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Geringsing cloths are made using the double ikat method, a demanding process requiring both the warp and weft threads to be bound and dyed so that when woven together they match up to form the design. Although the same technique is applied in the production of the silk double ikat patola cloth from Gujarat (India) which circulated throughout the Indonesian archipelago from about the 16th century, geringsing are produced from hand-spun cotton and their colour range is restricted to natural dyes in ecru (greyish yellow), deep reds, bluish black or deep purple.
The village of Tenganan Pengeringsingan in East Bali is the only village in Indonesia producing double ikat textiles. The village itself is a conservative community of Bali Aga – the ‘original’ Balinese whose society predates the arrival of the Hindu-Buddhist court of Majapahit in Bali during the 16th century. Villagers believe that the deity Indra taught women of the village how to weave and gave them the designs for these special cloths, specialised knowledge that remains closely guarded. Consequently, these textiles function to protect the community from pollution, illness, and danger.
When offered as elements of sacrificial clothing for the divinities ‘rantasan’, the cloth must usually be in flawless condition and uncut. That is, the cloth has been taken off the loom as a continuous loop with a section of unwoven warp threads intact. The formal cutting of these threads is believed to release their inherent supernatural powers.
Different sizes and patterns of geringsing are used in particular ceremonies and worn by people of different ages and gender. Although motifs and pattern determine the use of particular cloths, the people of Tenganan also distinguish categories based on the fabric width. To identify particular types of cloth they often append numbers to a pattern name, which indicate the number of warp bands in its specific composition, where each band comprises twenty warp threads. The motifs on geringsing (numbering about 20) can be broadly differentiated between cloths depicting figures or narrative elements, cloths with geometric lattice-like designs and cloths with geometric floral patterns.
The design on this cloth is known as ‘patelikur isi’, a name which refers to the width or number of bundles of warp thread required to make it (24). The design features the large mandala (four-pointed star or diamond) forms, with smaller multi-tiered shrine and stupa shapes, including small house temples ‘sanggar’, sources of holy water ‘cupu’, dogs ‘asu’ and the floral star shapes representing the scented ivory offering flower ‘sigading’.
- The double ikat, is the rarest method of ikat weaving, by which both the warp and weft threads are dyed and woven.
- Warp is the set of threads running lengthwise in the loom (or vertical threads).
- Weft is the set of threads that are woven across the loom (or horizontal threads).