Back on Track

Transportation has improved (above) for travel in the highlands of Sulawesi since we first began visiting the communities in 2003 (below)

Some of you may remember from the March 2013 Threads of Life Newsletter that we discussed the dilemma we had with our Sulawesi weavers using synthetic dyes to achieve their red color. In January 2013 a group of us from Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation met with the heads of each weaving group to discuss this problem. We met ‘half way’ between Bali and their villages. This was in Mamaju, Sulawesi: a day’s travel and 800 km by air for us, and a day’s very rough travel over 70 km by road for them. We then spent 3 days dyeing together to discuss recipe proportions as well as plant resources.

During the 2013 workshop we focused much of our effort on encouraging use of a stronger plant mordant, and had brought dried Symplocos leaves for their red dye process. The weavers were using lime as a way to bring up their red color but this leaves threads looking chalky and the color is not stable. The only source of the necessary alum mordant was added during the oiling process where they used bark (which was then burned) from the Pali tree (Quercus sp), which is in the oak family. While some Quercus are aluminium accumulators, the amount is very small compared to Symplocos.

From the dye recipes the weavers were using 10 years ago, the only source of aluminum was coming from the bark of this tree in the oak family (Quercus)

Weighing all of the ingredients with the weavers to ensure consistency and efficiency in the dye work

Pung and our other master-dyer Sujata, made a follow-up trip to Sulawesi in August of 2013 and only returned with a few textiles. They found that the weavers who attended the workshop understood the problem and the solutions. However, when they returned to their villages, husbands and other weavers were upset that the synthetic-dyed textiles were bought for a lower price than the natural dyed work. Much of the visit was spent re-discussing the results of the Mamuju workshop.

While driving out of the area at the end of the Sugust 2013 visit, the jeep’s gearbox broke: it seems the jeep was called Haleluya (pronounced ‘hallelujah’) for a reason! Pung and Sujata had to walk several hours before finding further transport. While walking, Pung spotted Symplocos trees (yellow leaves often indicate aluminum content) growing along the mountainside. Pung and Sujata collected dried leaves and were told the local name is Kandun and that the wood is used for building.

The Haleluya jeep’s gearbox breaks down

Ibu Monika saw the leaves and remembered using kandun to make red dye

So on this trip, in June 2014, Pung took samples of these Kandun leaves. The older weavers recognized the leaves and said they had been used in the red dye process in the past.

The men recognized the leaves as being from trees growing in the mountains above the villages of Batuisis and Saluleke. Together with the weavers, Pung and Sujata climbed the mountains to collect these leaves.

Weavers collecting Kandun (Symplocos) leaves

Weavers from Batu Isi pounding the Kandun (Symplocos) leaves

Pung immediately got the weavers started working on the red dye process as a group using the kandun leaves. The weavers were amazed how the red color emerged in their yarns by using this source of alum from their very own forests! Everyone was so excited.

With this key ingredient the weavers of Karataun are now back on track and producing very lovely 100% natural dyed textiles, albeit in still small quantities. Pung and Sujata picked up the our first ten new textiles from two groups of weavers with very good results and in December we wil be sent another twenty. Congratulations to Pung and the The Bebali Foundation dye team.

Pung is excited and relieved with the results of his last trip and feels that the Sulawesi weavers are back on track!