Art and Design

Tapis: Glitz and glamour
of Lampung traditional
fabrics

Tapis Jabung, Baju Muli and Tapis Kaco (from left to right.)

Lampung has a classical heritage in the form of tapis, traditional woven fabric that gleams with golden embroideries.

In “The Splendor of Lampung Tapis: Then and Now” exhibit at Museum Tekstil in Central Jakarta, a collection of 150 tapis fabrics from the 19th century up to modern day are on display until April 7.

Historians believe that the fabric has been around since the ninth century. It consists of naturally colored woven fabrics with warped gold thread and silk embroidery. The gold threads — in stripes, chevrons and checks — illuminate the natural color of the fabrics.

From then until now, the traditional fabric is usually worn by the women of Lampung, especially for special occasions such as a wedding day, welcoming ceremonies and on Idul Fitri.

In the old days, the cloth was woven on simple backstrap looms using cotton and silk warps as well as cotton weft. The warp-striped textiles were hand-embroidered with a good amount of gold and silk thread.

The silk and cotton used was often produced locally while the dye materials were taken from nature. The silk thread often came from China, while the gold thread was imported from China, India and Europe.

Tapis Cucuk, a modern tapis that blends older motifs with innovations like the tiny pegasus motifs (right).
Golden thread — which was truly made of gold in the past — is an essential part of tapis. It’s what sets it apart from other Indonesian traditional fabrics.

The golden thread usually consists of two elements. The first element is called “core”, which is mostly silk, but can also be cotton. The core is wrapped under a ribbon-like element, which has a golden layer on its surface.

The second element was traditionally made of a long strip of paper that has been gilded with gold-colored leaves or a metal sheet that has been gilded with copper-colored leaves.

Nowadays, the second element can be made of gold- or silver-colored plastics. Machine-made cotton cloth has started to replace woven fabric. It cuts down the whole production process, which used to take up to one year.

The traditional fabric has an exceptional number of motif variations.

What began with hundreds of motifs, the traditional fabric is now believed to only have around 30 motifs left. It is hard to find identical tapis fabrics, except for the Tapis Limar Sikebar from northern Lampung. The motif is characterized by its two to three bands of a star figure in a diamond (limar) frame.

Old tapis fabric is fully decorated with golden thread.

Tapis Inuh and Tapis Kaco fabrics are the oldest collections on display at the exhibition as they are both believed to have come from the early 19th century.

tapis sarong: An embroidered traditional kebaya with a modern tapis sarong.
tapis sarong: An embroidered traditional kebaya with a modern tapis sarong.
Inuh is woven warp-ikat fabric, which has become an extinct art. It is believed to have originated in northern Lampung, specifically in the Komering area.

An antique Inuh collection, which is owned by Roslina Daan, is interestingly decorated with warp ikat-style stripes and two bands of silk embroidery. The four panels of ikat fabric were made separately from the two embroidered panels. The two parts are then sewn together into a sarong with a tubular motif.

No one has made Tapis Inuh since the early 20th century.

Tapis Kaco, a woven cloth decorated with silver mirror-like mica pieces, is believed to have come from Kauer in the northwest area of Lampung.

Young Kauer girls used to spend hours sewing thousands of small mica pieces in silver and muscovite in gold, green and blue into finely striped sarongs. Now, craftspeople choose to use bits of shiny tins or plastic sequins.

Taken from Museum Tekstil Jakarta’s own collection, a gift from Ida Hashari, a single Tapis Kaco tubular sarong is usually worn by Lampung brides on their wedding day. The bride would add a shawl to cover her shoulders, a white collar, a golden crown and jewelry. The sarong collection is believed to have been made in the late 19th century or early 20th century in the northern part of Lampung.

The exhibition also features new tapis fabrics, which are made with a modern approach: using machinery-made cotton and synthetic colors.

 — Photos by R. Berto Wedhatama

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