The island of Sumba in Indonesia has a rich tradition of naturally dyed handwoven cloth. Much of the cloth is used for ceremonies, wedding, funerals and passed down through families for generations. Some designs have ritual significance, other tell a story or illustrate life on the island. Contemporary patterns are also being produced with geometric designs, often scattered with horses, chickens and sea creatures.
Indonesia is well known for their Ikat style of textiles. Ikat means to bind or to tie. This piece is made on a backstrap loom that sits on the ground. The warp thread is strung onto the loom and the desired pattern is sketched onto the thread. The thread is then wrapped with string, straw or plastic so certain areas of the thread to resist the dye. The thread is then soaked in one or numerous dye baths depending on the desired pattern. The thread is then returned to the warp of the loom and the weaving process begins. As the weft is woven through the warp the pattern emerges in the cloth. Once piece of cloth can take 1-12 months to complete.
Natural Dyeing Process
Beautiful soft tones as well as strong and vibrant colours are produced using only natural dyes. The process to produce strong colours that last is often a long one. It takes generations of local knowledge which is being lost with the popularity of chemical dyes.
The blue is made from indigo which is grown and harvested locally. It is first soaked in water mixed with lime powder. The lime reacts with the leaf and turns the water blue. It is them fermented for weeks to ensure the colour is strong and will remain in the cloth. Thread is then soaked in the dye mix, beaten with a wooden mallet to send the colour to the centre of the thread, dried, then the process repeats numerous time depending on the desired colour.
Red, yellow, brown, green and black are produced with various roots and leaves, sometimes mixed together for varying colour tones.