EM­BRAC­ING TEX­TILE HER­ITAGE

LEARN MORE ABOUT IN­DONE­SIAN TRA­DI­TIONAL FAB­RICS AT THREADS OF LIFE…

Bali & Beyond - - CRAFT & CULTURE - By Wi­win Wir­widya

It was a gloomy morn­ing in Bali, yet it didn’t stop me from vis­it­ing Threads of Life, a fair trade busi­ness that fo­cuses on pre­serv­ing the coun­try’s heir­loom-qual­ity tex­tiles and bas­kets, while at the same time help­ing un­der­priv­i­leged fab­ric mak­ers in ru­ral ar­eas. It is a move­ment un­der the Be­bali Foun­da­tion, founded by Jean Howe and her hus­band, Wil­liam In­gram. Af­ter a walk through the rice fields to visit their work­shop in Ubud, I dis­cov­ered that the place is even more in­ter­est­ing as it is filled with peo­ple with in­cred­i­ble ded­i­ca­tion to­wards In­done­sian her­itage.

The work­shop is nes­tled within the peace­ful area of Uma­jati Re­treat. As I walked into the re­treat, Jean her­self greeted me. She then took me to the end of the com­plex where some for­eign­ers were sit­ting on the batik work­ing ta­ble in an open-air Joglo con­struc­tion next to a rice field. It seemed they were join­ing a batik course, as one of them was se­ri­ously draw­ing a pat­tern while the other was care­fully ap­ply­ing batik wax.

Threads of Life has been sus­tain­ing the art of In­done­sian tex­tiles since the 1980s, yet it was of­fi­cially founded in 1998. It was born from a strong de­sire to pre­serve the coun­try’s rich tex­tiles, be­cause each piece from ev­ery area across the ar­chi­pel­ago con­tains strong cul­tural and valu­able spir­i­tual philoso­phies.

BATIK CHAL­LENGE

As I en­tered the Joglo house, Jean of­fered to have me join the batik course. She let me sit at the same ta­ble with other par­tic­i­pants. There was a white plain cot­ton cloth, a pen­cil and a cat­a­logue of batik pat­tern on the ta­ble – I chose the Kawung pat­tern be­cause I thought it was the eas­i­est.

I suc­ceeded in draw­ing my first Kawung pat­tern on the cor­ner of the cloth, yet I still had to con­tinue

un­til the whole cloth was fully cov­ered. Half way through, I thought I couldn’t fin­ish it. In­deed, mak­ing batik re­quires so much pa­tience and ef­fort on ev­ery de­tail, and I don’t think I have that re­quire­ment. This is ex­actly why batik tulis is ex­pen­sive, and we should ap­pre­ci­ate the tra­di­tional batik mak­ers who have been do­ing this mar­velous work their whole lives.

Dur­ing the class, I was in­tro­duced to I Made Mad­uarta or also pop­u­larly known as “Pak Pung”, the co-founder and eth­nob­otanist of Threads of Life. He ex­plained that for al­most 20 years now, In­done­sian tra­di­tional tex­tile has been fac­ing so many chal­lenges. And based on his dis­cov­er­ies dur­ing his work and visit to many re­mote places in In­done­sia, the main chal­lenges re­main about how In­done­sians can main­tain their cul­ture and iden­tity, and make a liv­ing at the same time.

To over­come the chal­lenges, Threads of Life is cur­rently work­ing di­rectly with over 1,000 women in more than 35 co­op­er­a­tive groups in many ar­eas, from Bor­neo to Ti­mor. Their busi­ness model uses mar­kets to re­ward cul­tural in­tegrity, pro­mote en­vi­ron­ment con­ser­va­tion and em­power fam­i­lies in some of the world’s poor­est places to help them get out of poverty.

While ex­plain­ing what Threads of Life has been do­ing, Jean and Pak Pung took me to the other side of the Joglo house where ev­ery­one was watch­ing the dye­ing process of their batik. Pak Pung’s staff then helped to hang the fab­ric and care­fully put them in a tank filled with nat­u­ral in­digo color.

Threads of Life uses Morinda Lu­cida leaves for the in­digo color. The leaves are fer­mented for 24 hours, then pressed us­ing big stones that are heavy enough to pre­vent the fab­rics from float­ing in the wa­ter. It was mag­i­cal to see how the cloth slowly turned from bright green to light blue then to a per­fect in­digo. And in­deed, it was beau­ti­ful to ob­serve what re­mark­able art our na­ture cre­ates.

END­LESS SUP­PORT

The Threads of Life team does

reg­u­lar trips to many vil­lages in In­done­sia. Their mis­sion and fo­cus is not only on the fin­ished prod­ucts but also on the roots of the tex­tile tra­di­tion. Threads of Life helps to re­vi­tal­ize tra­di­tions and do much needed field work, such as con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, ap­ply­ing fair trade and sup­port­ing women.

Jean ex­plained that she and her team also did re­search on how to con­serve the Morinda trees which is the source of in­digo nat­u­ral dye for batik, or the Man­grove barks that cre­ate the brown nat­u­ral dye.

So Threads of Life is not only us­ing nat­u­ral sources, but is also striv­ing to grow the trees and find the best way to make them sus­tain­able.

My dis­cov­ery about tex­tile and the amaz­ing nat­u­ral dye process did not stop there. Jean took me to the gallery of Threads of Life, their one and only store and gallery on the is­land, which is lo­cated in the heart of Ubud. Here, visi­tors can stop by and wit­ness a num­ber of in­cred­i­ble fab­rics on dis­play, in­clud­ing batik and ikat.

Jean also ex­plained how a wo­man can make a piece of ikat with a com­plex, ex­tra­or­di­nary tech­nique. Lis­ten­ing to her ex­pla­na­tion, I couldn’t stop won­der­ing how some­one could have so much pa­tience, skill, tal­ent and ac­cu­racy in mak­ing such de­tailed fab­rics. And I be­lieve we as con­sumers have a share to play in pre­serv­ing this price­less cul­tural her­itage too. The least we can do is give our full sup­port to Threads of Life and the thou­sands of batik artists in ru­ral ar­eas.

Threads of Life Bali Gallery: Jalan Ka­jeng No. 24 Ubud, Gian­yar, Bali (0361) 972187

Work­shop: Jalan Subak Uma Pe­tulu, Ubud, Gian­yar (Uma­jati Re­treat) 0823-4060-0293 www.thread­soflife.com

The batik- mak­ing class at Threads of Life.

Threads of Life is striv­ing to pre­serve the na­tion’s heir­loomqual­ity tex­tiles and bas­kets.

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