Sumatra, home of precious Tapis traditional weaving

The island of Sumatra is famous for a diverse range of traditional fabrics: in the form of songket, typical of Minangkabau and Palembang, ulos from the Batak people, and then there is tapis from Lampung.

 

The ornate tubular sarongs known as tapis were hand-woven from cotton and silk threads, colored with ancestral dye recipes, embellished with gold- and silver-wrapped threads, embroidered with silk or pineapple fiber threads, and appliquéd with mirrors and mica. These sumptuous garments communicated a family’s global contacts, social station, and clan identity.

Tapis is traditionally crafted cloth commonly used by women in Lampung, a province on Sumatra’s southern coast. The finished garment, resembling a sarong, is the result of woven cotton yarn decorated with ornamental- and floral-motif needlework (traditional techniques) or embroidery (modern techniques) using gold, silver or silk thread. Unsurprisingly, the more needlework, the more expensive it will be.

Because of geographical influences, Lampung people are divided into two communities, namely Saibatin (coastal) and Pepadun (rural). This division is visible in the motifs of the tapis cloth: Saibatin work showcases motifs of ships or boats, while the people of Pepadun highlight flora and fauna motifs.

To see the beauty of this craft up close, visit Katon State Village in Pesawaran District, which is also known as ‘Tapis Village’. In addition, these beautiful fabrics can be found at the Ruwa Jurai Shop, Putra Indonesia, Ninda Tapis, Singgah Pai and Bambu Kuning Market. The Lampung tapis cloth can also be obtained from the Lampung Provincial National Craft Council (Dekranasda) in Bandar Lampung city.

Tapis are usually made out of cotton and then decorated with gold-wrapped thread, mica, mirrors, beads, and coins. It can take a woman as long as a year to complete a tapis, and the finished garment can weigh upwards of 10 pounds.

The tradition of making and wearing tapis declined during Dutch colonial rule, but after independence the Indonesian government began promoting a revival of this important textile tradition.

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