The beautiful textiles of Flores island

Indonesia has a rich variety of textiles produced and used. Just as the archipelago is a kaleidoscope of cultures, the variation in textiles produced (and how they are used) varies significantly from one island or region to another. The technique known as ikat (originally a Javanese word, which means tied, or knotted) is produced with distinct vibrance on Flores.

Textiles don’t survive well over time, so it’s hard to know how long these have been produced, but the production and technique have been recognized for centuries…even the local word has come into use for similar styles of fabric created in different parts of the world.

One of the treats in Flores is to see how this traditional cloth is still the standard for clothing for many. The Flores style is specific: the finished fabric is tied into a long tube, which the wearer steps into. Men wrap it at their waist, rolling the excess cloth down. Women wear it this way, too, although usually higher up- well above the waist- but also commonly drape it over one shoulder. The lower slung portion gribbed to the body by an elbow, or weighed with precious cargo.

sarongs as babycarriers

Our second day in Geliting, Hyo and I followed a guy we had met on the beach up the path toward his kampung- Jimmy insisted on helping us flag down ‘ojek’ rides (shared motorcycles, which stand in where public transportation doesn’t exist) into Maumere. We stopped to chat with his wife on their porch while he went to the main road. To my delight, Maria had been in the middle of the early stages of the ikat production process. I had hoped to share this with the family while we were in Flores, and to have it show up right in front of us was serendipity.

Maria met my enthusiasm with warmth and was happy to pull out parts of various sarongs that she had in progress. The first stage, what she’d been working on when we stopped by, is laying out the warp threads and binding them in a pattern; bound areas resist the dye, creating the pattern in the final product.

Ikat making process

Once the pattern is complete, warp threads are removed in bundles. The bundles are tied in groups based on the color of dye to be used: here, blue or black.

Ikat making process

After dying, the threads are reassembled for weaving. Women on Flores use backstrap looms, where tension from the wearer’s posture helps keep threads in place. It’s a painstaking process, and threads must be constantly adjusted to avoid any blurriness in the lines; the most valued textiles are those with crisp, fine patterns from intricate designs and careful weaving.

Ikat making process

The patterns incorporated have meaning. They are motifs that often have cultural significance, and can be distinguishing characteristics calling out the area that the weaver hails from on the island.

Kampung friends

Hyo had some help stepping in to model this sarong. Stiff from dyes when new, they soften with washing and over time…but it makes getting into one a little tricky. Jimmy helped!

Hyo models a sarong

When we returned to look at the ikat samples in progress and make friends. The kids brought a soccer ball for the village children- score another hit for soccer ball diplomacy! Lots of excitement as it flew around the packed dirt ground of the courtyard among the homes.

Photo time

Hyo models a sarong

2 Responses to The beautiful textiles of Flores island

  1. Bill April 23, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    If you find a source for quality fabric sarongs (not tourist crap) Drop me a line…

    Enjoy reading your posts.

    • Behan Gifford April 23, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      Bill, if you’re looking for Flores ikat in particular, the sources were village women so getting hooked up from outside the country is a little complicated. There are probably sources who buy and aggregate although I couldn’t tell you who/where. On the other hand I can evaluate good vs crap if you find a source that I can check out!

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