Fabric – a Powerful Souvenir

Recently one of my sisters sent me two offcut pieces from a length of batik she’d bought in Cirebon on the northern side of Java, Indonesia, back in around 1977 during a time she was working there. Like many of us who buy fabric, at the time she didn’t know what she was going to do with it, only that she loved the colours and the pattern in this totally outstanding piece.

She says not only is the pattern a very special one – but the colours are unusual, too: a little black, some dark chocolate brown, then there’s green, turquoise, creamy yellow and white. The sense of depth is incredible. As with all traditional textile crafts anywhere in the world, today’s patterns reflect a history of cultural influences responding to new political conditions. So for those who can read this batik, it displays C13 chinese cultural influences from the time of Kublai Kan. The Dutch colonial period and mid C20 movement to independence were factors in the rise of Yogyakarta and the concurrent decline of this region’s importance in batik production. No, I don’t claim to be able to read it, I am just passing on what my sister told me about this piece, but I have put Cirebon on my list of places I need to visit.

A few months ago, looking for something to cover a panel or screen in her home, she found this forgotten piece in her box. I haven’t seen the screen yet, but I also wonder what else is in that box …

Partly for scale but also to add to the perspective of this beautiful, elegant fabric, I snapped it with a pair of enormous sunglasses from the same era, 1975. I still occasionally wear these, they have always been favs, and they do make some kind of statement, – always did. They live in a bag I whipped up from scraps of fabric I used in the 1981 to make a bedspread. The pondy/murky khaki and turquoise print is a batiked cotton twill I bought in Malaysia, around 1973.

Following the theme of a recent post on Souvenirs with Meaning (Oct 1 2007) this one also evokes a lot of memories. (coincidentally that too, was prompted by batik) My sister now has in her home a daily reminder of several years’ living and working in Jakarta. This same fabric prompted memories from my own, totally different, life experiences at around the same time …. what a powerful souvenir a piece of fabric can be.

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