Fri, 16 Jun 2000

Pretty cushions the latest export item in Yogya

By Singgir Kartana

YOGYAKARTA (JP): "Never ever sit on a pillow or you will get boils all over your buttocks," so Javanese parents used to advise their children.

This rather superstitious belief is intended to ensure that children will always maintain decency because, according to Javanese custom, it is improper to sit on a pillow. A pillow is only for the head to rest on and not for the buttocks to sit on.

Of course, this belief does not apply to cushions, especially when the cushion cover is make from woven material or batik, such as those produced by some cushionmakers in Yogyakarta.

"Pretty pillows," so called because of their pretty design and motifs, may be rectangular, square, round, oval or even heart- shaped.

Apart from the design variation, these cushions are decorated with tiny accessories made from water hyacinth stems, coconut shells, colorful threads, fragrant roots and silkworm cocoons.

The water hyacinth stems, for example, are cut up into thick slices which are then knitted into an ornament for a cushion case. Coconut shells are made into objects like buttons which are then placed in the four corners of a cushion case.

The cushions, which are in high demand, are found in many souvenir shops in Yogyakarta. Cushions made of woven material sell well because of their unique texture and natural colors.

Local and foreign tourists visiting Yogyakarta like the cushions, which are also found in foreign markets, such as in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, the Netherlands and Australia.

Unfortunately, according to one cushionmaker, Lisa Damayanti, 35, these cushions have yet to be exported on a large scale. So far they have been dispatched abroad at the request of tourists visiting Yogyakarta.

She said hotels in Indonesia also purchase the cushions. "Unlike domestic buyers, who prefer bright and rather striking colors, foreign buyers have a penchant for natural colors. At my place, cushions made of woven materials sell best of all," said Lisa, who also owns Rumah Cantik (Beautiful House) Gallery in Yogyakarta.

Woven cloth is bought in Pekalongan. The batik for batik cushions is bought in Surakarta. Some cushionmakers weave the cloth themselves. Yanto, another cushionmaker, for example, has 10 people weaving cloth for him. He only buys cloth in Pekalongan or Surakarta if he receives a lot of orders.

Lisa's sales are quite high -- about 3,500 cushions a month. Prices vary depending upon the accessories used as decoration. Most cushionmakers sell their products for between Rp 25,000 and Rp 35,000.

Besides Lisa there are other cushionmakers whose sales are quite high. Yanto, 41, who runs his business in Mantrijeron, says he sells at least 2,000 cushions per month.

Mariyanto, 51, whose place of business is in Bantul, can sell about 2,500 cushions a month. Lisa, Yanto and Mariyanto also make tablecloths, curtains, carpets and bed covers from woven materials. The cushions are a recent addition to their product lines.

"Only about five years ago these pretty cushions began selling well. Previously, only souvenirs made from water hyacinth stems, banana stems and frond midribs, such as bags, tissue box covers and artificial flowers, sold well," said Mariyanto.

As a household handicraft business, the sales volume of these cushions is quite big. Lisa earns over Rp 100 million a month, while Yanto earns about Rp 60 million a month and Mariyanto about Rp 70 million a month.

What makes these cushions attractive? Ellen, 22, a tourist hailing from Brisbane, Australia, said at Mariyanto's workshop that the cushions were quite cheap and quite artistic in design.

To augment their sales volume, the cushionmakers take part in exhibitions and distribute brochures. Lisa also has a website at