Ikat in North Java
"Hop on a scooter and take a right at the main gate into the village, then a left by the biggest palm tree and keep going straight until you get to the green-domed mosque. Ask anyone for Pak Aman." Everybody knows everybody. These kinds of vague directions are what you'll receive when trying to find this small jungle village (kampung) on the scorching northern coast of Central Java. A weaving community for over a hundred years, this artisan village is both charming and steeped with tradition (did we mention hot?). Streets are lined with clutches of brightly dyed threads or 'hanks' drying in the sun and the sound of shuttles clanging back and forth through looms can be heard everywhere as you wind through the labyrinth of back alleys that make up the tight knit community.
This village is where we first met Pak Aman. He is a fifth generation weaver whose entire family has a hand in the business. His modest home shows signs of the business in every room, looms on the covered veranda, thread spooling on the kitchen floor and finished throws stacked in all corners of the living room.
With each visit we receive a warm welcome from the family. His wife serves warm sweet tea and pisang goreng (fried bananas) as we sift through a myriad of pattern and color combinations. Their textiles are produced using the ancient ikat method. The word ikat means bound or bundle which refers the the dying technique where patterns are created by tightly binding the threads to resist the dye. The dying process alone can take over a week to complete. After binding, dying and drying threads are spun. Then they must be meticulously threaded into the manual loom in precise order to align and create the desired motif. After all this, the month long weaving process can finally begin.
It's a textile lovers dream to be able to see this process first hand and it was certainly an inspirational visit for Joel and me. Visiting the giant textile markets of Jakarta or the pop-up expos at the malls are wonderful to get a feel for the many different motifs and styles of textiles that are produced all over the country. But purchasing items inside a giant windowless warehouse feels striped of cultural context. Going to the source, meeting the makers and learning the traditions of the families whose livelihood depends on this craft is truly an awe inspiring and memorable treat.