for many reasons including their textiles, and their tribal origins on both sides of the border of Northeast India and Myanmar. The pdf brochure for this tour can be accessed here.

Anna-Louise has been working in Meghalaya since 2014, and is currently based in Shillong, doing research on the traditional Eri silk textiles of Meghalaya. She has written a great blog about her obsession with eri textiles which can be accessed here. Please email Anna-Louise directly for more information.

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Feature: The Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia

Publication of this guest blog is for information only and does not indicate an endorsement of this tour by the OATG.

THE LESSER SUNDA ISLANDS OF INDONESIA

OATG member Jenny Spancake recently joined a Textile Tour of the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia on which fellow OATG members David and Sue Richardson were the textile experts. Here she shares her some of her experiences:-

My husband and I moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1983. One of our first trips in the region was to Bali where a friend asked if I would buy her a piece of ikat; this was my introduction to this technique. As an embroiderer, I was fascinated with ikat and wanted to learn more about it. Living in a number of locations around the world, including around four years in Thailand and seven in total in Kuala Lumpur, I was able to learn quite a bit about the ikat textiles of Southeast Asia. However living in mainland Southeast Asia meant I focused on weft ikat, mostly done on silk, and these are the type of ikats we began to collect. With travels to India, Central and South America and Central Asia, I broadened the base of that knowledge. What was needed to close the circle of study was a trip to the islands of Indonesia.

The perfect opportunity came in May 2019 with a trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands with David and Sue Richardson. As these islands we visited are part of the province of Indonesia known as Nusa Tenggara Timur I will refer to them as NTT. Traveling with the Richardsons was a good choice for us as they are very willing to share the knowledge of Indonesia and its textiles that they have gained over many years. The Richardsons focus on the textile techniques and visit only villages that still do natural dyeing.   As my husband’s undergraduate degree is in Chemical Engineering, he was eager to travel with someone as interested in the chemistry of natural dyes as David Richardson is.   The islands of NTT were perfect – a gorgeous landscape with fascinating textiles still woven in the traditional way with natural dyes.

Cotton threads which were bound with strips of a palm leaf and then dyed indigo.

At each village we visited we were welcomed by villagers dressed in their traditional costume, dancing their traditional dances and perhaps the most unexpected joy, playing their traditional music. Videos truly are the only way to capture the magic of these moments. The music is not heard looking at pictures in books and the music is the way the spirit of the village is actually captured. We were entertained in one village by a man playing the hoe as the main performer. In still another village, it was obvious that when they had done the planned program, they continued to play and sing for the sheer joy of the music. These are the moments that only visiting in person can provide.

This man was having such fun and creating great sounds just by hitting his hoe with a stone!

A visit to the village of Lamalera was of twofold interest – of course, we saw textiles. But we also talked to the villagers about their traditional livelihood of whaling and saw a demonstration of how they actually practice it. It is very easy for us in the West to see whaling as only the large scale enterprise that has a negative impact on the existence of whales. We forget that traditionally villages existed in harmony with the environment and depended and still depend on the whales for food and products. Risking their lives to harpoon a whale is a different way of life. The number of whales taken by a village is also a small fraction of that worldwide. [Editor’s note: this is the village where OATG founder Ruth Barnes did much of her research].

A demonstration of traditional whaling from a small boat at Lamalera.

In every village we saw demonstrations of the entire process of creating a textile from picking the cotton, processing it, spinning, dyeing, tying, and then the weaving process. In NTT textiles are produced in cotton in the warp ikat technique. As stated above, one of the things that most appealed to us about this tour was its emphasis on natural dyeing. Natural dyes are making a comeback in some parts of the world, but it is in fact an uphill battle. It is more expensive to use natural dyes because it takes more time to create the desired color. Synthetic dyes are much quicker, so cheaper in the long run when the final price of the piece is considered. In today’s market it is difficult for a weaver to charge a price that reflects the extra time spent in using natural dyes. Also part of the price must reflect the time it takes to produce a multi-colored complex design in ikat. Therefore, what tourists generally see are textiles produced with synthetic colors and a very simple ikat design – which exactly describes my first purchase. But as I learned more about ikat and dyes, I began to desire the more complex, naturally dyed examples. Steve and I have always tried to buy the most well produced pieces as we travel to encourage women to keep weaving at a high quality. Weavers must be able to earn a fair wage so that traditional textiles can continue to be made.

Patterns showing naga, which is very traditional in many parts of Southeast Asia.

I plan to describe just a few interesting experiences from the trip. First, natural dyeing involves a complicated chemical process. Dyers in the villages use both inherited knowledge plus trial and error today to create a wide range of colors.   In NTT the two major colors are indigo (blue) and morinda (red). It is very interesting to see that each village had its own variation on using these dyes.   Indigo is perhaps one of the most common dyes used around the world. Morinda is less well known and I will concentrate on this dye.

Threads dyed with morinda at a workshop on Timor.

Please note that I have used the website of David and Sue Richardson, Asian Textile Studies, as my source for the information detailed here. A great deal more information is included on that website than I will present here. On this trip we saw very detailed demonstrations of how red and brown colors are achieved by using this dye.   This can take a huge amount of root to complete the process to achieve the color desired for the finished textile. Once the bark is collected and prepared to begin to dye, a complex process begins.   Cotton that is to be dyed with morinda must be pretreated and a mordant must be used to fix the color. In NTT the most frequently used mordant is the leaf or bark of the tree belonging to the genus Symplocos. I was intrigued to learn that what made this possible was that the tree draws aluminium from the soil and accumulates it in the leaves and bark. Once processed these produce aluminium salts that then act as a mordant.

However, this process does not work unless the cotton is prepared before the dye made from morinda is applied. The first part of this preparatory process is cleaning the cotton. This is done by washing the yarn in water filtered through wood ash, thus creating an alkaline solution.   Then the cotton must be soaked in oil made from the candlenut tree, widely known as kemiri. Oil is produced from the candlenuts themselves. I have just described in a very simplistic way how cotton is dyed with morinda; for those interested in more detail and the chemistry of this process, please consult the morinda page of the Richardson’s website. The final process of any dyeing sequence is to rinse the cotton in water and here was the insight that interested me most.   I had of course read about the dramatic difference credited to the water of certain production areas when oriental rugs are woven and then washed after their completion. But for some reason I never carried that thought on to natural dyes and cotton and silk textiles.   It was one of those ideas that floats around in your mind but then one day you suddenly say, “Of course, the water is the final important piece of the dyeing puzzle.”   Water is a localized issue; each source of water has its own particular chemical makeup and the minerals present are the final creator of the color produced by the natural dye in question. Pointed out by the Richardsons on this trip, I finally saw the obvious.

Adding alkaline ash water to the morinda dye bath.

Although the main colors that we saw produced were blue and red from indigo and morinda, on one particular island we saw an astonishing array of different colors – all from natural dyes. This was on the tiny island of Ternate where we saw how they made dyes from a huge variety of plants as well as sea sponges and, most fascinating of all, a gastropod called a sea hare. We were told they had dived at 5am to get these creatures, which release purple ink as a defense mechanism. The innards are also used to make a pale green color and finally the sea hare is cooked and eaten so nothing is wasted.

An amazing demonstration of dyeing on Ternate.

Another highlight was our visit to the workshop of Freddy Hambuwali on Sumba. Modern hinggi, a man’s cloth with a long history, are created with a very high standard of warp ikat and finishing.   We were able to see all of these steps, beginning with the drawing of the pattern on the warps. I was particularly interested in the beautiful shade of indigo blue produced here. The ikat threads are dyed with indigo and morinda but a different method is used in Sumba to add a yellow dye – it is painted on after the weaving of the hinggi.   Another Sumbanese method is used to finish the hinggi; the hinggi is turned and the warp threads become the weft as a band called a kabakil is woven on to the bottom to create a finished end to stop the threads from unraveling.

The hinggi produced here are very detailed and are made in a wide variety of designs. We also learned about the computation of bundles of threads to facilitate the process of tying and dyeing. I myself was most attracted to the hinggi that are so obviously based on the patterns of Indian patola cloths. These patola have been a high status cloth in Indonesia for hundreds of years and are preserved as heirlooms in many households in the islands.   The layout of many Indonesian textiles can be seen to originate in the design of patola. Involving complex ikat, these hinggi were for me personally the most interesting ones.

I have oversimplified all of the aspects of weaving and dyeing just briefly mentioned here and have omitted so much, especially the supplementary warp weaving techniques we encountered.

Supplementary warp weaving on Sumba. Here we are being shown how the pattern is kept on sticks.

And I have not even begun to describe all of the villages visited, the many rewarding encounters with villagers and all that I learned. I relaxed on the beautiful Ombak Putih with its attentive crew, delicious food and comfortable cabins, learned so many new things about textiles, experienced new cultures in majestic landscapes and made new friends. I doubt one can ask for more in life.

What I really wanted to express to readers is the great joy that I experienced throughout this trip, which is extremely well designed and lends itself to a constant learning experience.  We’ve been on many textile tours, quite a few led by textile experts, but none of these leaders have ever been so generous with their knowledge as David and Sue – they love Indonesian culture so much it’s infectious and inspires you to want to learn more We’re always looking for trips that focus on textiles and this one exceeded our expectations.

For full details of this tour visit the Tour page of Asian Textile Studies or email David and Sue directly.

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