Tue, 08 Feb 2000

Jepara produces refined and elaborate weft-ikat

By Ahmad Solikhan

JEPARA, Central Java (JP): Jepara is not only famous for its beautiful wood carvings and furniture but also well-known as a traditional weft-ikat producer.

In the past, traditional weft-textile making was the major business for most villagers in Jepara. But it was then replaced by the more lucrative and promising wood carving and furniture business.

Wood carving started to grow in Jepara about a century ago when a small group of Europeans living in Jepara took up the craft.

Their businesses flourished and involved numerous locals and employees. It also generated substantial incomes for villagers, local government and, of course, the entrepreneurs.

Since then, woodcarving and furniture has grown from a small- scale home business to an export-oriented industry with potential markets in domestic and overseas countries. Jepara was once dubbed the furniture center with the most potential in Indonesia.

The rapid growth of woodcarving and the furniture business has unfortunately eclipsed the centuries-old weaving tradition in Jepara. Weaving became economically unprofitable for them.

Many traditional weavers changed their professions to furniture making and wood carving.

Luckily, Troso, a small village in Jepara, still survives as a weft-ikat producing village.

Most Troso villagers grow cotton plants in their own yards and produce good quality cotton as raw material for traditional weft- ikat textiles.

Akhmad Rozaki, 55, a farmer, said he had grown 225 cotton plants which can yield around 200 kilograms of cotton each harvest time.

Raw cotton is sold at between Rp 5,000 to Rp 7,000 per kilogram.

"But if we sell them as weft treads, we can get Rp 15,000 a kilogram," he said.

Rozaki added that, in the past, residents of Troso village produced kain Gendong, long shawls, with monotonous lurik, stripes, designs and dull colors. The cloth was usually worn by village women to carry their babies or goods.

As time changed, the demand for Troso woven cloth dropped significantly. People chose modern textiles with elaborate motifs and quality fabrics.

In order to survive, Rozaki and other villagers keep selling weft-treads and raw cotton but sold them to other parties.

Siti Zaitun, 53, is one of the Troso villagers who is committed to preserving the village's weaving tradition.

Inheriting her business from her parents, Zaitun expanded it from producing only kain gendong or lurik to more sophisticated woven-cloth products ranging from bedspreads, table cloths, carpets, curtain, upholstery, sarongs, bedcovers and various interior goods.

She also modified the lurik design into diverse motifs derived from animal patterns of chickens, horses, lizards, antique, abstract designs and contemporary motifs.

To boost the decaying image of lurik cloth, Zaitun changed the name kain gendong to Tenun Troso, the troso weft-ikat.

Zaitun runs her business from her spacious house, made from wood and carved beautifully in Jepara style. She owns 80 traditional weaving looms and employs about 153 workers.

Most of the workers do all processing from weaving treads, dyeing, coloring and weaving the finished materials.

Each worker produces at an average of between 10 to 15 meters of weft-ikat every day. A worker can earn Rp 5,000 to Rp 7,500 a day. Weavers who make high quality products can earn more because of the laborious and time-consuming weaving and dyeing process.

"With such a meager payment, I am able to cover my daily expenses," said the 30-year-old Suparti.

The increasing market demand for Tenun Troso has forced Zaitun to use cotton from other areas in Java or even imported cottons from India and Japan.

"The village's cotton yields can no longer cover the production need," explained Zaitun.

Imported cotton costs about Rp 45,000 per kilogram, enough to make 50 meter-long weft threads.

Today, Tenun Troso is available in Jepara, Yogyakarta, Surakarta in Central Java, Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali and other places in Indonesia. It is also shipped to several foreign countries.

Prices for each Tenun Troso depend on the quality, motifs and material. "I sell Troso weft-ikat from between Rp 5,000 to Rp 150,000," said Zaitun.

Almost every day, domestic and foreign visitors flock to her elegant gallery to buy Tenun Troso.

"Many of them buy Tenun Troso in large quantities. But, we have to maintain the standard price," explained Zaitun.

The ongoing economic crisis has also affected Zaitun's business.

"The price of raw materials has risen to between 200 and 300 percent," she explained.

Zaitun said she had no alternative but to triple the price of Tenun Troso because of the escalating production costs.

She admitted there was a slight decrease in the sales of Tenun Troso since the economic crisis hit the country three years ago.

But she refused to reveal her monthly turnover. "It's a company secret, I can't disclose the figures to you," Zaitun said.