Working directly with over 1,000 women weavers in more than 50 communities on 12 islands, Threads of Life helps weavers to form independent cooperatives, to recover the skills of their ancestors, to manage their resources sustainably and to express their cultural identity while building financial security.
From marriage gifts to everyday wear, as offerings to the ancestors or goods to trade or barter, traditional textiles have played integral parts in the social, spiritual and economic lives of the peoples of Indonesia for more than 2,000 years. The heirloom-quality textiles and baskets produced by these weaving groups are made with local materials and natural dyes to an exquisite standard usually seen only in museums. These textiles are not copies of classic antiques, but the latest evolutions of living traditions, re-felt and re-imagined by the women who weave them.
From the field…
The annual trip to Sulawesi is perhaps one the hardest, to reach the weaving communities the Toraja-Mangki region requires some four days travel by plane, bus, car, motor bike––if we can get them across the raging rivers––and then finally by foot.
The hills of the Toraja-Mangki region are fertile and a rich verdant green. The cool, clean air and mists drifting through forested hillsides are idyllic. In every way, the people there are intimately connected to the land––drawing both their economic livelihood and their spiritual enrichment from the landscape.
On this trip we were able to witness the magical mud-dyeing process called Menauk, which can be seen on the highly stylistic Morilotong pieces. Almost a kilo of young leaves from the tree called Bilate or Homalanthus novoguinensis are collected and boiled. Threads are first washed and then immersed into this hot bath where they are allowed to soak. They are then moved to mud which is from a fish pond, where they are then thoroughly saturated.
We also visited our weavers to collect the textiles that they have been weaving for us since last year. The Sekomandi ritual hangings are the most recognised textiles with deep reds, rich blues, and geometric patterns that tell detailed cultural stories. We were left in awe when weaver, Varia, offered us an 8-meter Sambotanete textile which is said to contain every prominent motif.
Whenever and wherever we visit these weaving communities across Indonesia we are reminded that this so much more than simply creating beautiful textiles, this is about recording culture and history. As Antoneta Sae from Timor says ‘it is my responsibility, my commitment to my ancestors that I carry this traditional knowledge from my grandmothers to my children’.
…to the studio In addition to working with weaving communities across Indonesia one of Thread of Life’s ambitions is to bring Indonesian natural dye and weaving traditions to the rest of the world. In 2017 Threads of Life launched a series of 5-12 day residential workshops that allow beginners to practising textiles artists the chance to learn from the Threads of Life team at their custom dye studio at the Umajati Retreat. Nestled in the rice fields outside Ubud, participants stay in 100 year-old joglo wooden houses that are flawlessly decorated with weaving and fabric from the weaving communities across Indonesia.
The workshops are hosted by Threads of Life Founders - Jean Howe and William Ingram, and are led by Threads of Life’s staff who bring a combined 35 years of experience to the teaching of these workshops.
Umajati Retreat is also home to the Bebali Foundation’s dye garden––a place where participants can learn about the cultivation and harvesting methods for different dye plants.
The mix of the workshops, the authentic joglos and Umajati’s surrounds make this a perfect retreat for creative minds who are eager to learn more about Indonesia’s rich textile history.
Recent residential workshop participant Vicky Judd reflects, ‘this was the most amazing and I could even say life changing experience I have encountered, I am keeping an eye out for a weaving workshop in 2018, there are no words…’