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Woven Fabric - Kain Tenun

Indonesia is an enormous archipelago consisting of 17.000 islands and still counting. There are so many islands in this country, people seem to find a new one now and then. This brought us to the fact that with 17.000 different islands, there must be a huge number of communities exist on every island. And with those communities, there must be an even bigger number of traditions and cultures to follow.

By KOIN Indonesia

Art is one subdivision of culture. And in this country, there are plenty of art forms that have been around even before the country itself was formed. You might have heard about Batik before. Yes, the pattern and specific drawing techniques that currently a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. If you think Batik is beautiful, then let me introduce you to another beautiful craft original from Indonesia. That is Kain Tenun.

Back in the day, Kain Tenun is mostly worn as a scarf, blanket, and clothes. Nowadays, people get creative in using Kain Tenun and it varied widely. Aside from being used as clothing items, like shirts, dresses, or blouses, Kain Tenun is also made into a wide range of accessories such as a purse, shoes, bracelets, rings, pencil cases, and so on. For the people in East Nusa Tenggara, people are using the ability to weave Kain Tenun as a sign that a woman is ready to marry. No wonder there are a lot of women in this province who can make Kain Tenun.

Originated from a province in the middle regions of Indonesia called East Nusa Tenggara, Kain Tenun is a piece of traditionally woven fabric. It is made using a traditional tool called Alat Tenun Bukan Mesin which is a hand-operated fabric-making machine. People from this region have been making this form of art presumably since 3 AD. That is when the era of Kingdoms start to rise in the East Nusa Tenggara. Kain Tenun is believed to be the sign of the early stages of cultural development in East Nusa Tenggara.

Traditioanal Weaving Tools

What makes this piece of fabric so special is the materials used to create it. The authentic Kain Tenun is made from pure cotton. Not the cotton threads which are available in a store, but the ones they made themselves. The people who create Kain Tenun will pick the cotton from their cotton trees or local resources and then starts to spin those cotton into threads by traditional means. That’s why sometimes you will find a slight difference amongst the threads. Creating everything by hand is bound to result in imperfections. But that’s what makes them more special and unique. These threads are the ones that they use to make Kain Tenun.

After they are finished spinning the threads, they will dye them. The people in East Nusa Tenggara use natural ingredients to create the colors for their dye. Leaves and roots are the most common resources they use. For example, a particular kind of leaf called “Ru Dao” is chosen to make a deep blue, almost indigo color, the color red comes from the root of the “Ka’Bo” tree, and turmeric for a yellow dye. Because of this method of getting the colors, the authentic Kain Tenun doesn’t usually have bold colors. Instead, they carry the colors of the earth, natural and readily accessible in their environment.

After the dyeing process is done, then the weaving process begins. By using the help of a traditional tool called “Lana Her’ru” or what is more widely known as Alat Tenun Bukan Mesin or manual lum, the craftsmen will start to tie the threads onto the tool. These threads are called Benang Lungsin, which are tied to the tool on both ends vertically. And to make the pattern, they are using other sets of threads that will be woven between Benang Lungsin to make the pattern. These sets of threads are called Benang Pakan. They make the pattern by weaving Benang Pakan one by one, thus making the time required to make a piece of Kain Tenun long and arduous.

The patterns on Kain Tenun are different from one another, depending on what tribe they came from. These patterns are inspired by nature and the things that they witnessed in their everyday life. Kain Tenun made in Flores, a smaller region in East Nusa Tenggara has fishermen's figures, some sea animals like crabs and tortoises, trees, twigs, rain, and even skulls. In another region called Ende, the pattern looks more western. Some of it resembled the European motifs and even have patterns that resemble the Kanji letters. The outlander who lived in Ende might have contributed giving influence to these patterns.


Now days, the making process of Kain Tenun is not as arduous as before. The more advanced Alat Tenun Bukan Mesin has helped a lot in the weaving process. With the invention of chemical fabric dye, the more modern Kain Tenun has a broad variety of bolder colors. But the authentic ones are still greatly appreciated. Even if the Kain Tenun is no longer brand new, it still retains a high price value due to the intricate process and all-natural materials.

There are still a lot more art, culture, and traditions in Indonesia that you might haven’t heard about. This was just another example of how beautiful the traditional crafts from Indonesia are. Not only the final products but also the process and the meaning behind it. Let us know down below, what do you think of Kain Tenun.

Do you have any woven fabric products in your place? Tell us from which part of Indonesia are they from?

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