Ikat weaving in Sumba: The secrets

Ikat weaving in Sumba - Maringi Sumba Hotel

Ikat fabrics have always fascinated people from all over the world when visiting South-East Asia. Although every region has a tradition in Ikat weaving, they all differ in way of working and, most of all, in color and designs. Some of the most remarkable Ikat’s in the world originate from Sumba. Discover the secret to these amazing pieces of art.


What is Ikat weaving? 

The legendary term ‘Ikat’ refers to the dyeing technique used to create the colorful designs of the textiles. Bundles of yarn are tightly wrapped together and dyed as many times as is needed to create the wanted pattern or design. It is a resist dyeing process, meaning the process is different because the yarns are dyed before being woven into cloth. This technique is very different from the technique used to create the other famous Indonesian fabric ‘Batik’, where the cloth is dyed and not the yarn. The true beauty of the Ikat lies in the process.


East Sumba, the cultural center of Ikat weaving

Sumba Ikat Weaving is one of the cultural riches owned by Nusa Tenggara Timur Province of Indonesia. Ikat is the Sumbanese name for an exotic fabric created by weaving artists from East Sumba. It is not a cloth that can be created by just anyone because it needs a complex and lengthy process to produce a large piece of ikat woven fabric and the whole process of collecting materials and making ikat weaving are done manually. Weaving artists usually work on a piece of woven fabric for 2 to 3 months, and this can even be 5 months if the size is large.


Woman Ikat weaving in Sumba


Why does it take so long to create an IKAT?

Weaving an Ikat indeed is a very long process, mainly because these crafty women have to look for raw materials and coloring materials in the forest.

All Sumbanese Ikat fabrics are made entirely from plants. That includes the coloring. Every piece of woven cloth that is ready to use has passed 42 stages of the work process and cannot be done alone. One piece of ikat is usually made by 3 to 10 people. Some are looking for materials, spinning yarn, coloring threads, weaving, and making the theme or motifs. The first step of the 42-steps process of weaving an Ikat is the ‘lamihi’ process (the process of separating seeds from cotton). The last step before another masterpiece is completed is called ‘wari rumata’ (finishing process).


Eco-friendly dyeing before it was a hype

Sumba ikat weaving is very beautiful and very eco-friendly as well because it is entirely made of cotton and colored with natural dyes from plants. There are no chemicals used in the process of making this weaving at all. Various natural ingredients, such as indigo plants and noni roots, are used for coloring Ikat fabrics in East Sumba. Unlike textiles in general, every Ikat is unique and has its own story, born in the hands of an individual artist.


Part of Sumbanese culture and rich in meaning

The motifs are full of meaning and the textiles themselves are traditionally made and used for ceremonies and exchanges vital to Sumbanese community life. Like paintings, each strand of ikat weaving illustrates the creativity, imagination, and mood of the weaver. Sumbanese Ikat fabrics are usually decorated with various motifs inspired by flora and fauna. Each motif has its own story. The motif of a human-headed lion for example symbolizes power, floral motifs symbolize human social life and the motif of snakes symbolizes life after death.

Many of the students at Sumba Hospitality Foundation have mothers and grandmothers learning them the art over generations. When you stay at Maringi Sumba, feel free to ask any student to reveal to you all the secrets of Sumbanese Ikat weaving. They will be happy to explain to you all they know about the process, but also about what to look for when you want to buy genuine Sumbanese Ikat textiles.


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