Flores is famous for its textiles and traditional weaves. The iconic Ikat weave is recognised all over the world, and speaks to a rich tradition of textiles, weaving and storytelling, passed down from generation to generation. While some of the traditional methods are under threat from new technologies, there are still many dedicated Flores weavers who take pride in preserving their craft. And as word spreads about the incredible skill of the weavers, tourism is playing a vital role in safeguarding the future of Flores and its weaving way of life.
The weaving process starts by first preparing the yarn. Balls of rough cotton are ‘beaten’ to remove any seeds, and then wound into tight balls, ready for dyeing and weaving. The yarn is then dyed using the same methods that have been passed down for generations, using natural plant-based dyes, sourced from the native flora of Flores, like the Indigo plant – creating blue dye – and the roots of the Kebuka tree which makes a brown dye. Typically the yarn is dyed shades of blues and browns, but also dyes are blended to create greens, reds and yellows.
The Ikat technique is a process that involves stretching the cotton yarn onto bamboo frames, and then tying off the yarn in strategic places with bamboo raffia or plastic ties. The sections that are tied off are left undyed, and this forms the design of the weave. When the weavers are creating designs with multiple colours, the process of wrapping and dyeing the yarn must be repeated many times, taking weeks, months or even years. The longer it takes, and the more processes it has required, the more valuable the weave.
Popular patterns include geckos which are seen as a symbol of luck, and other shapes and flowers that can represent fertility, wealth, good health or general prosperity. The patterns and designs are handed down through families, and the whole process is often accompanied by dancing and ceremonies to solidify the luck and good fortune of the weave.
It was once thought that the value of the weave was only as a dowry offering from the bride. However, the value of weaving as an important community contribution and way of generating income is increasingly being recognised. Groups of weaving women now bring in tourists to the area, who are greeted warmly by the weaving group with song and dance performances, dressed in traditional clothes, and invited to watch demonstrations and even try their own hand at weaving. As more and more tourists are drawn to take part in the traditional weaving, the weaving women are earning a good income through sales of the weaves, generating wealth for their families and other businesses in their community.
There are many groups throughout Flores who are supporting the work of the weavers, and encouraging tourists to witness the skill and time honoured traditions of the textile trade. The weavers are able to create an income for their families, poverty is reduced in their village, and the weaving groups themselves become a vital support network for the women of the village. The women weavers, many of whom are members of the same family, can bring along their babies to the group as there are always many practiced hands to help out, and it’s a time to talk and share stories, strengthening the fabric of the community.
The importance of weaving to the way of life in Flores can’t be underestimated. Weaving circles encourage intergenerational storytelling and support, creates an income for the village, and breathes new life into traditional industries and ancient customs.
Written by The Travellist team for The Voice of Flores