STRIDING through the doors of Tanoti House was almost like taking a step into the past for thesundaypost during a recent visit to learn more about the process of weaving songket.
This is the final part of a 2-part series. Please click here to view the first part: Restoring songket’s glory
Even though the main road outside was teeming with impatient rush-hour traffic, time seemed to slow down to a more relaxed pace in the brightly lit, airy room.
During these present times when everything and everyone seems to be in a perpetual rush and instant gratification is the norm of the day, it was a refreshing, almost zen-like experience, to watch the Tanoti weavers go about their work.
Quiet, intense concentration permeated the air as the young women – bent over large, wooden looms – focused on the work at hand.
Despite the late afternoon hour, there was still much to be done to fill the growing list of orders from local and overseas clients.
It is not uncommon for the women to work late nights in order to meet tight deadlines on various projects. Yet, there was no overriding sense of hurry, though the women worked quickly and efficiently, wasting little time and energy.
From under the weavers’ deft hands and feet, a seemingly hopeless tangle of coloured threads are slowly transformed – row by row – into wonderful, exquisite, luxurious songket.
Sense of community
Despite the fact that each woman has her own tasks to attend to, the general banter and atmosphere is of a close-knit family. Tanoti Sdn Bhd’s director Jacqueline Fong wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The sense of community and shared camaraderie between the weavers and designers are important factors for long-term success.
“It’s very tough to weave songket on your own. It’s probably one of the main reasons why you don’t often find individual songket weavers working independently by themselves outside of a community setting,” she shared.
Learning to become a skilled weaver is not for the faint-hearted nor the lazy. Every step of the pre-production and weaving process is carried out by hand.
The amount of preparation and effort required for weaving a single piece of songket is mind-boggling, to say the least.
The weaving area is located in a large air-conditioned building with coloured glass louvred windows that spill rainbows onto the cement-paved floor when the sunlight hits the wall just right. It is also here that the pre-weaving work is carried out.
Altogether, there are 11 main stages from initial concept to the completed textile.
The first is planning the design of the songket pattern (mereka corak). It may come as a surprise to most people to find out that mathematics is used prominently in songket design and weaving. Every aspect must be counted, from marking out the final design on sheets of graph paper, to the number of threads on the loom.
The second stage involves dyeing of silk yarns (thread) (mencelup warna). The silk threads are usually purchased in raw and in hank form. The silk hanks are then dipped in a boiling cauldron of dye. Afterwards, the excess dye is rinsed out with water and the silk hanks are hung out to dry.
Then, the silk hanks are unwound on a spindle and re-wound onto bobbins (menerai) so they are ready for the warp and weft processes.
In general weaver-speak, the warp refers to the yarns stretched out lengthwise on the loom while the weft refers to the yarns over and under the warp in a perpendicular direction.
Arranging the warp on a frame (menganing) forms the base of the eventual woven fabric. Next they are wound onto a warp board (menggulung) before they are sleyed through the reed (menyapuk).
Then the warp is wound onto the loom, tying the ends of the warp threads to the loom at an even tension (menyediakan kek).
During the eighth stage, the weaver will make the frames for the string heddles and thread the string heddles to form the weaving shed (mengarat). The heddles help to separate the warp threads so that the shuttle containing the weft threads can pass through.
What come to mind
The last three stages are what come to most people’s minds when they think about songket – plain-weave weaving (menenun) where the weaver launches a shuttle with weft threads through the shed created by the opening of the upper and lower warp threads, tying the hand string loop leashes following the draft pattern (mengikat butang) and weaving the songket pattern with the metallic yarns (menyongket).
The menyongket stage is where supplementary weft weaving is done to create patterns on the fabric, usually using metallic threads.
It is the most intricate of all of the weaver’s tasks as every row has to be tediously counted and warp threads picked out with a fine bamboo stick or lidi according to the pattern (menyongket bunga, literally weaving the pattern).
Depending on its final purpose, the completed songket may undergo further production, such as to make fashion accessories and interior decorations.
Tanoti has an on-site showroom and gallery with samples of products ready for sale as well as some of the prototypes and innovations the company are currently working on.
Tanoti House is located at 56, Tabuan Road, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak. To contact Tanoti Sdn Bhd or make an appointment to view the gallery, members of the public are welcome to call 082239277 or email [email protected].
The company also has a website at www.tanoticrafts.com as well as a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/tanotihouse).