Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
In the world of modern mass production – the only world young people in their twenties (in my world) know – the concept of getting clothes made does not exist.
They simply either go the the shop or browse online, decide on what appeals to them, check for size and acquire it.
In my world, then and sometimes even now, the browsing also happens as the first step – but it is for basic material rather than for finished product. The color, the material, the texture, the print all get decided based on the variety on offer. And there are mega stores in India just selling yardage of amazing fabrics to women who get into their most aggressive forms to get the attention of the sales person.
Once the material is bought, the designing has to be done. How will the neckline be V or U or C or closed – how will the sleeves be – short / long / puffed or skinny or or or …. What will the length be – the decisions are endless. And then one might need embellishments – lace or sari borders – so further trips to different shops specialising in trims may be needed. And then the trip to the tailor who puts it all together after a thousand instructions from madam! Sometimes some embroidery follows the tailoring ….
With so much exciting stuff to do, it is not surprising that I never felt bored for a minute in the days when I had this system in my life. For just a single simple ensemble, one could spend days plotting and planning the one tunic – from collar to cuff to button! It gave room for my creativity to bloom!
And we learnt by watching the older girls – by listening and learning. Life then was not a competitive race with everyone you knew. It was just a journey, in which you cherished the people that traveled with you for a few moments, constantly affirming, constantly exchanging ‘positrons’, glowing with warmth and basking in the warmth of others.
I was reminded of these warmth-filled times when I read about the Batik Tiga Negeri – that literally means Batik made in 3 cities / regions – in which the process of creation had steps similar to those described above.
Batik – wax-resist technique that has been popular in Java for centuries, evolved in several different ways in the different regions and the different communities that patronised it. A spectrum of possibilities arose through the various offerings of aesthetic elements and technical elements that went into its creation. Hand drawn or stamped, level of finesse, butterflies or birds or scenes from life or geometric lattices … all these had to be selected by the maker.
Eventually a community or region became uniquely associated with a particular style.
In the mid-late 1800s, the Chinese developed what might be the most complex type of Batik called tiga negeri. The Batik cloth was dyed red in a place called Lasem, then it travelled to another place Demak to get dyed blue and get the white filled in and then to Suryakarta, to get the brown dye. And then it was finally returned to the owner-maker.
Here is an example:
This is a hand-drawn Batik (batik tulis) in the Kemben or breast cloth format made around 1910-1930s.
Much travel and much planning must have been involved especially keeping in mind the modes of transport available at the time!
Eventually some women turned their home-creations into cottage industries and little workshops came into being.
Imagine the confusion that might arise at the dyers workshop in keeping track of which cloth belonged to which workshop or family!
So to keep things from getting lost and to ensure that it reached the source without getting the pieces mixed up, they developed a simple system of “bar coding”.
The artists / workshops just signed in their name in wax along with the rest of the motifs!!
So in the period of workshops that followed we see signed batiks – not because of vanity (as in the case of my photos that I sign 🙂 ) but because of logistical necessity.
Here is an example:
[Better photos coming soon]
And that is the story of the Batik Tiga Negeri.
Batiks have worked for a long time to receive my love …. seeing the collection of a collector in Singapore opened my eyes a bit.
But the final fall came with the colours of the old Kemben above whose colours make my heart ache……
Anyone know of any remedy?