Intricate Designs: Indonesian Craft Textiles

Sophie Finney

When we think of Indonesia, our thoughts immediately go to idyllic beaches in Bali. Indonesia, however, has a rich craft culture that has had a wider impact on Western design than most people realize.

Indonesia is a country that is steeped in culture and tradition, and known for its outstanding array of traditional crafts. Ranging from Teak wood furniture, to artisanal wood-carving and decorative ceremonial weapons such as the Kris, a highly decorated wavy dagger, Indonesian craft is something to be admired. Textiles, in particular, are likely the most notable and far-reaching of the Indonesian craft practices. The variety of textile techniques from Indonesia have been inspiring artists and designers alike for many years. Three of the main textile practices in Indonesia, Batik, Ikat, and Songket, all have rich and varied histories that span back centuries and have travelled over continents. Perhaps the most well-known and wide-reaching of the Indonesian crafts is Batik fabric, which was spread half-way around the world to Europe and Africa via colonialism.

Batik textiles have been produced in Indonesia as far back as the 12th century, and were an integral part of Indonesian culture. Intricate repeating patterns and motifs are drawn upon the fabric in a resistant substance derived from rice paste, mud or later on, wax. The fabric is then immersed in a vat of dye, where the design remains un-dyed due to the resistant quality of the wax, whilst the exposed fabric is dyed. Designs differ depending on both the region and consumer of the product; for example certain colors and designs would be reserved for Indonesian royalty. Batik was considered an important part of Indonesian cultural heritage, and in the same way that young ladies from the upper echelons of British society would learn to embroider, so too young Indonesian ladies of high social standing would learn to create their own Batik designs.

Slightly less far reaching is the process of Ikat, which has remained relatively unchanged as a process. The history of Ikat has proven somewhat difficult to trace, however, it is clear that variations of the Ikat technique developed independently of one another in various cultures, including many pre-Colombian South American cultures as well as across parts of Asia. Ikat is a dyeing technique where the warp or weft yarns are resist-dyed in a similar process to tie-dyeing. The pattern is therefore pre-determined by the way in which the fibres have been dyed as opposed to standard weaving methods where the pattern is determined by the block color of the thread.
There are a number of variations including warp ikat and weft ikat which are defined by whether it is the warp (vertical) threads or weft (horizontal) threads that are dyed. Additionally there is Double Ikat, in which both warp and weft threads are resist dyed; this is the most complex form of Ikat and the subsequent weaving process takes great skill to create the intricate patterns. This makes it incredibly difficult to create a consistent pattern whilst weaving, and, as a result, is a very lengthy process.

Perhaps the least well-known of the Indonesian Textiles is the Songket cloth, a traditional Indonesian brocade that is hand-woven in silk or cotton. The intricate patterns are then picked out in gold or silver threads to create a luxurious fabric that is commonly worn for ceremonial occasions as either a sarong, headscarf, or sash. Given that woven fabrics often do not stand the test of time, it has proven difficult to trace the roots of Songket textiles, with a number of plausible explanations available to explain their initial creation. Historically associated with Indonesian areas of Malay settlement, there is also reason to believe that the production techniques were introduced by Indian and Arab merchants. However, it is equally likely that Songket weaving came to Indonesia through the intermarriage between royal families in the 15th century. Today, the craft survives through a number of small cottage industries and is produced in Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan, Lombok, Sumbawa, and Sulawesi. The production of Songket is often the occupation of the entire village, with the skills being passed down generation to generation
Batik, Ikat, and Songket are all prime examples of the highly skilled craftsmanship and artistry still being practiced in Indonesia today. Not only that, but these time-honored traditions have not been lost over the centuries and are celebrated as hallmarks of Indonesia’s skilled crafts industry. Batik and Ikat have long influenced numerous aspects of Western and African design, from fashion to furniture and interior design. Despite being adapted and altered to suit different cultures, the initial beauty and intricacy of the original techniques still shine through the fabric, making them a testament to Indonesian craft.
By Sophie Finney

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article