Aesthetically sustainable woven fabrics made in North Bali

There is a small village in North Bali in the mountainous district of Sawan called Sudaji. It is surrounded by papaya and clove fields, rice terraces, coconut palms, and teak and durian trees. People here work as farmers and artisans and have done so for generations. The village is not only a long windy drive from the tourist filled south part of Bali with its fancy beach clubs, large hotels and noisy bars, it is a world away. Actually, the first time I arrived in the village 4 years ago, I felt like I had travelled in time.

In this village, a collective of female weavers create the most beautiful, colourful, detail saturated fabrics and sarongs. I have previously written about the Sudaji weavers, and have for a long time now followed their work. With this article my mission is to spread the word of this wonderful, peaceful place, and support their beautiful work.

Meet Ketut Suciningsih, she is 35 years old and has been working for 7 years as a weaver.

For four months now the weaving collective has been shut down due to Covid19. This means no income what so ever for the weavers. The collective has slowly started up weaving fabrics and sarongs again, but due to no foreigners visiting Bali at the moment the vast majority of customers are missing. And, as the weavers only get paid if their pieces are sold this means that they are currently working for free.

However, even before the pandemic the weaving collective was struggling. We live in a world in which craftsmanship is rarely appreciated. Why pay more for a handmade piece of clothing, a crafted piece of furniture, or a ceramics bowl that carries traces of the creation-process, if you can buy a mass-produced object that resembles such pieces and in addition costs a fraction of the price?

Well honestly, there are many reasons for doing so. One of them being the fact that craftsmanship and artisan knowledge is extinct, and that we are currently in the process of destroying vast human cultural heritages — just by our overconsumption of cheaply manufactured goods.
Another reason is that the aesthetic nourishment that a well-crafted object made by the hands of a skilled artisan contains is of great importance to our human well-being. Not least in an era in which we are increasingly deprived of hands-on, offline activities and experiences. The beauty of a beautifully handmade object, whether this being a bedspread, a chair or a vase, increases our daily wellbeing by offering us the pleasure of continuously using an aesthetically pleasing object as well as the pleasure of experiencing such an object embracing traces of usage in a flattering way. This kind of human wellbeing furthermore increases our ability to live sustainably, as it decreases our need for new things and hence makes it easier for us to reduce our consumption.

This is Nengah Ariani. She is 30 years old and her son is 2. She has worked as a weaver for 5 years.

The weavers at the Sudaji weaver-collective bring their children to work, which enables them to continuously refine their weaving skills, master the complex traditional patterns, and make their own money. The children who come to work with their mothers (either all day or after school) are generally between one and ten years old, and whilst the smallest ones are breastfed and pampered when needed, the bigger ones seem to have a wonderful companionship and a lot of fun.

Workspaces like the weavers’ collective in Sudaji are empowering women, who would otherwise be unable to work (due to obligations at home, cultural boundaries and traditional gender roles) and enjoy the freedom and status that comes with earning one’s own income.

The weaving collective uses naturally dyed cotton from Tarum Bali.
Meet Luh Reniasih. She is 41th years old and has been weaving for 5 years. 

But the skilled weavers are an endangered species, as traditional crafts-traditions are facing extinction in the majority of the world. They are threatened due to societal and cultural developments, aesthetic challenges, and particularly due to the fact that they cannot keep up with the speed and efficiency of the industrial evolution.

Detail from one of the complex patterns.

I am determined to help the weavers from Sudaji in order to ensure that this collective of talented artisans will not be come yet another story of local craftsmanship that didn’t survive the competition from mass-production.

I hope you will help us support these immensely skilled crafts-women by purchasing one or more of their beautiful shawls.

A couple of the sweet children who hang out at their mum’s workspace

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