The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Sumatra, Indonesia, 20th century AD
Decorated silk textile of red and gold
Palembang, in south-east Sumatra, is particularly well known for its ikat-dyed silk textiles of red and gold. Long pieces like this were worn over the shoulder or wrapped around the waist. They are now only worn on special occasions.
The cloth itself is a weft ikat divided in three sections, with a centre field, end panels and borders. Here, only the edges and panels have been decorated with gold supplementary wefts. With this decorative technique, floating gold thread is woven between the wefts of the textile and sometimes over the ikat design itself. Because of the high value of both silk and gold, such textiles play an important role in the traditional exchanging of gifts, for example between a groom and bride or at the birth of a child. This is particularly the case with the legendary 'cloth of gold', where the whole surface of the cloth is covered with complex designs in gold thread.
The gold and silver weaves of India and the importance of trade with China are thought to be the inspiration behind the silk ikat-dyed textiles produced in Sumatra. Although Palembang is not directly on the coast, it was influenced by the active exchanges taking place in nearby coastal areas.
M. Gittinger, Splendid symbols: textiles and (Washington, D.C., The Textile Museum, 1979)
R. Maxwell, Textiles of Southeast Asia (Oxford University Press, 1990)
M. Hitchcock, Indonesian textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)