Today’s Relevance of Heritage Crafts

Throughout our trip in Indonesia, and I expect our upcoming visit to Thailand, we have had the opportunity to meet people dedicating their work to conservation of heritage craft traditions and fair-trade approaches enabling the craftspeople a sustainable income. Two of the most inspiring groups we came across were focussed on textile craft: Threads of Life in Bali, and Galeri Batik Jawa in Yogyakarta.

Threads of Life, according to their site, is “a fair trade business that uses culture and conservation to alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. The heirloom-quality textiles and baskets we commission are made with local materials and natural dyes. With the proceeds from the Threads of Life gallery, we help weavers to form independent cooperatives and to manage their resources sustainably.”

They work with textile cooperatives all over the region, sometimes helping to form the cooperative itself, and they recommend that each member of the cooperative give a small percentage of their earnings to a group fund that can be used to finance materials, phone calls to buyers, microcredit  opportunities, etc. Threads of Life also counsels the groups on records keeping so that those funds are tracked appropriately and the decisions of how to use the funds can be based on records of past successes or challenges.

Naturally Dyed Threads

Here are some naturally dyed threads shown at the Threads of Lefe showroom in Ubud, Bali. The vibrance of the finished threads and the weavings made from them are stunning.

Batik Wax Pattern

Batik patterns are created using complex wax patterns. The wax is painted on to the base cloth wherever color should not be. Then, the cloth is dipped into the dye and all the non-wax areas are dyed. In order to get a rich color, the fabric must be dipped and dried multiple times. If there is more than one color involved, then after the first color is complete, all of the wax is taken off and a new wax pattern is painted on for the second color.

Threads of Life is involved with many different textile art forms, most of which are weaving related. When you purchase a textile from Threads of Life, you receive information specifically about the textile art form, the region it came from and even the weaver herself.

Another heritage-focused textile effort is represented by Laretna Adishakti and Galeri Batik Jawa in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Laretna or as she is known, “Sita,” is an architect and professor at Gadjah Mada University, Chairperson of the Jogja Preservation Society and a board member of the Indonesian Heritage Trust.

With her cultural heritage knowledge and living in her home town of Jogja, Sita was affected by the massive destruction and displacement of people after the 2006 earthquake in the region which caused over 5000 deaths and 1.5 million homeless. With villages entirely buried, whole cultures were in dire need and at risk of being lost forever. Sita and others developed connections with batik artisans in the area and provided a foundation to enable them to continue working within their field of expertise, thereby helping the individuals overcome their newly homeless state as well as saving an art and tradition.

Galeri Batik Jawa is particularly known for their collection of indigo batiks. Walking into the showroom is stunning with the deep rich blues jumping off the fabric. The deeper the blue, the more times the pattern was dipped in order to achieve the color. Some fabrics are dipped as many as 30 times.

Indigo Batik, Galeri Batik Jawa

Indigo Batik, Galeri Batik Jawa – we purchased this awesome dark blue batik. The cracks throughout are due to the wax cracking. Sometimes this is intentional and sometimes not. Regardless, we liked the texture it added to the design.

Browns are another traditional color used in Javanese batiks. Much of the brown is from Mahogany. There is a pinkish brown from another plant that sounds something like “dink” but I never caught the word fully.

Indonesian Batik, Galeri Batik Jawa

Here’s another batik design that caught our eye.The brownish pink with blue combination is so yummy!

In 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With this designation, UNESCO insisted they preserve their heritage. IT can be difficult to preserve a heritage, however, when the reasons for its creation no longer exist in the societal culture. For instance, many of these batik processes and designs were used specifically for royalty or nobility or ceremonial marriage textiles. With western dress becoming more and more the norm, and marriages and wedding ceremonies handled completely differently today, the request for these batiks is practically non-existent outside of purely historical contexts. So, how to save the heritage when the need is no longer there? Create a new need.

Galeri Batik Jawa is just one of many batik brands bringing traditional batik process to modern fashion. Sita and her group commissions the batik designs and purchases the waxed textile. They develop natural dyes from existing recipes or buy the dyes from dye crafts people. They then dye the fabric and use it not only in tapestry form, but also in cut-and-sew fashion. Galeri Batik Jawa has been in Jakarta Fashion Week and Tokyo Fashion Week showing traditional batik prints in contemporary fashion style.

Galeri Batik Jawa at Jakarta Fashion Week

Galeri Batik Jawa at Jakarta Fashion Week

With fast and colorful printing techniques available, a batik look can be created very inexpensively, pricing the artists out of the market. But heritage groups such as Threads of Life and Galeri Batik Jawa are showcasing the difference between cheap machine-printed batik patterns and the true artistry of handmade Batik. And consumer trends are all demanding “back-to-nature” and natural materials over the chemically treated world we have been living in. If they continue their efforts not only to preserve and sustain the cultural heritage of batik, but always press forward to create demand and understand consumer wants and needs in today’s and tomorrow’s markets, they will hopefully succeed in keeping these traditional art forms as a vital and relevant part of the future.

sarinah batik jawa

Galeri Batik Jawa as shown in The Sarinah Department Store collection at Jakarta Fashion Week

see Aly’s post about Laretna Adishakti and Galeri Batik Jawa here: 

The Lights of Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is a sweet and smallish city  of 1-2 million people in the region of Java Indonesia. It is known for it’s ties to historical arts, batiks, drama and dance. We only spent 3 days in “Jogja,” and basically all of that time was spent talking with incredibly interesting people who I will talk about in later posts. So, we didn’t get to see much of the city. The night before we left, our driver took us for a drive in the old city center just so we could see it.

Driving down the main strip, on a Tuesday evening at 7pm, the place was jumping like South Beach on a Saturday night – except it was jumping with EVERYBODY from age 2 to age 92. People eating, drinking, shopping or just taking it all in like us. In front of the Sultan’s palace is a very large plaza-like square. Here, we saw the amazing lights of Yogyakarta…

Yogyakarta light cars

On all 4 streets bordering the Square are little rentable “cars” made up of lights. They are so cute, and there are maybe 100 different ones!

Yogyakarta Square

More light cars…and in the middle of the square are vendors, all with decorated light stands selling little flying things with lights. It’s a very consistent theme of the square, having nothing to do with anything except an idea somebody had that took off.

Jogja portrait

Here are Aly and I enjoying the lights of “Jogja” (short for the full pronunciation, “Jogjakarta”)

Borobudur Temple

We left Bali for Yogyakarta at a horribly early hour, arriving in Yogyakarta around 8am, much too early for check-in at our hotel. Since we had this free time, we decided to visit Burobudur, a Buddhist temple from the 9th century and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Burobudur is the most visited site in Indonesia so we were prepared for large crowds. Fortunately for us, we got there before most of them and were able to explore fairly freely.


Upon entering the site and walking a bit on the very large grounds, we got our first full view of Borobudur.

Burobudur Temple

We finally make it to the temple itself and prepare ourselves to go up all the steps to the main level, walk around each of the 6 square levels of the exterior and the 3 circular levels at the top. The 3 circular top levels are designed to walk around clockwise for a total of 3 times.

Burobudur Buddhas

Around the exterior of each level there are niches for over 500 Buddha statues. The Java area was once Buddhist, but the population converted to Islam in the 15th century.

Burobudur Temple level

Each level of the temple has a seemingly maze like path around it that you are encouraged to walk around in a clockwise direction before going up to the next level. There are over 2600 relief panels lining these walls. We found it interesting that it looked like the walls were built of stone blocks and then the reliefs were carved into the blocks after they were assembled.

Burobudur Mustache

love the mustache on this dude!

Burobudur Stupas

The top 3 levels are circular and full of these stupas, each of which holds a Buddha inside. There are 72 of these surrounding the large stupa centerpiece. Mysteriously, the center stupa, is empty.

Unfinished stupa at Borobudur

Here is an unfinished stupa showing the Buddha inside. There are 2 unfinished ones on the site, although “unfinished” may not be the right word as it is thought the exposed Buddhas was intentional.

Borobudur from the top

Here’s the look back down to where we started.

It is not known why or when the temple was abandoned. Some think the conversion to Islam in the 15th century was the timing and reason. Others think it happened some time between 900-1100 when the capital of East Java was moved due to a series of volcanic eruptions.


Borobudur is situated between 2 large volcanoes. Merapi, seen here, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world still today. 2010 was the date of a large-scale disaster due to Merapi erupting. It had a very small eruption while we were there and we saw smoke coming out of it from the plane as we were leaving Yogyakarta!

Borobudur Temple is an incredible place to visit. It is awe inspiring, even its renovation efforts. The largest renovation effort happened between 1972-1984, but they were renovating when we were there and we were told it would take the next 100 years to complete. Wow.