Weaving is a handicraft practised using various techniques all over Southeast Asia, but there can be none as intricately complicated as double ikat, which is found in Japan, India and Indonesia.
Balinese songket cloths were traditionally reserved for the nobility as clothing in the royal courts. Today, these caste-based restrictions may no longer apply, but with its shimmering silk and gold-wrapped threads, the songket remains a clear marker of status. They are often worn for tooth-filing ceremonies, or as paired cloths worn by both the bride and groom at a wedding.
Ikat, which means ‘to bundle or tie’, involves dyeing a pattern into the threads of the fabric before weaving takes place. The threads are set up on the loom and the pattern is tied onto bunches of threads; the pattern is created when, through a repeated process, layers of the ties are removed and the threads dyed. In the double ikat process, both the warp and the weft threads go through this dyeing process.
In Indonesia, the double ikat technique is practised only in Bali, in the Bali Aga village of Tenganan, where the process is used to create a type of cloth called gringsing. Gringsing fabrics, which traditionally could take up to five years to create, are an essential part of the ceremonial dress and are believed to contain extraordinary powers. A few hundred years ago, researchers say, gringsing cloth was dyed with human blood, which had the power to protect the wearer from evil vibrations.
One of Bali’s legendary textiles, the geringsing is a double-ikat cloth, a demanding process inspired by Gujarati patola cloths where both the warp and weft threads are tied and dyed independently. During weaving, the perpendicular weft patterns must be meticulously aligned with each pass of the weft so that they perfectly match on the finished cloth. This painstaking process, coupled with the fact that these textiles are produced only in the village of Tenganan, makes geringsing one of the rarest and most valuable Indonesian textiles. Geringsing literally means “against sickness” in Balinese, and the textiles are considered to be the most ritually potent Balinese cloth, rich with protective qualities and magical power. These cloths are used ceremonially by the Tenganese as offerings or clothing.
Geringsing cloths are characterized by bold, highly intricate patterns in white, morinda red, and indigo-blue-black colours produced from natural dyes. A geringsing will always have a clear white selvedge followed by a single stripe of blue-black threads encasing the ikat centrefield. The white selvedge is said to be a “container” holding the power of the motifs; if cut, the power would leak out of the cloth and the geringsing becomes “dead” and no longer suitable for ceremonial use.
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