Balinese produce and sell textiles to satisfy tourist demand as well
as to dress pleasingly before the gods in temple ceremonies and rites of
passage. Textiles are an integral part of every ritual or ceremony, from
a toothfiling to a cremation, and incorporate powerful motifs and symbols.
Color also plays a big role; it enables the Balinese to communicate with
deities within the context of a religious event. A priest dresses in white,
the color of purity and shunye (the Cosmic Void), which allows him
to communicate directly with sacred beings. Shiva's color, yellow, is worn
by worshippers at almost any ceremony.
Dressing stylishly in sumptuous clothes is also a mark of social standing. You can often tell an aristocrat by the silk brocade she wears or the gold thread lining the sarung of a Brahman man.
Two of Bali's largest textile factories lie along the main tourist artery between Denpasar and Batubulan, Gianyar, and Mas. PATAL is one km east of the Tohpati junction of the Nusa Dua Bypass road, and BALITEX is one km west of the Tohpati junction between Tohpati and Denpasar. BALITEX operates a shop on the premises selling both wholesale and retail. Several other, smaller textile factories are in Gianyar, a favorite tourist stop, where also exist a number of textile showrooms. Visit one of the garment factories to watch aisles of prepubescent teenagers dribbling wax designs over cloth, then dipping the shirts into cisterns filled with hot, bubbling, frothing dye. It takes an average of six hours to weave a sarung.
Bali is a major outlet for ikat-woven blankets, kain, sarongs, and scarves from Nusatenggara. In this unique Indonesian craft, the threads are dyed prior to the material being woven. With their primitive designs and subdued blue, white, red, brown, and black colors, these striking cloths have always held a fascination for tourists.
You find ikat in almost all of Bali's textile shops, which stock both handwoven ikat in silk and cotton, as well as ready-to-wear ikat clothing. Many shops also offer custom tailoring—they'll make anything you want out of ikat! Because of the small supply and large demand, ikat on Bali costs Rp150,000 and up for small blankets.
A chain specializing in ikat is Nogo with shops at Jl. D. Tamblingan 98 (tel. 0361-288765), Jl. D. Tamblingan 208 (tel. 0361-288832) in Sanur, and Jl. Legian, Kuta (tel. 0361-754335). The owner, Lily Coskuner, who studied design in Germany, uses handwoven fabrics in her clothing which includes quilted kimono-style jackets (Rp150,000 and up), slacks (Rp75,000), and shirtwaist dresses (Rp150,000). Very fine ethnic cloths are also available at Polos, Jl. Legian; Arts of Asia, Jl. Raya Tuban (tel. 0361-752860); Andung Art, Jl. Legian Kaja 494A (tel. 0361-757710); and Ikat Art, Jl. Bakung Sari 12 (tel. 0361-752684).
In the Klungkung area, you might be able to still find traditional gold-embroidered songket and amazingly elaborate ikat for which Klungkung was once famous (now rare). Some villagers on Nusa Penida Island, in Klungkung Regency, weave a red, brown, or yellow-patterned ikat cloth which may be seen in a few shops in Sampalan, Toyapekeh (on Nusa Penida), and in Klungkung's souvenir shops.
The very distinctive tie-dyed woven cloth called endek is more popular with the native Balinese than with tourists. Worn all over the island for any occasion, endek is perhaps Bali's most visible craft. Scores of factories all around Gianyar and Denpasar, as well as Singaraja, manufacture this unique fabric.
Using only wooden, hand-operated looms, endek is woven by the usual weft-ikat method; i.e., portions of the cloth are tied and wrapped before immersion in a dye bath. The overall effect ranges from an irregular, wavy, diffused look to the most primitive patterns. You also see triangular, zigzagging, and diamond designs, or unusual outlines of animals or masks. The fuzzy irregularities of this native cloth are hypnotic. The mottled patterns even appear to change color and shape in different angles of light. Factories, which number from six to 100 employees, can produce endek with up to six colors. It takes a weaver one day to complete approximately one meter.
The Balinese adore endek, wearing it on both formal and informal occasions. Men like sarung made of endek cloth, women wrap kain made of endek tightly around the hips (with no drapes). Colors range from dark blue and brown to vibrant greens, oranges, and reds. The cost is about Rp4000 per meter for printed endek, depending on the amount of colors used and intricacy of design. Colors do not bleed, and the weave is durable. The price for true endek is Rp12,000-15,000 per meter. Pay a call at Pertenunan AAA in Denpasar (Jl. Veteran 9), and Pertenunan Setia Cap Cili (Jl. Ciungwanara 7) and Cap Togog (Jl. Astina Utara 11, two km before town) in Gianyar. A small endek factory is also located in Sideman (Karangasem Regency). All factories have showrooms, and photography is allowed in the workshops.
Beautiful handmade batik textiles are among the most popular craft products sold on Bali for tourists. Every batik pattern imaginable is available. You even see Balinese-made batik clothing on Java now because it has gained popularity with the great number of Javanese tourists who visit Bali.
The batik available on Bali includes block prints and hand-painted batik. Intricate hand-drawn designs (batik tulis) are more expensive than simpler designs created with stamp blocks (batik cap). The colors on block-printed batik are soft and only printed on one side, while the colors on batik tulis (true batik) are much richer and equally vibrant on both sides of the cloth. Each of these styles can be printed on any quality of cotton. Usually batik is displayed in three or four rows with the finest quality items on the top row. One can definitely feel the difference between the fineness of a top row piece and a bottom row piece. Prices vary from Rp8000 for a simple block- or machine-printed batik sarung, up to Rp450,000 for silk batik.
Although every Balinese wears batik, few produce batik cloth on a large scale. Each day women wrap a length of batik around their waist like a skirt, and men wear batik with a plaited tail that almost touches the ground in front (usually only to religious events).
Batik Shops and Factories
Batik cloth can be bought in the markets, especially Denpasar's main market and in nearby fabric shops on Jl. Sulawesi, dealing in both batik tulis and batik cap. Expect to bargain; they'll start off asking Rp20,000 for a printed batik sarong but you should end up paying no more than Rp8000-10,000.
Phalam, Jl. W.R. Supratman in Tohpati, tel. (0361) 225215, has a fine batik collection and ready-made clothing. One of the few shops in Bali specializing in batik made on Bali. Items are not cheap: Rp300,000 for fine batik tulis; there are also cap batik varieties. Try for at least a 30% discount.
In addition, all the big Javanese textile chains are represented in or around Denpasar: Batik Keris, Galleria Nusa Dua, tel. (0361) 771303 or 771304 (also branches at both the international and domestic terminals at the airport); Batik Semar, Jl. Thamrin 33-35, tel. (0361) 435937; Danar Hadi, Jl. Legin Raya 133, Kuta, tel. (0361) 752164 or 754368; Batik Shanti, Galleria Nusa Dua B 6/2, tel. (0361) 71308. Pekalongan Perus Batik Shop, Jl. Gianyar, tel. (0361) 225833 and Jl. Bypass, tel. 224364; Batik Surya Kencana, Banjar Sasih, Batubulan, tel. (0361) 298361. All have showrooms and accept traveler's checks and credit cards.
These are lustrous fabrics woven of cotton or sometimes silk decorated with silver, gold thread, or paint. Pure gold leaf or gold dust, and increasingly more affordable bronze dust, can also be used, adhered by a unique process onto the fabric by using a natural glue (ancur) obtained from bones. These dazzling, boldly patterned textiles, that almost blind you with their shine, are worn only during festivals or by dancers in theatrical performances. A gilded ceremonial cloth two meters long could take three weeks to a month to weave, depending on the intricacy of the design.
Since kain prada was initially brought to Java by Indian traders, then later carried to Bali, stylized Hindu motifs like sacred lotus blossoms and Indianized swastikas, as well as temple relief designs and ancient woodwork patterns, still decorate the borders. The old courts of Klungkung and Karangasem were the most important centers of prada production. Prada fabrics used for wall decorations feature entire scenes from the Mahabarata or Ramayana painstakingly painted on, giving them a mural-like appearance. Both kinds of prada are not washable, so clean by dusting, then let them air in the sun.
Certainly one of the rarest weaving techniques in the world is practiced in Tenganan, a traditional native Balinese village in eastern Bali, about five hours by bus from Denpasar. Here the amazingly difficult gringsing (flaming cloth) cloths are made by an elaborate process of dyeing. Both the warp and weft threads are carefully bound and then dyed in predetermined places, creating patterns which are made to fit harmoniously together into a finished design once the piece is completely woven on a backstrap loom.
The geometric, repetitive patterns must interlock in exactly the same place in order for the fabric to have any aesthetic value or meaning. Stars, flowers, and crosses fill the body while rhombuses and chains of keys run lengthwise through the long, narrow cloth. The colors used are muted earth tones derived from vegetable dyes like indigo and turmeric bark. Gringsing are worn as sashes in everyday wear but on festival days women dress from head to toe in gringsing. The cloth protects and preserves the wearer from harm. No rite of passage may be carried out without the obligatory wearing of a kain gringsing.
Though other forms of ikat were probably imported from India, gringsing weaving is thought to have originated only in Tenganan. To support this theory, nowhere else in Indonesia is this intensely time-consuming and jealously guarded "double-ikat" process practiced, and less than 15 women still know how to weave it. A woman may labor for three years on a single piece of gringsing. A large kain may easily cost a million rupiah. Strictly for collectors.
Silk brocades with interweaving patterns of gold and silver thread, songket is the ceremonial dress of the Balinese, to be worn on religious occasions or to one's wedding. Tapestry-like, with motifs of lotus flowers, leaves, birds, butterflies, and wayang figures, songket fabrics are woven on small backstrap looms. Usually only the wealthy can afford a real songket, woven with pure gold thread—gorgeous works of art. Songket can't be washed, so when wet from sweat, it's hung up to dry in the sun.
The whole kain songket is purchased in two pieces which are then sewn together. Men wear the songket saput, a narrow length of cloth worn over the sarung, and the songket udeng, a head band, on formal occasions and religious ceremonies. Beware of shiny ersatz songket from Singapore, with the gold painted on, which looks like the real thing from a distance.
Northern-style songket is made in Banjar Bratan, a southern suburb of Singaraja, and the Klungkung-style is made at Banjar Jero Agung in Gelgel, two km south of Klungkung; other songket cottage industries are found in Batuan (northeast of Sukawati), in Sideman (Karangasem Regency), and particularly Blayu in southwestern Bali (between Mengwi and Marga). Balinese songket is also sold in art shops of Kuta, Sanur, Denpasar, and Ubud.
Plangi ("rainbow") is a multicolored tie-and-dye process of decorating cotton and silk pieces, an art practiced on Bali and Lombok. Each fabric is knotted in certain places very tightly with string, then dipped into dyes. When the knots are untied a picturesque pattern appears, leaving uncolored patches where the dye did not penetrate.
Black and white checkered poleng cloths appear everywhere on Bali, especially as a covering for guardian statues in temples. The checkered pattern symbolizes the changeable world, which is made up of pairs of opposites—night and day, good and evil, man and woman, positive and negative, yin and yang—the duality of earthly existence. Their use is to sanctify a tree, a weird-shaped stone, or a statue so it becomes an object of worship. The cloth is restricted to the lower deities and never would be wrapped around Shiva's shrine as high gods are considered to dwell beyond the temporal realm.
Chinese kebaya (women's blouses) have rich hand-embroidered edges and a swooping décolletage. It's difficult to find the real fine oldies anymore for under Rp100,000 (in Kuta, Rp200,000 and up). Kamben are scarves worn around the breast by women on grand occasions and holidays. Some kamben are thought to possess magic protective qualities to stave off evil; others are worn only for certain dances.