The fabrics of my life - report on WI talk

Monday 16th October 2017


The WI members and their guests who gathered in Lerryn Memorial Hall to hear Faith Truscott speak on this subject expected to learn a lot about fabrics, and they certainly did that.

When Faith was a young woman, already an experienced teacher and accustomed to working with children with disabilities, she went with VSO to Indonesia, where she was based on the tiny island of Lambok.  She married there and received textiles as wedding gifts, collecting other such gifts over the years she spent there.

Ever since she was a child she had sewed, but in Indonesia she became much more aware of the fabrics themselves and the skill and care that went into producing them. She brought to the meeting examples of the main methods of making and decorating local textiles and we were privileged to be able to see and handle them – some of them extremely old and precious.

The principle of batik – creating patterns on fabric by covering parts of it with a wax that resists the dye - is now familiar to many people, but the word ‘batik’ means ‘make a dot’ and the special tool for applying the wax involves a slender barrel that releases the hot wax through a tube less than a millimetre in width. Faith confessed that her own attempts had invariably created a wax puddle, but then she showed us the elaborate and delicate patterns created by other people on the samples she had brought. None of them, we noticed, carried the ‘cracking’ marks characteristic of many designs sold here as batik. The freshly waxed fabrics, we learned, were kept taut on a wooden frame for insertion into the vats of vegetable dye. If the wax cracked, that was a disaster.

Even more elaborate was the production of ikat patterns. ‘Ikat’ means ‘to lock’. For those of us whose ‘tie-dyeing’ efforts used to involve tying knots in T-shirts, it was a revelation to look at a fabric created by tying tight knots to resist the dye in each individual strand of cotton in the warp of the fabric, then dyeing it, re-knotting it for a different effect and dipping it again. Huge and complex patterns are created this way, non-literate workers retaining the whole pattern in their heads as they work. In really special pieces, the weft is treated the same way, creating even greater complexity. A piece of fabric created like this can take twelve years to make.

Although the fabrics themselves were awe-inspiring, what was moving about Faith’s talk was the fact that they had become a part of her own and other people’s lives in a culture where the cloth made for ‘the birthing’ is retained for use as the same person’s shroud, and the heavy ceremonial shawls incorporating real gold and silver threads are not fashion statements but heirlooms, designed to be loved and valued from one generation to the next. It was her acceptance into this way of life that gave depth to Faith’s memories of it – including the lovely story of the local people’s attempts to falsify her marriage certificate in order to protect her from the shame of being so much older than the fourteen years that was, for them, the proper age for a girl to be wed!

Ann Henderson

Lerryn WI

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