Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Last Post or List of Things I Didn't Know.......

The Last Post or List of Things I Didn’t Know Before Coming on the Threads of Life Tour to Bali & West Timor:

1. The difference between ikat, double ikat, supplementary weft, or discontinued weft.
2. That there are at least 100 uses for the coconut.
3. Bali has squirrels.
4. Congregational Ministers can be female.
5. That in the U.S you can buy your own railroad.
6. During the safety video on Garuda flights, stewards don’t demonstrate safety equipment instead they hand out lollies!
7. The Garuda in-flight magazine includes a list of invocations for a safe journey in 5 religions: Islamic, Buddhist, Catholic, Presbyterian & Confucian (I invoked them all as we had a very windy landing into Kupung.)
8. In West Timor the night time use of headlights by motorcycles (and some cars) is neither compulsory or customary
9. How deeply traditional Bali life still is.
10. That my travel insurance wouldn’t cover the loss of my front tooth.
11. How much I would love this tour!

Thank you to Eleri for organising me to go (and being such a great travel companion). My deep gratitude to Choy, Jean & William. Choy runs the most amazing tours
If going to Bali I encourage you to visit Threads of Life Visit the shop and if you get the chance to hear Jean or William speak grab it!
Thank you to everyone on the tour!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Last post from me

I'm home now and had the best trip ever. If you've enjoyed reading about weaving in Indonesia, please go and look at the Threads of Life website where they have better pictures and more reliable information than we remembered. Sign up for the newsletter, it's how we found out about the tour and is a good read.

Threads of Life

Pictures taken: 572
Blog posts: 28 - we achieved an average of 2 per day and still didn't manage to write about everything. I never did that blog on W Timor houses :( Some blogs never got their pictures attached and probably never will now.
Pictures of offal, fish and spices in piles taken by Fiona: way more than you ever saw.

Meals with tofu/tempeh in them: about 2 per day for me (this is a good result in case you are wondering).
Excellent sweets involving sticky rice: too many for Fiona, not possible for me to reach my limit. Believe me, I tried.
Days I achieved Bali pancakes for breakfast: 8
Palm sugar brought home and successfully negotiated through AQIS - 1kg each
Markets visited by Fiona:5

People we travelled with: 14-20 depending on where we were
People we made laugh, particularly in West Timor: hundreds. I'm going there again, so many people thought we were hilarious.
Boring days: none

Books I read: 3
Books I read from Fiona's list: 1 (oops)

I have a nice problem - what to do with all these textiles I have brought home. Fortunately all well separated from the palm sugar.

Thanks to everyone on the trip, my car buddies in West Timor in particular, and to Jean, William and everyone at Threads of Life.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Seraya - last weaving stop on the tour

Seraya is a coastal town in East Bali but up high. We take the scenic route and are soon winding through villages, past the Water Gardens and up and down. It's much dryer and we spot what looks like prickly pear. The leader of the Karya Seni Warna Alam weaver's coop is I Wayan Karya and he's an entertaining and entrepreneurial man. They weave from their own, homegrown cotton.

Wayan in the garden showing us a cotton boll he had just picked.

Then it has to be spun. In other places we had seen all sorts of arrangements for spinning - not all places use a wheel, some do the entire process by hand and must spin the spindle with one hand. At Seraya they use a home-made wheel, but we have also seen a lot of old bicycle wheels starting a new turn of duty.

Spinning the cotton.

And a here's a video of how to spin cotton (for all those people with leftover bicycle wheels at home who are just wondering what to do with them). NB - when I published this I realised you will have to turn you head 90 degrees to watch it. I'm sure you can manage because I can't rotate the vid! Either that or consider spinning lying down.

I found out how to make black dye - first you dye the cotton red by repeatedly dyeing, drying and re-dying until it is a deep red. Then you hot dye it in something with a high tannin content, and then dip it in water with a few rusty nails in it. This co-op was also doing some great indigo dyeing using an indigo that looks much more like the Australian one than others we saw elsewhere.

Indigo pots in various stages of readiness.

Yarns dyed with natural dyes and hung up for drying

This co-op has traditionally made poleng, the black and white checked cloth you see all over Bali, adorning statues and worn by some men. They revived their history and are now making it in the traditional way and are now selling to locals as well as to the tourist market. It's nice to see the Balinese looking for a quality woven product for use in every day life.

Fiona, Julia and Eleri with our purchases out the front of the weavers at Seraya.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tenganan - home of double ikat

Yesterday we visited the pinnacle of difficult weaving, Tenganan. It's a village in East Bali that is Bali Aga or old Balinese. It has an incredibly complex social organisation. And a population of just 300 or so. All marriage has to occur within this group.

Patterning seems to be very important with the community and there are lots of repeated patterns in the weaving as well as the houses. It's one of only three communities in the world that practice double ikat. The others are in Japan and India.

Textiles look unlike anything else we have seen. Double ikat means that both the warp and the weft carry a dyed pattern. The pattern is put on to the thread through the usual tying and dyeing methods we have seen elsewhere but on both threads.

Preparing the weft threads before dyeing.

Weaver concentrating on lining all the threads up both ways.

I can only imagine how hard it is to register the pattern so they BOTH line up. Not surprisingly, this is one of the indicators of quality. Unlike other weaving, the weaver doesn't tamp down hard on the weft threads. Tightness here is not a virtue because in order to get the pattern to work properly, the weft and warp threads must for an even, square grid. Hence, it's a fairly open weave. This is one of the reasons I didn't get one because it seemed fragile. I don't think it is, but it had that appearance.

Also, I thought it was over-priced. As a rare commodity and with a well established tourist market, there appeared to be more emphasis on quantity rather than quality. (Says me, who couldn't weave one to save my life.)

The best example we say and a very highly priced one. The white borders are the selvedges that keep the magic in. These textiles all have traditional ceremonial uses.

Farming Lontar palms or number 5 on the List of Jobs I Could Never Do.

Lontar palm (Burassus Sundaicus) is tall like a coconut tree but with the leaves of a fan palm and it can be found along the coastal regions of West Timor and other neighbouring islands. It can be used in so many ways: as a food, fronds are woven into baskets for offerings or made into the most exquisite harp like musical instruments; it’s a building material that is adaptable and very strong.
As a food palm sugar is said to be a complete ayurvedic food and each traditional home will have a large pot of it. Adding peanuts as protein provides most nutritional needs. The liquid can be also be fermented and is much in demand at wedding celebrations.

(Image of Lontar Palm Harp taken at the West Timor Museum's exhibition on Lontar Palm)

On Friday we travelled to Kuanheun in West Timor to see palm sugar being tapped. The countryside is very dry; clusters of Lontar palm grow in a large brown paddock and are farmed by various families. The family we meet own 60 trees, three have been tapped this morning and our famer has held off on the fourth so we can watch.
He is well into his fifties, thin, wiry and fast as anything as he climbs expertly up the 35 feet tall palm swaying madly in a very strong wind. The long palm flowers are sliced through and a basket made of Lontar fronds hangs beneath to catch the dripping liquid, at least two bags where hanging from the tree.

The liquid is hauled down in another basket hanging from his back and not a drop is spilled. A system of filtration ensures a pure and delicious liquid which can then be fermented for wine or boiled for palm syrup and then dried into a crystallised sugar.

(Examples of Lontar palm baskets used to carry and filter the palm liquid)

( Wenton one of our guides explains that his father is also a farmer (in Bali) and that he too can do this and that the Lontar climbers can also jump from tree to tree to save having to come back down and up! Wenton has a degree in law from Denpassar University. I don’t think many Australian lawyers would also have this tree climbing and tree jumping skill!)

Our farmer invites us back to his home to sample the wine. This is a spontaneous event but before we know chairs are being carried from all the homes to ensure we have enough seats. I’m always amazed at how quickly word travels that we are visiting, hospitality is always shown, and kids arrive from nowhere and follow us.

Some time back the villagers decided that no longer would a local man need to be able to climb and tap the Lontar before he married. Education was now the most important thing. It means that few people under the age of 40 do this for a living.
Also more money can be made from rice farming which is done in the same fields of the Lontar. The flooding of the land for rice production means that no new Lontar palms can grow.

I feel that I have seen a remarkable way of life in its demise.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

List of Foods I have eaten.

List of Balinese & West Timorese food I have eaten (and enjoyed)

1. Papaya flower salad which is slightly bitter and anti-malarial
2. Liquid tapped fresh from the Lontar palm
3. Mung bean and potato soup made by Looneke women
4. Fresh tomato and sacred basil sambal
5. West Timorese drink of avocado, condensed milk and chocolate
6. Glutinous rice coloured green with pandanus leaf & eaten like a warm
7. Roast suckling pig in Ubud
8. Tempeh with fiery sambals
9. Palm sugar in all it’s forms.
10. Surprisingly, a sizzling steak at the Rotterdam Steakhouse in Kupung

This is a photo of a dessert Eleri had at Nelayan Restaurant Kupang.
It consisted of shaved ice and then a mass of strangely coloured
agar agar pieces plus a whole lot of unidentifable gelatinous sugary matter. Like a trifle except it tasted like gummy bears and bubblegum from my childhood. Truly dreadful which is why it doesn't appear on my list, but Eleri loved it. I think I saw her adding extra sugar to it as well.

Some photos from Looneke

Belatedly here are some photos from Looneke that relate to Fiona's post on Morinda dye.

Walking in to Looneke. We left the cars at the top of the hill and walked in the last kilometre or so that we could have a proper welcome.

The official welcome was sung, the clan leader is the man in the front in blue. This is the welcome being sung.

The weavers' cooperative members did their own welcome dance for us.

A demonstration of indigo dyeing.

Fiona having a go at one of the easier tasks on offer - pounding the morinda roots in preparation for making the dye.

The members of the weavers' cooperative.

Fiona with the weaver of her new textile.

Eleri with the weaver of her new textile.

To market, to market to buy a fat pig

The butcher, the fisho and the betel nut seller.

I just love visiting Asian markets. They are so alive with the daily business of life. Travelling with local guides, Willie and Wenton , means we can have the unusual explained to us. Our first visit is to NekiNeki, ½ hour from Soe. It’s crowded with locals and we create much amusement and calls of Mrs! Mrs!

(Eleri & Willie our West Timorese guide who is married to an Australian.)

Meat is freshly slaughtered and they definitely take the “Nose to Tail”, use all parts of the beast trend very seriously. I think, maybe, they invented it. Coils of intestine, cow head, the snout and hearts it’s all here for the buying.

(Butcher's stall NekiNeki)

Flat fried discs the size of your palm overflow from large bags 3 feet high, it’s NekiNeki version of a doughnut. Betel nut and accompaniments seem to be the main thing being traded along with chickens, dried fish and chilli. I buy a bright yellow and pink crocheted doily. The women said it was “haark”, the Dutch word for hook as in crochet hook. In comparison to the other textiles people buy this is probably the ugliest thing in the market but as I also crochet so I just fell in love with it. The other tour members view my purchase with raised eyebrows.

(Man with chickens, not sure whether he was buying or selling but he was very happy.)

Our next market visit is the thriving Maubesi market (30 min from Kefamenau). Set along the banks of the river, this large sprawling noisy market is overflowing with fish, taro, and fresh meat. The live meat market is down at the riverside, goats, pigs, fowl and the odd dog are all being sold at a brisk pace.

A woman is selling small pancakes cooked to order over a tiny smoking fire. Willie explains they are made from the inside of a particular palm tree, the dry pulp is grated and then added to coconut. The flavour is nutty, a little sweet and smoky. They are delicious or enak. The woman has tattoos on the backs of her hands and shins, her hair is styled up in a bun and her teeth are painted black. Willie says this is because she is from a village south of her and this is their tradition. The teeth blackening comes from the liquid of a plant also used for dyeing, it’s heated and then painted on daily.

(Woman cooking at Maubesi market.)

Our final Timor market is Oeba, in downtown Kupung which is by the sea so the fish stalls are overflowing with fresh parrot fish, tuna, squid and a whole lot of other unidentifiable sea life-forms.
Fresh tofu, fresh tempeh, spices and traditional medicines are for sale. Wenton buys fruit for our picnic lunch and we taste palm sugar which has been dried into small round discs encircled with thin strips of lontar palm

We have caused much laughter, I find my expressions of delight are quickly mimicked by the stall holders which ensures even more laughter. Our etiquette is that we ask permission for a photo and then show them the photo. Now there is even more laughing and friends are called over to view it.

My lasting memory is of the beautiful display of all the produce which is always carefully grouped in neat rows with a great attention to colour and composition. I’ll also remember the smells.

(Betel nut artfully displayed.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Betel nut - the new lipstick

We tried betel nut! It's typically handed out as a welcome when you go to a meeting or negotiation of some sort. We've been giving betel nut in some places as a present when we arrive.

The village of Benlutu is in Amanuban between Soe and Kupang. They are expecting us when we arrive and we are greeted by a sung welcome. When we are seated in the shade, a young woman offers us betel nut from a woven basket (we now both own one of these baskets but without the betel nut).

How to chew a betel nut
You take a piece of betel nut and another piece of the plant that is green, cylindrical and not very big. Pop the nut in your mouth and plant it in your cheek for now. Wait for the lime to come around in a little container. The lime isn't anything to do with green citrus, it's like garden lime. Put a small bit of lime on the palm of your left hand. Dip the bit that's not in your mouth into the lime. Then suck the lime off.

Start chewing the betel nut and the lime. Immediately it creates lots of saliva that you musn't swallow and your tongue goes a bit numb. When the saliva gets too much spit it out on the ground and you will discover the whole thing has gone very red. I didn't put enough lime on mine I think and I just got the tongue numbing experience. Fiona's teeth and lips went an attractive shade of red but we didn't get a picture of this unfortunately.

People who chew betel nut alot have very red teeth and are forever spitting on the ground, great red projectiles. However it did clear up a small mystery - I thought there had been fighting in some places, like you see outside pubs in Sydney and where a blood trail is left on the ground. Betel nut is the real answer.

The weaving in this village was warp wrapped, an incredibly labor intensive process but with beautiful results. They are firmly wedded to synthetic dyes here but are using some natural dyes as well.

The villagers love William as he is well over 6 foot tall and they are all tiny. They delighted in dressing him up in traditional cloth and having their photo taken with him for the record of foreigners who have visited the village. It's a nice pay back for all the photos we take.

We meet a Raja and end up in a steakhouse

We meet the Raja of Amarasi, Robert Koroh, in his private home in Baun, not far from Kupang. He is the 20th Raja but as he says only 19 of them were Kings and had a kingdom. He now just has a ceremonial role. In fact, we meet him in his home because if we met in the palace, they would have had to organise a large ceremony and nobody wanted that.

He looks alot like Xanana Gusmao and has a charismatic and clearly educated outlook on the world, even through interpretation. We hear about the history of Amarasi and Indonesia.

West Timor was divided into kingdoms, originally strongly supported by the Dutch in a classic colonial approach. However, when the proposal to create an independent Indonesia was put to the vote just after World War II, West Timor joined up and the kingdoms were ended. The kingdoms, however, weren’t that interested in joining up, they just wanted to be independent kingdoms but that didn’t appear to be a realistic option.

The village of Baun is located high on a mountain about an hour outside Kupang. It is a bit like going to a secluded rainforest retreat a bit like Maleny – somewhere you would go to get away from it all for the weekend. The little houses are tucked away in the rainforest and it just has the best feel about it. Fiona reckons she will live there part of the year and the rest she will become a seaweed farmer down near the harbour. I warned her about covering up well and not getting sun damage but I don’t think that was her major concern.

After our visit ends and we buy some textiles we walked a short way up the road to visit a new women’s co-operative that has been set up. The head weaver shows us the results of their experimentation with a new dyeing approach and the red colour they have achieved is amazingly deep and lush. Everyone agrees it is a great success.
The women have set up a credit union with training and support provided through Threads of Life and are very proud of their books and bring them out to show us. We saw the same in Looneke. As a banker myself this is great to see!

Fiona bought a new sash that she can use as a belt. It’s perfectly matched to her “colours”. I has a larger piece with an Amarasi “sleeping snakes” design. And we take our photos with the weavers of our pieces. Where we have been able, we have taken our photos of the weavers, with their pieces. This has the practical benefit of providing provenance but really it amuses everyone so much and generates gales of laughter every time, especially when you show the picture you have just taken. Everyone is delighted. Must try this in Australia!

Unbelievably, we have dinner at a restaurant called “Rotterdam Steakhouse”. It is super kitsch, with cheesy “dancing cheek to cheek” music, outdoors and right by the sea. Surprisingly everyone is pretty happy with what they have to eat. I have the vegetarian special - rice, tempeh and tofu. I spy a fantastic dessert on the menu but, like all the other fantastic desserts on the menu, it is actually off the menu. We all have icecream instead.

The things you take for granted ...

Kupang is the only place in West Timor where we have had internet access or, for that matter, mobile coverage.

But the Hotel Kristal - "Kupang's best hotel" has wireless! But it's wireless that let's us publish text to the blog but not pictures. And we can't even see the blog so if you can see this, our workaround is working! My limited diagnosis of this problem is that we have IPv4 connectivity but not IPv6 I'm guessing this is an infrastructure problem. The fact that we have wireless at all is pretty remarkable.

We'll be back in Bali tonight and hopefully we can get the pictures up. We are madly writing up the last few days but it has been HUGE and hard to convey. I was worried before I left that the pace would be too slow and I would get bored. That's not happening!

In search of the Morinda dye.

Kupung, West Timor.
We are in search of particular red dye, a dye which comes from the roots of the morinda tree and produces very earthy ochreish red hues. Threads of Life have been working with this community for six years. The co-op is lead by a master weaver, Mama Rosa, a woman who has kept alive the knowledge of natural dyeing.

We flew to Kupang, drove two hours up a range to Kefanenanu where a roaring wind brings a cool change. This gives us a head start as there is another four hours of driving ahead of us tomorrow.

The long drive to Looneke takes us through a constantly changing environment from lush forest to dry open bush. The road progressively worsens until we are on a bush track made slippery and boggy with unseasonal rain.

Our small convoy stops before the village and we are greeted by the nephew in-law of Mama Rosa, this is a matrilineal society with the men coming into the woman’s household.

Franz walks us the 800 metres into the village, children run ahead, yelling out our arrival. We pass small village homes with pigs and chickens roaming freely. Surrounding us is a ‘food forest’: candlenut, betel nut, wild breadfruit and natural trellises of wild pepper.

The co-op and the head clansman greet us with a welcome song,with women drumming and Jean cuts a piece of morinda dyed thread which is strung across the entrance way.

People’s excitement at having us here is obvious as we are the first group of interested tourists to really visit like this and we can't help but share their pleasure.

Lunch is followed by a fascinating weaving and dyeing demonstration which is held in the dwelling built from the co-ops first profit. And it’s here we get to see the first evidence of the red dye of morinda. We see the dye being made, the thread woven and on a tour of the forest we see the morindah tree growing.

The sale of these beautiful textiles is a great success, the earthiness, the many shades of reds and browns and intricate motifs makes it hard for us to resist.

But we can’t leave without another song and dance. And before I know it Eleri is being dressed in her newly purchased sarong and is wiggling those hips in perfect time to the drums as we walk up the hill.

Great laughter is the last thing we hear as we make our way away from Mama Rosa, the Putri Tunggal Co-op and the village of Looneke.

West Timor - Soe

We arrived in Kupang, West Timor to a very gusty and windy day. It’s nowhere near as lush and humid as Bali and it felt like a completely different place. In fact, it is remarkably similar to some parts of northern Australia. It’s the dry season, but there had been unusual amounts of rain and our intended destination had, in fact, been washed out.

I’ve never travelled with a group of 20 before and it took longer than usual to get out of the airport, locate our cars and drivers before heading off to lunch in Kupang at a “seaside restaurant” where we eat some interesting and never seen foods before. Fiona was brave enough to try the avocado, condensed milk and chocolate drink. I was attracted to the condensed milk but put off by the thought of avocado drink. As it turned out it was a good choice. I had a more standard coconut drink.

After lunch we set off for the town of Soe in the highlands. We had been warned to bring our jumpers as Soe is cold. On the way we passed the lowland rice farms and saw the refugee camps that housed refugees from East Timor post independence. It appears they didn’t integrate into West Timor as well as they might have. West Timor has a history of waves of immigration from other places back hundreds of years at least. We are told that many of the East Timorese went back or dispersed, certainly the refugee camps appeared to be empty.

Soe was cold! And there was a stiff wind. Here’s a picture of us huddled around having a drink before dinner, all wearing our entire travelling wardrobe (we just took a subset of our Bali clothes and left the rest behind).

The Bahagia 2 Hotel was extraordinary. Bahagia means “happy”. We asked what Bahagia 1 was like and was told “not very happy at all.”

To get a picture of the Bahagia 2 imagine a wild west theme complete with statue of cowboy mounted on his rearing horse combined with the best of Asian karaoke bar complete with a wall mounted lobster and you’ve got the picture. Not gelling for you? Here’s the evidence below.

Jean from Threads of Life and Fiona deep in conversation, not even noticing the giant lobster behind them.

I could have taken these chairs home.

Dinner and then breakfast the next morning was basic – no fancy drinks up here! Although someone did manage to find a number of bottles of Guinness. Go figure.

We had been told that West Timor was very poor, so I was surprised to see that the houses seemed relatively solid and well built. Some extraordinary looking houses here! Often painted in wild colours. And churches everywhere. This is protestant area and it’s clear that their Christianity is active. Apparently Islam is unlikely to take much of a hold here because everyone likes eating pig so much. A pictorial post on houses will come soon – I’m amassing the material.

Monday, August 2, 2010


We have a bit more time than expected this morning before we leave Bali so a few minutes to update you all on yesterday's trip to a batik studio that uses natural dyes and does some really top class batik. Of course that means we have more acquisitions to show off when we get home.

The owner of the batik studio was one of the founders of the YPBB Foundation - the part of Threads of Life that supports the research, development and support for natural dyes including growing the plants. He uses alot of indigo in his work.

We saw all stages of production.

Here's a picture of the stamps they use in some designs. These are dipped in hot wax and applied to the clean material.

And then there is the dying process. They make their own dyes. Here is a picture of indigo being made - part of the dye making process is getting the oxygen into the mix. This guy is aerating the mixture. The dying and pattern design is a bloke's job it appears.

Women get to do all the fine, detailed work and here are two pictures of women painting with wax onto the cloth. This cloth has already been dyed at least once and in each layer, there is added wax to block out more and to create variations of depth of colour, and sometimes mixing in red/brown colours.

And Fiona went to a pig restaurant for lunch. I didn't. I found a hippy cafe. That choice of lunches says everything. She also found the Ubud Writers Festival and I came back to organise my photos.

Off to West Timor

We are off to West Timor in the morning. We don't know whether we will have connectivity while we are there so we'll be storing up blogs until we get back in 5 days time.

My New Life as a Balinese Duck Farmer

List of Jobs Fiona Could Never Do If She Lived in Bali

1. Join the women who work on building sites carrying concrete bricks on their head
2. Work in the rice paddies as a rice thresher
3. Sort onions by size and fill bags of them
4. Take tourists on motorbike tours (especially as I can’t even drive a car)

I could (maybe) join the many Balinese who work creating the intricate offerings made from flowers and detailed woven fronds. Apparently the value of all the offerings bought and sold is close to US $60 million a year.

But Eleri has decided on my future and that is as a Balinese Duck farmer. Ducks (bebek) are much loved in Bali because they are harmonious creatures. Darta referred to them as socialist ducks by which I think he meant they were social animals. They are also delicious and one of the Balinese delicacies is Smoked Duck or bebek betutu, which is duck stuffed with Balinese spice paste, wrapped in coconut bark and banana leaves and cooked all day over smouldering rice and coconut husks. I haven’t eaten this yet, but it’s on my list of Things To Eat in Bali.

But back to my future. Eleri thinks that this will be such a good idea I can write a book and she has helpfully done a chapter layout for me.

Chapter 1. Kev & I move to Bali after our very successful careers
Chapter 2 buy a house and then have lots of fun and dramas with the local builders.
Chapter 3 is we buy the ducks but we buy the wrong ones.
Chapter 4 we buy the right ducks but then they all die.
Chapter 5+ we start again and then we are very very successful and write a book about it.
It will be illustrated with pencil drawings and have lots of recipes through it.

Both Eleri and I think Kev will really embrace this life change or should I say duck change. He could probably take up the drawing classes need to do the illustrations.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A pictorial of ikat weaving

On our tour of the ikat weaving yesterday, we saw the three different types from simple to very complex. We saw them in order, which was very helpful

This is a simple mechanical loom. You can see the pattern this woman is weaving and it’s relatively simple. She uses here foot to raise and lower the warp (long) threads and then shoots the shuttle across. It’s still an ikat so that means the weft thread has a pattern on it, but basic.

This is more complex loom but operating on the same principle as the one above. However, in this ikat, there is a much more complex pattern on the weft threads and the weaver must make sure she lines up the pattern. How does the pattern get onto the weft? see below – it’s dyed before she gets it and dyed by tying little bits of string around bundles of thread and dipping it into dye. There’s alot of precision required in this to make sure the pattern stays intact!

This is the weft being dyed. This guy is untying some of the ties so that the next colour can be applied. This will eventually get untied, dried and unravelled to become a weft thread for the loom above.

This is a backstrap loom and the weaver sits on the floor. The weave is still an ikat but it has a supplementary weft – ie a normal weft and then an additional colour or colours woven in. It’s very complex and the sticks at the top of her loom all hold the patterns for lifting the warp threads to enable the weave to happen. It will take her up to 2 months to finish about 15 metres of cloth. Not surprisingly, these are the most expensive textiles.

And here is the one that I now own - woven on a backstrap loom. That's William from Threads of Life holding up the textile - he's very tall by the way so I'm guessing this a 2 metre length. On the right is Ida Ayu Puniari, an authority on sacred bebali textile and the owner of this weaving place.

Learning more about ikat and how it is done

Today we went touring around Bali and looked at increasingly more complex weaving as we went. Only by the end of the day did I appreciate how much we had learned along the way.

We started at something that we might call a sweatshop in Australia. Rows of looms were made out of wood and held together, Heath Robinson style, with bits of string. Only a handful were being used and young women were weaving away mostly making plain cloth or simple weaves. But we learned out they are set up, how the thread gets loaded and what the basic process is. Later in the shop, we realised most of their woven textiles were actually produced in Java now, with just a few things made in Bali.

We got caught up in yet another cremation and dropped in for a short time to see the goings on. Didn’t have much choice here as the road was blocked and the cars in gridlock. This one was much more elaborate than the one we went to a few days ago. But we knew we weren’t going to see the actual cremation as they were hours away from that bit as far as we could tell anyway.

Next we visited another “factory” high in the mountains. This was really just inside a family compound but with a large room containing ikat looms and all the paraphenalia for dyeing ikat. It’s incredibly complex. When I saw the looms I couldn’t figure out how the patterns actually happened, it wasn’t until we saw the dyeing process that I realised how brilliantly clever it is. How do people work out this stuff?

I also realised why so many ikat designs look like pac men! It’s because of the pixellation that is caused by working on a square grid. This mob use synthetic dyes and all the colours are brilliant, maybe even a bit garish for my taste. however, the textiles looked nice when they were finished.

We had lunch at this place – a picnic from Ruma Rohda that came with a mix of foods wrapped up in a banana leaf, with separate special compartment for the rice. Beautiful and tasty.

Our last stop was the best – but only because we had been working up to it. A woman who has been working with Threads of Life on researching traditional designs and dyeing practices told us about that. We also met some of her weavers who demonstrated supplementary weft ikat. This is the most complex type of ikat and the weaver sits in a backstrap loom and does the most extraordinarily complex weave. I bought one piece, a bintang design (yes, that’s the name of the beer – it means star. I could end the day satisfied in the knowledge that I actually managed to buy something.

And here are the photos

(Obsessively) putting the finishing touches to the practice ikat.

Pung explaining the intricacies of natural dyeing.

Trying to do batik. Turns out to be difficult to control the pesky wax and generate a half-way reasonable design. We both went for geometric patterns – others were more creative. Who would have thought it would be so difficult?

Learning to play gamelan music took alot of intense concentration. Still could only get the right hand sorted. The left hand was still some way off. This young girl was playing upside down and back to front in order to show me.

Dyeing and gamelan

Day 3 begins with a visit to the Threads of Life’s dyeing workshop and tour of the dye gardens. Pung works with many of the communities throughout the islands gathering the knowledge around the very different traditions of dyeing from a huge range of plant species. Some of the dyes have taboos about sharing . In Sumba men can’t even watch the women doing the dyeing.

Cotton thread firstly needs a protein or oil to cover it allowing the dye to be absorbed. The protein needed for the oiling can come from seeds, fermented coconut, fish even snake and crocodile. It then needs tannin, the colouring agent and some form of naturally occurring aluminium. The complexity of the process is really extraordinary. Each step requiring the balancing of elements like chlorophyll, carbohydrate, lime all bound up with seasons, traditions and taboos. Pung tooks us through the process of making indigo before our very eyes. It was like a form of alchemy.

Pung not only works with the communities, he is a gardener, ethnobotanist and he has just had he is field work findings verified by Kew Gardens. A tour of the garden in a light rain shower was enlightening.

We also had a batik lesson. Eleri has proved so adept at the craft lessons I believe she is about to give up working with Mission Australia for the life of a craftswoman. She is also a woman of goals and so far her stated aim is to consume her own body weight in sugar. Very achievable given the number of options: brown sugar,white sugar, palm sugar, sugary lemon drinks with sugar syrup, and because she is such a wee thing she’s only got a couple more kilos to go.

Our day concluded with a gamelan lesson and then an evening performance of dance, gamelan and men’s chanting. ( I still not a complete convert to gamelan.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

And some pictures

With pictures now - we were a bit too tired last night.

Here's Darta showing us young rice seedlings on the walk through the rice paddies. They take about 10 days to grow this fast. Despite it being the "dry" season it is raining alot and there is water everywhere and the rice seems to be growing very fast.

We stopped at the obligatory bookshop for Fiona to investigate. Unlike Australian bookshops, I noticed she didn't go in an introduce her self :)

And then we had lunch in a biodynamic, organic place (with no wi-fi because they want people to talk to each other. I transferred all my phone numbers from one sim card to the other. I don't know what Fiona did.)

Here's a picture of Jean - that's here waving her arms around - and the masses of textiles we looked at in this afternoon's lecture. So much of the talk was about the textiles but in the context of women, community and the history of trade and exchange. Textiles are an important part of marriage exchange and really good textiles are worth alot in exchange economies.

Today we are dyeing the simple ikat looms we tied yesterday. I've got a bit carried away with mine and stayed up too late tieing it. My fingers are sore. Pictures of that tomorrow!

And finally - a very blurry photo of the firedance before it started. It wasn't an event that I could easily photograph.

Day Two of our excellent adventure has ended with a powerful performance of Kecak Ramayana (Monkey Dance) and a Fire Dance. A backdrop of temple gates, frangipani strewn steps, set the stage for an open air courtyard which was soon filled with the singing of 100+ men. They chant a complex and multilayered sound of ‘cak cak cak’ in an extraordinary rhythmic pattern. The performance includes a white monkey spirit, the mighty bird Garuda, beautiful princesses, a giant and the death of lots of monkeys. We all got a little confused with the storyline but the bad guy does die.

The night concludes with a trance dance. A man on a ‘hobby horse’ dances wildly and then kicks and walks through hot coals made from burning coconut husks.

Our morning began with a rice paddy walk at 6.30am led by Darta, a man of great story telling ability. Intriguing how rice paddy irrigation can be interesting. We were also in the company of Pung a young Balinese man who has a great understanding of plants particularly those used with dyeing. He performed in tonight’s Monkey Dance. Pung also works with our hosts Jean and William helping the weaving communities to further their knowledge of the plants used for either dyes or mordents.

Jean and William are gifted speakers and have bought to life the stories of the textiles, the history, politics and culture of the people they work with on the islands such as Flores, Sumba, Kalimantan and Timor where we go next week.

Our fellow travellers are a mixed and interesting bunch as you would imagine of 14 people who decide to do a textile tour. We have a couple of textile artists, 2 conservators, a physiotherapist, an obstetrician, a textile dealer from Charleston, a plant nursery owner and a rail road consultant.

We eat well. Breakfast this morning was glutinous rice porridge flavoured with coconut milk and coloured green with pandanus. I eat as much champagne watermelon, mango, pawpaw and jumba (water cherries) as I can.

Now it’s late, all we hear are frogs, crickets, and the very distant sound of a motorbike and a barking dog.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

In Bali now - weaving has begun

On the plane, Fiona was worried. I had 2 newspapers and magazine to read and I hadn't even started on the reading list. Here's Fiona getting some advance reading in at the airport before we even left. I think that is cheating really. Meanwhile I was mucking around with computers.

In the immigration queue at Denpasar we met two ugly Australians both of whom were upset with waiting in line. We were determined to out-Zen them and treat waiting in line as a beautiful experience. This meant sitting on the floor and reading our books ... for two hours.
But that was a moment. We arrived to meet our travelling companions for the next two weeks just in time to sit down to dinner, which was excellent as all we had eaten was a sandwich on the plane. And my favourite food item, tempeh was on the menu! So I was very happy. Where we are staying for the next week is truly lovely and in Balinese style, has excellent gardens and a beautiful aesthetic. And then we had sticky rice and Balinese pancakes for breakfast. Double happiness!

Here is the balcony to our room.

This morning we went to Threads of Life to hear about their work supporting traditional weaving. What was best for me was that so much of it is about community development and social enterprise and very familiar to things I think about at work. Threads of Life started working with weavers and then realised that they had to find a way to support them obtain natural dyes because this was the thing holding weavers back. And dyes are hard to come by because many of the plants that are used in the dying process are becoming rare through logging, development and over-use.

A few large funerals unexpectedly occurred today and we went to one in a village outside Ubud. 27 people were being cremated, some of them had been dead for around 5 years and it’s common practice to do them all together. It’s a highly elaborate business, with much ritual and lots of waiting but well worth seeing. In the end, we didn’t manage to make it to the actual cremation but learned alot along the way. It was great being with local guides who made sure we were in the right spot to see and that we didn’t overstep any cultural boundaries.

Tomorrow we are off for an early rice paddy walk and to do some weaving ourselves.

Neither of us are going to complain about hard work again after seeing what some women have to do on the job.