Gold & Coloured Silk Thread & Red Silk SongketMalay people, East Coast, Malaysia
circa 1900 or earlier
length: 205cm, width: 80cm
This beautiful and very fine songket comes from the Malay people of the north-east coast of the Malay Peninsula. It comprises red silk woven (rather than embroidered) with gold-wrapped thread and coloured silk thread. The use of coloured (blue, pink, yellow and other coloured) silk threads to highlight the centres of flower motifs and so on, in addition to the gold-wrapped thread, is a less common variant on songkets made with gold-wrapped thread only. Traditionally, the red of the underlying silk fabric was achieved from the exudations (tahi malau) of an insect.
The production of such
songket textiles was an extremely time consuming and expensive process. They were handwoven using the supplementary weft technique from expensive materials. Wealthier Malays might allow themselves one such new songket a year, often to be worn during the post-Ramadan festivities of Hari Raya, which included calling on family members and local dignitaries.
The quantity of the gold thread used has given this textile a heaviness. The brocade work of this example is particularly fine. The central panel (
badan) is filled with flower motifs: star motifs (bunga sinar matahari beralih), a small eight petal flower (bunga kermunting cina – the Chinese rose myrtle), and floral chains (corak teluk berantai),
The panels at either end are decorated with
kepala punca motifs, the triangular bamboo shoot motif (pucuk rebung bunga kayohan) and a tulip-shaped motif (bunga tiga dara), and what is probably the lawi ayam (chicken feather) motif.
Although relatively large, the (albeit light) length-ways folds still visible in this cloth suggest that it was used as a ceremonial shoulder cloth (
kain selendag songket).
The textile is in excellent condition. There are no repairs, no apparent losses to the woven thread, and only one or two minor age-related small holes to the extremities around the edges. It was acquired in the UK and most probably has been in the UK for many decades, hence its relatively fine condition.
It is the best-preserved
songket textile that we have had.
Selvanayagam, G.I., Songket: Malaysia’s Woven Treasure, Oxford University Press, 1990
Sari to Sarong: Five Hundred Years of Indians and Indonesian Textile Exchange, NGA, 2003.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3550