Rare Books


Textiles in Indonesia

Australia's developing relations with Indonesia in the 20th century established links which sparked increasing interest in travel to Indonesia and consequently interest in its many arts, cultures and societies.

Indonesia map

Textiles of Indonesia, an exhibition mounted at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1976, reflected this interest of Australia in its Southeast Asian neighbours. Many of the textiles on display were lent by local specialist collectors and by amateurs from the Indonesian Arts Society.

Three years later, the exhibition Splendid Symbols: Textiles and Tradition in Indonesia at the Textile Museum in Washington DC initiated a new level of Indonesian textile research and publication. The exhibition coincided with an international symposium, the fifth Irene Emery Roundtable on Museum Textiles: Indonesian Textiles, which brought together professional textile scholars from museums around the world with Southeast Asian collections. So enthused was the Australian National Gallery that it went on to establish its own Indonesian textile collection with the assistance of an expert committee.

Scholarship on textiles has greatly expanded in the last twenty years, examining their richness in historical and anthropological contexts, as well as their obvious aesthetic values.

This exhibition of books from the collection and fabrics on loan offers the viewer examples of the richness of materials, techniques, designs and symbolism of Indonesian textiles.


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Ikat is a dye-resist method of weaving, mostly applied to cotton, in which resist material is bound at intervals around the yarn, either the warp or the weft in the two principle techniques. Double ikat, geringsing, is a complicated technique which produces patterns in both warp and weft. Ikat has been known in Indonesia since at least the 10th century and is primarily produced in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sarawak, Sulawesi and the Nusa Tenggara (Lesser Sundra) island chain.

Stylised birds, animals and human figures, as well as 'tree of life symbols' are common features of ikat cloth. Less common and more highly prized are the famous 'ship cloths' of southern Sumatra, restricted to use by the nobility for ceremonial purposes.


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Songket is primarily found in Aceh, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Sumbawa. As Arab and Indian traders increased their traffic in Southeast Asia during the 16th century, the influence of Islam spread. Weaving techniques using silk and gold and silver thread were introduced to the islands of Indonesia, and local manufacture of fine textiles developed.

Much of the silk weaving produces beautifully coloured sarongs, with gold and silver threads used in a supplementary weft technique to create highly decorative designs. As Islam proscribes the representation of livings things, geometric motifs and stylised floral designs are commonly featured in the textiles.


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Batik, the ancient craft of wax-resist dyeing, is said to have been established in Java by the twelfth century. India, Turkestan, China, Japan and West Africa have long traditions in batik production, as well as other parts of the Indonesian archipelago, but central Javanese batik is the best known. By the 17th century it had developed into a complex and highly-skilled art form. Dutch traders imported Javanese batiks into Holland and the form became widely known in Europe.

In Indonesia traditional techniques for making batiks still survive in villages alongside innovations, where vegetable dyes and the application of wax by the canting are more often replaced by synthetic dyes and the stamping block cap for quicker wax application. Commercial reproduction of batik patterns - printing - is now widespread through modern mechanised processes. Naturally-dyed batik characteristically used indigo blue, soga brown, rich creams and golds, but newer dyes expanded the range dramatically. The most highly regarded Javanese batik cloth is finely woven with an even surface. Cotton is the most common material, although silk is occasionally used.

Batik motifs are often taken from nature: animals, insects, flowers and fruit. However, geometric patterns often make up the background designs: stars, lozenges, rosettes, intersecting circles and diagonals. These motifs have generally been used to decorate untailored rectangular cloths which are folded, wrapped or draped as items of clothing.

Metallic Thread Embroidery

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Some of the most elaborate ornamental cloths in Indonesia are those embroidered with metallic thread. In south Sumatra in particular, needle-workers use the couching technique where gold or silver thread is laid out in lines and shapes and tacked down on to the surface of the cloth with fine cotton. The pieces are usually created for ceremonial use.

Islamic and Chinese influences in this kind of embroidery are quite pronounced, with the cloths ornamented with geometric shapes or stylised human figures, animals, plants and mythological creatures.


Ian Charles Stewart and Judith Shaw. Indonesians: portraits from an Archipelago. London; Melbourne: Routledge & Kegan Paul, [1983].
Baill f 959.8038 STEW

John Gillow. Traditional Indonesian textiles. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992.
ERC f 746.09598 GILL

Tibor Bodrogi. Art Of Indonesia [Indonezia Mureszete]. Translation from the Hungarian by Eva Rácz. London: Academy Editions, 1973.
Baill 709.598 B668

Robert J. Holmgren and Anita E. Spertus. Early Indonesian textiles from three island cultures: Sumba, Toraja, Lampung. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.
Baill f 746.09598 HOLM

Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin [et al]. Balinese textiles [Textilien in Bali]. London: British Museum Press, 1991.
Baill f 746.095986 HAUS

Mattiebelle Gittinger. Splendid symbols: textiles and tradition in Indonesia. Singapore; New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Baill f 746.09598 GITT

John Gillow and Brian Sentance. World textiles: a visual guide to traditional techniques. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.
Baill f 746.09 GILL

Mary Hunt Kahlenberg. Textile traditions of Indonesia. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
ERC 746.09598 KAH 1

Michael Hitchcock. Indonesian textiles. London: British Museum Press in association with the Centre for South-East Asian Studies, University of Hull, 1991.
ERC f 746.09598 HITC

Langewis, Laurens and Frits A. Wagner. Decorative art in Indonesian textiles. Amsterdam: Van der Peet, 1964.
Baill f 746 L277

Robyn Maxwell. Textiles of Southeast Asia: tradition, trade and transformation. Canberra: Australian National Gallery; Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Baill f 746.0959 MAXW

Ila Keller. Batik; the art and craft. Rutland, Vermont: C. E. Tuttle Co., [1966].
Baill 746.662 KELL

Joan Gibbs. Batik unlimited. New York, Watson-Guptill Publications, [1974].
Baill f 746.6 G443

Cultures at crossroads: Southeast Asian textiles from the Australian National Gallery. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1992.
Baill f 746.0959074 AUST

Sylvia Fraser-Lu. Indonesian batik: processes, patterns, and places. Singapore; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Baill 746.66209598 FRAS

Textiles of Indonesia: an introductory handbook. [Melbourne]: National Gallery of Victoria for the Indonesian Arts Society, 1976.
ERC 746.09598 TEX 1 B

Anne Richter. Arts and crafts of Indonesia. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993.
Baill 745.09598 RICH

Garrett Solyom and Bronwen Solyom. Textiles of the Indonesian archipelago. [s.l.] University Press of Hawaii, 1973.
Baill 746 S692

Further reading

Ruth Barnes. The Ikat textiles of Lamalera: a study of an Eastern Indonesian weaving tradition. Leiden; New York : E.J. Brill, 1989.
Baill f 746.14095986 BARN

The batiks of Java: forty-six plates in collotype and colour. London: E. Benn, 1924.
Baill SpC/BX f 746.662095982 REAL

J. H. van Brakel [et al]. A passion for Indonesian art: the Georg Tillmann (1882-1941) collection at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. [translated from the Dutch by Nicoline Gatehouse and Karen Gamester]. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute, 1996.
Baill 709.598074 BRAK

Inger McCabe Elliott, ed. Batik: fabled cloth of Java. New York: Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1984.
ERC f 746.662095982 ELL 1

Mattiebelle Gittinger, ed. Indonesian textiles: Irene Emery Roundtable on Museum Textiles, 1979 proceedings. Washington, D.C.: Textile Museum, 1980.
Baill f 746.09598 IREN

Mattiebelle Gittinger, ed. To speak with cloth: studies in Indonesian textiles. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1989.
Baill f 746.09598 TOSP

Jack Lenor Larsen, ed. The Dyer's art: ikat, batik, plangi. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.
ERC f 746.6 LAR 1

R. M. Moerdowo. Reflections on Balinese traditional and modern arts. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1983.
Baill f 700.95986 MOER

Stamford Raffles, Sir. The history of Java. Kuala Lumpur, New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. 2 vols.
Baill f 959.82 RAFF

Judith Ryan. Tribal and traditional textiles. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1978.
Baill 746 R988

Paul Michael Taylor, ed. Fragile traditions: Indonesian art in jeopardy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, c1994.
Baill 709.598 FRAG

Rita Wassing-Visser. Royal gifts from Indonesia: historical bonds with the House of Orange-Nassau (1600-1938). The Hague: House of Ornage-Nassau Historic Collections Trust; Zwolle: Waanders, 1995.
Baill f 700.9698 WASS


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