Ikats are hand woven material, usually sewn into a cylinder, which men and women wear as a sarong wrapped around their waist or like a sari slung over one shoulder. These days they also wear a western shirt on their upper body, but they are the traditional clothing of the people of Flores, Timor, Sumba and most of the other islands of Nusa Tenggara. Traditionally the ikats were made from scratch, growing and spinning the cotton, dyeing it with natural products from their immediate environment, and weaving them with intricate designs specific to each village and region. These days most ikats are made from milled cotton and synthetic dyes, but the painstaking work of dyeing the warp and weaving by hand is still done by thousands of women throughout the archipelago.
My first foray to the weekly markets at Nita revealed a number of women, and a few men, selling ikats not only from local areas, but also from Alor and West Timor. I interrogated each seller as to where the ikats came from, disappointing them all as at this stage I wasn't interested in buying, but simply learning about them. In particular, I was interested in seeing the process. I met a lady from Ledalero, just up the road, who invited me to visit the women's collective which she was involved in, but not for a few days as she had markets to attend. As did I!!
|Yanti with her kids|
Walking the couple of kilometres between Nita and Ledalero I spied the sign to the Nita women's collective. They were all at the market too, so I wandered around looking at unfinished projects before heading back along the road again. Nita is one of the few weaving collectives still using traditional dyes, which probably doubles the time required to make the finished product. This also doubles the asking price!
Back on the road I visited the Ledalero museum, and took a picture which maps the different ikat designs throughout Flores for future reference.
A couple of days later I returned to Ledalero to visit Yanti and her weaving collective known as Kelompok Korosang Manualu. The name is in the Sikka language, and manualu means "8 chickens", being the traditional motif usually weaved in to the ikats.
|see the chickens?|
The collective has only been in operation for a year. Previously the women weaved alone in their houses, but this way they can share the workload, send one person to the market to sell the wares, and also attract tourists to see the process. The Nita collective has been doing this successfully for many years, and even offers a homestay for people interested in learning to weave, so I presume the Ledalero ladies have learnt from their example.
|Nita ikat in progress|
Yanti showed me a beautiful traditionally dyed ikat which her mother had made. It had a dragon motif and it was obviously very special to Yanti, and definitely not for sale. They showed me the leaves used to make the indigo dye, and also how they wrap the twine with rattan in the design they wish to make, before it is dyed, often in multiple colours. They do each section in turn, so when you see the finished ikat it can be any width dependent on how many sections they do, and can be any combination of different designs.
Once the painstaking process of dyeing the yarn is complete, the warp is threaded onto the handloom and the weaving begins. This is incredibly hard work, as the women take up the tension using their own bodies as a fulcrum, with a backbrace and their legs. Working all day, it takes at least a week to weave the irate. And yes, they all get sore backs.
After showing me around and showing me such hospitality, including lunch of fried bananas and a really yummy salad, I felt it would be rude not to purchase an ikat. So I did. I also learnt that there is definitely a top and a bottom to an ikat when worn.
|never mind the socks|
So, should you decide to visit the Museum at Ledalero, I'd also recommend crossing the road and asking for Yanti or the Kelompok Korosang Manualu. Her house is opposite the road to the Museum, towards Nita. If you get the wrong house someone will show you the correct one. It is expected that you offer a donation to the collective for their time showing you around, whether you purchase an ikat or not. The ladies are so friendly and helpful, though very little English is spoken. Yanti has the most English, but that's pretty minimal, so for the best experience some knowledge of Indonesian would help.