Categories: Culture

Behind The Seams

Weaving is an ancient skill or craft perfected by various communities around the world. In Pahang, Malaysia, the craft of Tenun weaving is very much alive, again. Largely thanks to the involvement of Her Majesty Queen Azizah of Malaysia and the prisons of Pahang. To celebrate this ancient and wonderful craft, we recently created various modern outfits with Tenun Pahang Diraja in a style shoot with models. But how are these beautiful pieces created?

While it may look “seam”-ingly easy, the various steps that go into the production of Tenun Pahang Diraja is anything but. In fact it requires great patience and precision. Here, a guide to the intricacies of this 300-year-old craft that blur the lines between convention and innovation.

Step 1: Melikas (Cleaning of the silk)

To avoid any entanglements, raw yarns are first divided into small hanks of 30 strands before being immersed overnight in a solution of burnt coconut fronds or the skin of durian fruit. It is then rinsed with water to eliminate leftover starch or any unwanted residue.

Silk yarns in their rawest form

Step 2: Mewarna (Colouring/Dyeing of the silk)

Yarns are brought to life by way of organic or synthetic dye. While the former employs ketapang leaf for dark brown and the bunga telang (butterfly pea flowers) for indigo hues, artificial tints require sodium carbonate to achieve extraordinary shades. They are then rinsed and left in a shaded area to dry. Naturally-dyed threads are soaked in chalk water for colour longevity, and washed in lime water to remove odours.

Butterfly Pea flowers or bunga telang are steeped to extract indigo hues

Step 3: Menerau (Spooling of the yarn)

Once dried, brightly- coloured strands are reeled and then laid on a spinning wheel to produce spools (or bobbins). Here, a ruwin holds freshly-dyed yarns in place, while a rahat spins the yarn to a heddle (peleting).

Reeling in freshly-dyed yarns

Step 4: Mengani (Arranging of patterns)

Prepared spools are placed in a warping mill which corresponds to desired length, width and design. In a weft ikat print, each spool contains enough thread to produce a complete repletion of a motif and is carefully numbered so they are used in the correct sequence.

Depending on the design, spools are arranged accordingly in a warping mill

Step 5: Menyusuk (Attaching yarns to a reed)

Warp yarn is threaded onto comb-tooth-like part of the loom called a reed. Ten strands of yarn are needed for every single space in the reed to produce a stripe.

Given the number of warp yarns involved, reeding is a crucial element for pattern organisation

Step 6: Menggulung (Winding of warp yarn)

Warp yarn that have undergone threading are wound to a roller beam before being set on a loom.

Combed threads in midst of being rolled onto a beam

Step 7: Menghubung (Connecting)

Similar to the act of threading needles, new warp yarns that have been wound are attached to corresponding ends of old warp yarns.

Warp yarns are attached to its corresponding ends

Step 8: Meneguh (Firming)

After the process of menghubung, the warp yarns that are tightened are put on to the weaving loom for the process of sorting out any problem that the warp yarns may have, so that it will not have any effect on the cloth which will be woven.

Taut threads allow weavers to observe the creation of patterns seamlessly

Step 9: Menenun (Weaving)

The weaving process begins when the treadle is lifted and lowered to open the warp shed and facilitate the passage of a shuttle. This allows the weft yarn to be hurled between the warp shed. The weaver needs to pay close attention to this, especially when weaving designs on a piece of cloth. The process of inserting gold or silver yarn onto the cloth to make a certain motif has to be done before the kayu belira (a piece of long thin flat wood used for firming the warp yarns) is applied.

A weaver at the famed Pulau Keladi Weaving Village working on her tenun masterpiece

Step 10: Menggerus (Calendering)

Once the silks have been woven, fabrics are covered in resin or rinsed in starch before being treated with large cowry shells attached to a wooden rod. This process of calendering, or burnishing, pushes the starch into tiny spaces between each weave and produces a silken lustre on the surface.

If you want to learn more about this process you can visit the Tunku Azizah Royal Craft Village in Pulau Keladi in Pekan. For more information visit the Muzium Pahang website here.

Frank Nelwan

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Frank Nelwan

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