As of August this year, 33 traditional fabrics from all around Indonesia were declared as intangible cultural heritages by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Heritage. Although some are more widespread in many areas than others, each is listed under the location of its biggest concentration of makers. From this ever-growing list, we present snippets about the beauty of gringsing, songket and karawo. Read on to start your journey into the wonders of Indonesia.

 Gringsing from Tenganan

gringsing-Gunadarma.jpgPhoto courtesy of: Gunadarma University 

Made using double ikat, one of three ikat resist-dyeing techniques, both the weft and warp yarns for the gringsing fabric are dyed prior to weaving—as opposed to dyeing the finished fabric after applying resist in batik making. The finished fabric has a much-prized blurriness quality due to the difficulty in lining up the dyed yarns to create the pattern, which could be reduced by a more skillful craftsperson using finer silk yarns. Japan, India and Indonesia are the only countries to produce the double ikat, with India as one of the possible origins of, or destination for spreading, Indonesia’s gringsing.

Each gringsing is made solely by hand in Tenganan, a small Bali Aga village in East Bali. These people are the indigenous population that existed long before the Hindu-Javanese immigration wave brought by the Majapahit Kingdom. The result is a much older and more distinct tradition with hints of Austronesian elements than the rest of Bali, well-kept thanks to Bali Aga’s isolated villages.

Gringsing itself is regarded as a sacred cloth—as the name roughly translates to “no sicknesses”—with restrictions observed from its dyeing stage to its wearing stage to ensure that the fabric loses no magical qualities. Used in many rituals, gringsing is thought to keep impurities away throughout a person’s life, and to keep villages safe. Its tridatu colours, brownish-red, bluish-black, and yellowish-white colours, are made from natural ingredients and woven into around 28 patterns worn according to age, gender and social status.

 Songket from Palembang

ThinkstockPhotos-101921836.jpgPhoto courtesy of: Thinkstock

Songket is a type of brocade known in different names and patterns across Indonesia from Sumbawa in the east to Bali in the middle of the region, and Sumatra in the west. The neighbouring regions of Malaysia and Brunei also have their own songket due to the shared cultural roots. In Indonesia, Sumatra’s Palembang is one of the most famous and finest producers of songket, which is mostly credited to its place as the capital of the Srivijaya Kingdom where the Malay culture was thought to originate.

A songket is made with the supplementary weaving technique that could have been introduced by Indian or Arab merchants. The word songket itself comes from “sungkit”,  or “to hook”, which refers to the second stage in which weavers hook and pick a group of silk threads to slip gold or silver threads in between the weft threads. This supplementary technique is called inlay weaving and results in a shimmering pattern against plain, darker backgrounds woven in the first stage.

With hundreds of patterns developed over the centuries to represent a wearer’s status, songket is inseparable from important occasions between birth and death. Based on the motif and amount of gold thread, songket are divided into lepus, tawur, tretes, bungo pacik, limar and combination. Previously worn only by men, women now also wear songket as a sarong, coupled with a loose, traditional kurung dress. Additional uses are as a headdress called destar or tanjak, and as a sash.

 Karawo from Gorontalo


Photo courtesy of: Wonderful Indonesia

From the Gorontalo Peninsula in North Sulawesi, karawo fabric is enjoying a revival as it was featured by two designers from Rumah Karawo in this year’s New York Fashion Week. First started during the Gorontalo Kingdom’s golden age in around the 1600s, the Dutch colonial rule banned any local identity or tradition when it came to power in the region in 1899. The embroiderer and weavers, mostly women, then decided to do it in secret—some even moved to the forests and became the Polahi people today.

The name itself refers to an embroidery technique on a woven fabric done in three stages starting from cutting and removing small portions of threads following a drawn pattern. Next, the embroiderer would fill in the blanks with coloured or gilded threads, or called the manila karawo, in line with the woven fabric’s flow. The fabric’s lines are then strengthened and tidied lastly by wrapping threads around. Another type, ikat karawo, is much rarer and more difficult to create than manila karawo.

This technique follows the same steps except for the second part in which the embroiderer would fill in by tying the cut-out parts to follow the motif. At least three or four days are required to finish small embroideries, while big ones would take 10 days to a month—especially for the ikat karawo. Today’s karawo is also made in modern motifs with applications ranging from traditional costumes to casual clothes, uniforms, and much more.

See also: The distinctive beauty of batik

Tags: Bali, Indonesia, Ikat, Embroidery, Gorontalo, Traditional, Palembang, Songket, Fabrics, Weave, Karawo, Sumatra, Gringsing