spin­ner of yarns

To keep tra­di­tional songket weav­ing alive, Royal Tereng­ganu Songket strives to em­power ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined ru­ral young women.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOCUS - By CH­ERYL POO

To keep tra­di­tional songket weav­ing alive, Royal Tereng­ganu Songket strives to em­power ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined ru­ral young women.

AT the crack of dawn, some 17 young women take their place be­hind wooden looms in a lit­tle work­shop in the south of Kuching to weave some of the finest songket in the world.

Ca­ma­raderie and mu­sic ac­com­pany in­tent eyes and nim­ble fin­gers as these girls work dili­gently through the day. This is the Sarawak arm of Royal Tereng­ganu Songket (RTS); its other work­shop is in Tereng­ganu and the brand has a show­room in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

Royal Tereng­ganu Songket was cre­ated by Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahi­rah, a foun­da­tion set up in 2007 un­der the royal pa­tron­age of the Queen to pre­serve lo­cal her­itage craft while im­prov­ing the liveli­hood of ar­ti­sans such as these weavers.

“Our goal is to keep the cot­tage in­dus­try alive,” says RTS tex­tile and de­sign di­rec­tor Dr June Ngo, who is also the deputy dean of the Fac­ulty of Ap­plied and Cre­ative Arts at Univer­siti Malaysia Sarawak and a PhD holder in songket craft­ing.

It was in this neat lit­tle shoplot that one of the youngest weavers in the group, 19-yearold Sukma Ki­pli (who goes by the nick­name Ta­nia), pro­duced the piece that won the Sil­ver Prize in the Bro­cade Silk Metal­lic Yarn cat­e­gory at the Asean Silk Fab­ric and Fashion Com­pe­ti­tion in Bangkok in July.

The win­ning piece was a sampin (a short

Reams of yarn are stretched across wooden boards in a loom for songket-weav­ing. sarong) with a baroque and tra­di­tional Malay songket mo­tif, wo­ven in cream and brown fil­a­ment silk. It was made in the tra­di­tional way by weav­ing an as­sort­ment of coloured

The that won the Sil­ver Prize at the Asean Silk Fab­ric and Fashion Com­pe­ti­tion in Bangkok in July, wo­ven by Sukma Ki­pli (inset). Songket is pro­duced by weav­ing coloured metal­lic threads into cloth us­ing a tra­di­tional em­broi­der. metal­lic threads into the cloth with a tra­di­tional em­broi­der.

“The award came as a sur­prise to us since the girls have been trained to weave for less than three years,” Ngo says.

The cri­te­ria for judg­ing were even­ness, de­sign and pat­tern, neat­ness, colour, cre­ativ­ity, con­cept and work­man­ship.

In­done­sia, Laos, Myan­mar and Thai­land also took part in the com­pe­ti­tion, which was or­gan­ised by the Queen Sirikit Depart­ment of Ser­i­cul­ture, Thai­land, and serves to es­tab­lish a cul­ture of co­op­er­a­tion in the tech­ni­cal and mar­ket­ing as­pects of the art among Asean coun­tries.

Mak­ing songket is an in­tri­cate process where only about 8cm of fab­ric can be wo­ven in a day.

The sampin is com­monly worn by men over a loose pair of pants from the waist to the calves. In­tri­cate gold bor­ders line the sides, giv­ing the cloth an ex­quis­ite edge.

A weaver’s story

Like many of her peers in the work­shop, Ta­nia comes from a farm­ing vil­lage in the in­te­ri­ors of Sarawak.

Halt­ingly, she tells me about her life and the sim­ple de­ci­sion to fol­low her sis­ter two years ago that led her to ven­ture out from her fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings to this job in the city.

Ta­nia’s older sis­ter, Ram­lah Ki­pli, now the work­shop su­per­vi­sor, was weav­ing songket on her own for sale at Kraftan­gan Malaysia ex­hi­bi­tions. Her labour was fruit­less and af­ter eight long months with­out in­come, Ram­lah met Ngo at an event.

“Madam (Ngo) of­fered me a job as a weaver un­der the Yayasan. Along with a few other young women like my­self, I was the first gen­er­a­tion in the cur­rent pool of weavers un­der the Yayasan. To date, I’m the old­est weaver in our lit­tle com­mu­nity,” ex­plains Ram­lah, 30.

At that time, Ta­nia’s dreams of be­com­ing a

Painstak­ing work:

Fruit of the loom:

sampin

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