Threads of Life textiles in detail
Each textile has a story- where it's from, who made it, and what materials were used. If you are interested in the process and details of these textiles, this…
While people on Lembata see themselves as Christian they still have their large boats on the south coast of Lamalera with eyes on the prow so the boat can help them see at night. These boats are considered to be the original boats the ancestors arrived in during the great migration that brought them to Lembata. Throughout May we will be talking about the trade and migration routes through Indonesia that brought many of the amazing patterns to these shores.
This one panel textile is locally known as a senai which is a narrow textile woven to be worn over the shoulder or around the neck by a woman to compete her traditional dress. The diamond pattern is locally called patola which is inspired by Indian patola textiles that were traded into Indonesia from India in the 15th – 19th century. Ikat tied, dyed and woven in Wulandoni, Lembata, 2019. Size 172 x 23 cm / 67.5 x 9 in
The community of Boti in Timor, where this textile was made, see themselves as true custodians of the land. After planting the vast landholdings that the they manage no one is allowed to pick or disturb the land as it is allowed to rest and grow as if in gestation. After almost 9 months a ceremony is performed to ask permission to begin harvest. Cotton is first harvested under the full moon, it is picked with song and then spun into thread that you see in this beautiful textile.
Elephant imagery appear in textiles throughout Indonesia. While elephants inhabit the large island of Sumatra, they were never found in the eastern islands of the archipelago such as Flores. This imagery primarily came through the trade of cloths from India during the spice trade. The ikat motif on this textile is called Nggaja, the local word for elephant. This scarf, Lete, is worn for special ceremonies by the women of the ethnic group Ende-Lio from Ndona in Central Flores near Ende.
A note from William and Jean: "Sales of textiles help us to continue buying textiles from our traditional weaver groups. We are in touch with weavers weekly using WhatsApp and we have Timor and Kalimantan field staff who can travel and purchase a limited number of textiles from the Threads of Life weaver groups on these islands. On some of the islands where we do not have field staff living (Flores, Sulawesi, Lembata, and Savu), weavers are waiting for us to return in 2022."
On the frame: Indonesian weavers are famous for a tie-dye technique called ikat, meaning “to tie a knot”. The weaver stretches her warp or weft on a wooden frame and ties strands of palm leaf or plastic raffia around small bundles of threads. After hours of tying, the bindings begin to form patterns: stylized plants and animals, motifs declaring clan and status, pictures and words that illustrate ancient myths and recent events.
When you buy one of our textiles, you help make a positive impact economically, culturally and environmentally. Putting money directly into the hands of women is the best way to ensure the welfare of a household. Maintaining a vital textile tradition supports cultural continuity and the ritual exchanges that form the bonds of community. Ecologically, natural dye plants are often cultural keystone species with associated rituals that perpetuate sustainable relationships with an entire watershed.
In Indonesia, the dry season brings most agricultural activity to a halt. Women fill the gap with cotton: they harvest, clean, spin, dye, and weave it until they are needed in the fields once more. Many families subsist on the produce of their gardens and barter with their neighbours. Cotton textiles provide the cash income to cover taxes, school fees, and medical expenses.
Tating and Sustainability: Moving from Shells to Buttons. Dayak Desa women’s skirts have a long history of being decorated with shells, bells, beads, and even buttons. Mother of pearl buttons are made as a by-product of clams, mussels and other seafood so we are up-cycling this material. We are delighted with the result of our new tating skirts and hope you will be as well: they now express a care for the forest and for the oceans.
Most Timorese have adopted Christianity, but few have abandoned their traditional ways altogether. Ancestors are believed to intervene in daily life. Each clan has a plant or animal totem, a protector for the extended family. To perform traditional ceremonies, worshipers wear textiles decorated with motifs that evoke the clan plant or animal. The motifs pass the qualities of the totem into the person who wears them.
Working directly with weavers empowers women to maintain their own enterprises without interference by a community’s men, and putting money directly into the hands of women is the best way to ensure the welfare of a household. Maintaining a vital textile tradition supports cultural continuity and the ritual exchanges that form the bonds of community. Ecologically, natural dye plants are often cultural keystone species with associated rituals and mythology.
Behind the scenes at Threads of Life is a staff of thirty who work directly with the weavers in the field across the archipelago, and maintain the chain of custody that allows each piece to be labeled with unique information about its makers and the importance of the piece to their culture.