Fruit Fabric

Whenever I  sell my handwoven accessories at a show or craft fair, invariably someone will admire my work and then turn to me and ask “Where do you get the fabric”? They ask, despite the large sign that describes my work as “Handwoven” They ask, despite the hang tags that say “handwoven”. They ask, despite my business cards that describe me as a “handweaver”. It is a puzzle to me that adults do not know where fabric comes from. Do they think that it starts as some concoction that is ground up and stirred in a giant stainless steel vat under great amounts of pressure? Then poured onto a slab to eventually pass through huge rollers and pressed  into a smooth paste? With an end result looking something like . . . . . . . . . . fruit roll ups? Not any kind of fabric I would want to wear.

Fruit Fabric?

And so here is where my role as a teacher comes in. I feel compelled to remind everyone who comments that weaving is “a modern art”, that the oldest known handwoven fabric is cotton cloth that wrapped Egyptian mummies. And that in colonial America, weavers were bachelor men who traveled the countryside with their barn looms strapped to their wagons. And when a family commissioned him to weave their linens, rugs and fabrics for clothing, this gentlemen would become that family’s guest and boarder for the duration of the weaving. And that the earliest computer can probably be attributed to a mechanical Jacquard loom with its punched hole cards to control its sequence of operations in early 19th century France.

I tell my students that there are indeed many steps to weaving, but each step by itself is not a difficult one.  And as their instructor, I guide them through the sequence of steps so that they can weave fabric. And no stainless steel vats, slabs or rollers are involved. Not even electricity nor a computer.

When a project’s  color scheme, design and fiber content are decided upon, each strand of yarn or “end” is measured and wound in a group called a warp. Each individual warp end is the length of the weaving project plus enough for sampling and  waste. Students are often surprised at how much math energy is required to calculate the yarn needed for a project or to know the length for each end.  We are all thankful for the calculators on our phones.

Here are a few photos that show a fabric I recently wove in various stages on my loom.

Partially Woven Fabric on the Loom

Individual strands of yarn or "ends" threaded through the reed which separates and evenly spaces the yarn

Individual strands of yarn threaded through the "heddles", large needles with eyes that determine the weave pattern

Warp of yarn wound around the back beam of the loom

Detail of Handwoven Fabric

Completed Vest Sewn from Handwoven Fabric

The yarn used for the fabric is bamboo – Bambu 7 in several colors including gold, yellow and persimmon.  Randomly inserted in the warp is a nubby novelty yarn by Stacy Charles that carries similar colors to the bamboo yarn. Because of the predominance of the persimmon color, I call this vest “Persimmon Vest”. And persimmon is a fruit, right?

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!