Bagels and Batik

I went to Costco this morning in advance of our upcoming celebrations.  It’s a tradition on our family to share nosh and libations on New Year’s Eve and continue into the wee hours of  New Year’s Day to celebrate my son’s birthday who will be 21 this January 1st!  After putting away the groceries I had a well deserved Einstein bagel with cream cheese and Nova Salmon which was part of my Costco haul.

Bagel set on a handwoven hand printed batik table runner from Indonesia

The table runner which the bagel is sitting on  covers my dining room table.  I pass it daily and rarely give it a thought, but today it really made me see what a treasure it truly is.  This is handwoven fabric that is printed in a traditional batik pattern.  The coaster under the water glass is a batik printed fabric as well.  Batik is a wax resist process where a stamp or “tjap” is used to imprint a hot wax pattern onto the fabric.  Once the wax has hardened the fabric is dipped into the dye bath, and the unwaxed areas absorb the dye whereas the covered areas remain untouched.  This procedure is repeated several times until all the colors have been applied.  Contemporary batik fabrics have become extremely popular in recent years particularly with quilters and fabric artists.  Batik as an art form has been around for centuries with its beginnings in the Indonesian archipelago which includes the island of Java where my Dutch ancestors  settled in the 19th century.  Because of this connection, I am the lucky owner of some extraordinary pieces of Indonesian handprinted batik fabrics.

Most of the pieces in my collection are kain (ki-en) which is a piece of cloth measuring approximately 40″ wide and 84″ long.  Kain is worn as a waist cloth, wrapped around the hips and tied at the waist.  This is part of the traditional Javanese costume worn by both men and women.  There are thousands of batik patterns and many represent geographical regions, symbolism from folklore and local floral and fauna.  I know only that  batik fabric is pleasing to the eye, but unfortunately I know very little about the imagery.  The Textile Museum in Washington, DC  this past year had an exhibit of  Indonesian batik fabrics that were part of the collection of the late Anne Dunham who is President Barack Obama’s mother.  A good resource that I have and refer to often is Indonesian Textiles written by Michael Hitchock and published in 1991.  This book is no longer in print, but it can be purchased used at a number of online sites.

Indonesian Textiles by Michael Hitchcock

Below are photographs of the some of the Indonesian batik fabrics from my own collection.

Blue and White Floral print with border

Green and White Oval print with Border

The two patterns above where printed on the fabric bias as they were intended to be sewn into skirts.  The skirts were known as “klokke rokken” or circle skirts in Dutch, and the border print appeared at the skirt’s hem.

Below are three diagonal patterns.

Red and Black Diagonal Batik Pattern

I believe this red and black patterned fabric is the oldest piece in my collection dating to the late 1940’s or early 1950’s.

Blue and Brown Diagonal Batik Pattern

Brown and Black Diagonal Batik Pattern

This dark brown diamond repeat pattern incorporates the image of the Garuda which is a mythical bird in Javanese folklore and also the name of the Indonesian airlines.

Brown Garuda Batik Pattern

The patterns below were printed on fabric squares presumably to be sewn into pillows.

Red and Black Garuda Wing Batik Pattern

Orange Floral Batik Border Printed on a Fabric Square

The fabrics below were floral prints with a diamond, square or diagonal  background print.  Some have a separate pattern for the border.

Gold and Green Batik with Border

Red and Orange Batik with border

Large Brown and Red Floral Batik with Diagonal Background

Large Green and Brown Floral Batik with Curvy Lines Background

Large Purple and Blue Floral Batik with Triangle Border

These last two images were taken from a commemorative fabric printed in honor of the 50th anniversary of the coffee plantation owned by some of my family members in East Java.

50th Anniversary Commemorative Batik Fabric

Detail - 50th Anniversary Commemorative Batik Fabric

The initials “SP” were at one end of the cloth, and “MD” were at the opposite end of this piece of fabric.  I have never been to Indonesia, and I have never met any of my distant relatives who may be the owners of this coffee plantation.  However, a quick Google search of the words “Panca Windhu” and “Kelaklatak” produced this very informative article about this plantation’s thriving coffee business.  Kelaklatak apparently is a village in East Java that is a short ferry ride to the island of Bali.  And the woman who was interviewed in this article is Soehoed Prawiroatmodjo, whose initials are SP.  I have no idea who she is, but her initials are the same as on my batik fabric which also has the name and location of this particular plantation. A very interesting coincidence indeed!

The bagel was very good by the way!

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The Merry Weavers of Memphis

Fifteen students were registered to take the “Beginning Rigid Heddle Weaving” class I was teaching at the Lewis Senior Center of the Memphis Parks and Recreation Department. This class is funded by Creative Aging Midsouth, a non profit organization providing entertainment and arts workshops to senior citizens living in the communities of West Tennessee.  Many of the students had never woven before, but everyone completed at least one project which ranged from scarves to tote bags to mini purses to handbags made from rags or fabric strips. Students used both Beka and Schacht rigid heddle looms, and one student had her own Kromski “Fiddle”.

Students threading their warps on rigid heddle looms

Tommie weaving with fabric strips, or rags to make a handbag

Marty and Irene showing off their handwoven scarves

Dorotha and Frances wearing their scarves woven with Peaches and Cream cotton yarn

Marty's third class project on her Kromski "Fiddle"

Senorita with the two small purses and her scarf woven with peaches and cream yarn

Bea weaving fabric for mini purses

Kathryn with her cotton/linen/rayon scarf just cut off the loom

Ola was only able to attend two classes, but she managed to warp her loom, weave a scarf, and cut it off the loom

Everyone seemed to enjoy the class and they all were pleased with their finished projects.  Several decided to purchase their own looms,  and they all have requested another rigid heddle weaving class for early Spring.  It really was a pleasure to weave with these ladies!

The China Closet Syndrome

My mother had a morbid way of looking at life.  Basically she didn’t believe that life should be lived at all.  We should all be locked up in china closets she would say to spare us the pain, hurt and humiliation that life has to offer.  I guess for her the glass was always half empty.  That also explains my youthful rebelliousness which thankfully continued into my adulthood.  The rebelliousness, I mean, not necessarily the youth part.

I can’t admit to ever living in a china closet, but some of my earliest handwoven clothes did, and still seem to be in residence there.  Because the world seems to be shifting on its axis, or maybe it’s just me reaching a certain age, I decided to open the china closet and let these clothes live.  I’m past the point of being mindful of what others think of me, so I won’t mind wearing some of these handwoven creations from the 1980’s!  Only thing is, I live in a different climate now than I did thirty years ago!  Almost everything I wove then was created with wool yarn – practical if one is living where temperatures were routinely below the freezing mark!  But here in Memphis it rarely gets that cold! So, laugh if you must, but here are a few examples of my early work in weaving.

Handwoven cotton huipil, 1980

The huipil was one of the first pieces I ever wove.  A huipil (wee-peel) is a traditional Guatemalan blouse usually woven on a back strap loom.  My huipil was woven on a rigid heddle loom threaded with cotton carpet warp and the weft was a nubby cotton slub yarn.  The pattern was woven with a pick up stick.  This is actually one of the few early handwoven pieces of clothing I can still wear in Memphis.

handwoven overshot sweater, 1981

Oy, what a geek I must have been to actually have worn this!  This was woven on my first floor loom – a Harrisville 40″ wide four harness loom that I built from a kit. The warp and weft are both wool, the warp being a Harrisville Design single ply yarn, and the pattern weft was a beautiful 2 ply wool from Borg’s of Lund in Sweden.

handwoven lined wool jacket, 1981

I remember how I loved wearing this jacket!  It was woven with 2 ply Harrisville wool yarns and sett at 8 epi.  I remember walking on the finished fabric in a bathtub full of lukewarm soapy water to get it to felt the slightest bit! Since then, I’ve learned a little more about lining finished handwoven items!  I can probably still wear this today – it resembles the swing sweaters that seem to be coming back into style.

handwoven plaid cardigan, 1983

Another geeky sweater.  Woven in a twill plaid pattern with Harrisville Designs 2 ply wool.  The cuffs, collar, buttoned front and bottom of this sweater as well as the overshot sweater above were hand knit by me as well.

handwoven twill vest, 1985

I wove this for the MAFA – Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association – Conference that was held in Glassboro, NJ in 1985.  It was included in the fashion show which was presided over by Linda Ligon, the founder and creative director  of Interweave Press.

vest handwoven with handspun wool/silk, 1988

I learned to spin in 1988, and I remember splurging on this gorgeous batt of dyed burgundy wool blended with tussah silk noils.  At the time I used to visit Linda Berry Walker’s farm, Wood’s Edge Wool Farm along the Delaware River in Stockton, NJ to purchase wool and batts for spinning.  After spinning the yarn, I wove the front panels, then with an imported silk yarn, I knit the back, cuffs, front and bottom edges of the vest.  This was finished in 1988 and as far as I can remember, the last major start to finish project I tackled.  My first child was born in 1989! But today, I can probably wear the vest even in Memphis weather!  So yes, I think it’s time that these vintage handwoven clothes come out of their china closet and start living again!

As for my mother. She is 85 years old and living it up.  Apparently she emerged from her own china closet about the time I left home when I was 18!  I guess kids can do that to you.