By Dewi Cristina
Last month I travelled to the island of Flores to attend an Ikat workshop. I arrived at the tiny airport of Maumere and, the next day, I was ready to learn everything about the ikat process and, especially, the process of natural dyeing.
The traditional technique of dyeing fibers with natural dyes is very complicated and time consuming, so it is disappearing in favour of the easier and faster process involving synthetic dyes. However, there is always someone who is willing to fight to keep the traditions alive, and in Flores, that person is Alfonsa Horeng. She is no doubt a warrior. She has created a weaver´s cooperative in her own backyard: Lepo Lorung, which literally means "weaver´s home". And she has travelled to many countries in collaboration with different Indonesian embassies in order to promote her art.
Weaving has a long tradition in Indonesia. For centuries women have been harvesting cotton, spinning it, dying the threads with natural dyes and weaving them with a back strap loom. It is, literally, the creation of a piece of usable art from the resources they have around them. Indonesia is a huge archipelago with more than 17.000 islands and 700 different ethnic groups, and the textiles women create are hugely varied. The patterns created are distinctive of the region they come from, each of them representing an aspect of their creators’ beliefs, traditions and surroundings.
This workshop was particularly interesting for me. Not only because I saw firsthand all of the stages involved in the creation of a new textile, but because the participants were, except for me, women from a small fishing village very rich in maritime resources but, it seemed to me, lacking in others. So I was very excited to be part of that, and they were very excited too because a bule (a foreigner, that’s me), was also there.
They already knew everything about the dyeing and weaving processes. They weren’t there to learn the techniques like me, but to learn how to use all their knowledge to organize their own workshops and guided tours in order to have another source of much-needed income. It was also very nice to see the mayor of the village there taking notes on everything. Corruption in Indonesia is quite common, so it is always very nice to see a real politician working for the development of the whole village. And he got really involved.
Indonesia is still a developing country, but it is incredibly rich in natural resources, traditions and expert craftsmanship. And this is where Dorotea Gale is focusing the efforts: promoting the best of the country. And in doing this, these two half Indonesians who want to see their country of origin prosper are hoping to do their part.
After a couple of hours learning about how to run a workshop, including setting up accommodation, providing food and many other little details, the proper ikat workshop started. We began by picking the raw cotton from the garden and then moved onto to the different steps of manually processing the cotton to convert it into threads. From here we learned about picking the indigo leaves from the bushes, collecting tree bark and roots and preparing the dyes and using them to colour the cotton threads. This was followed by spreading the threads and tying them to create the pattern that will be dyed after. After collecting the dyed threads, they were carefully put in the back strap loom and finally, the weaving could begin
Obviously it is impossible to carry out all of these steps in their entirety, but seeing parts of all the processes involved really gives you an idea of the work and time involved in the creation of a single piece of fabric. AND IT IS A LOT. REALLY. A LOT.