Songket weaver. Sarawak, Malaysia.
Common Texture took a whirlwind trip to Sarawak, a Malaysian state located in the northwestern part of Borneo Island. Its population is diverse, comprising of many races and ethnic groups and has more than 40 sub-ethnic groups, each with its own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. You can imagine our joy whilst discovering this handicraft haven. From beading to weaving and everything in between. It was amazing to meet some Kuching locals that are very enthusiastic about keeping these diverse cultural traditions alive for future generations.
One group we met had started up a weaving dream factory, specializing in Songket weaves. It was great to see these fantastic looms in operation and a younger generation mastering the complex math which is needed to create such intricate cloth. Each piece can take up to 3 months to complete.
Display of woven rattan plates and baskets
We also saw a fantastic display of rattan crafts, plaited and woven mats, baskets and bangles. Our local friend says she can tell by eye which piece has come from each community, depending on the pattern or the material they use. Extensive travels through the wilds of Borneo to remote villages has honed her eye for the fine details in such crafts.
A lot of these handicrafts are used on a daily basis in the rural villages. A small supply to the local craft shop gives these isolated communities a little exposure and income which is mostly put towards youth education. We were lucky enough to meet Aseley from Ba Selulong and Jenny from Long Meraan, they weave and plait lovely bangles out of rattan. Rattan is a vine that only grows within the forest environment, the communities are very mindful when harvesting this resource to maintain its sustainability. These young women were very modest about their skills which they have been practicing since they were young. Jenny told us 'the elder women in the village teach us so we can teach our children and our skills will not be lost’.
We were also treated to another form of weaving found in this district, which is the art of Ikat. A trip to a local gallery found us looking at examples of this textile dating back 200 years. Yet another complicated process which involves tie and dye of the yarn into a selected pattern then weaving on a back tension loom. We also discovered an amazing selection of beads in this gallery. The trading of beads from all over the world goes way back in this part of the world and amazing pieces were then produced and then traded as jewellery.
Preparing the yarn
Ikat weaver working on a back tension loom in Sarawak, Malaysia
Once you start digging into the handicrafts in this part of the world, you will be amazed at the things you can discover and opportunities to learn these techniques also exist. There seems to be many exhibitions, workshops and symposiums held annually in the city of Kuching. We had a lovely time among the friendliest people that showed us endless hospitality.
Shop our collection of woven Malay Bangles