MUKAH: The Sarawak Songket Weaving Centre has what seems like a peculiar prerequisite for people who wish to take up songket weaving.
“Anyone wishing to be a weaver at this centre must be adept at make-up. If they come without being good at “make-up”, it will certainly not be Sarawak songket,” said Saanah Suhaili, who is chairman of the Rajang Songket Weaving Group that operates at the centre.You may think then that it is compulsory for all the weavers at the Sarawak Songket Weaving Centre to be skilful at putting on make-up, but Saanah explained that what she meant was the weavers need to be skilled in the art of beautifying the songket.
This, said the 63-year-old, is to ensure that the quality of the heritage craft is not compromised.
“For the ethnic Melanaus who live in this village, the word menyolek does not mean putting make-up on the face but being skilled at beautifying the songket and enhancing its quality,” she said.
The hand-woven songket that emerges from the looms of the almost three-decade-old weaving centre in Kampung Rajang – about an hour’s drive from Sibu – is well-known among songket lovers.
Sarawak songket is different from the songket produced in Terengganu and Kelantan. Sarawak songket uses the hidden thread technique to ensure that the back of the fabric is also neatly woven.
This means that the Sarawak songket can be worn on either side as the weaving pattern is the same on both sides.
Saanah said while the weaving process for Sarawak songket and Terengganu and Kelantan songket was generally similar, her weavers use a special 30 sifir or multiplication formula which she and another songket weaver Dayang Norsalam Pengiran Parsih devised in 1993.
The formula is essentially about counting the number of threads used. According to Saanah, the weaver has to master the multiplication technique first before learning the other processes related to songket weaving.
“All the weavers at our centre have to be well-versed with this formula as it is the main basis of the hidden thread technique, as well as the designs for the motifs on the songket fabric,” she explained.
Her songket pieces are priced at about RM900 each but the more exquisite ones can cost as much as RM10,000.
Saanah, who had in the past been conferred the Outstanding Sarawak Songket Weaver award by Kraftangan Malaysia, said the price would depend on the intricacy of the motif, type of thread used and how long it took to complete the songket.
The songket produced by the weavers at the centre features the full floral motif, scattered floral motif or the stripe motif.
“It is more costly to make songket featuring the scattered floral motif than the one with full floral motif. Not only does it require more thread, it is also a laborious process as the floral motif has to be woven one at a time and it can take up to three months to complete a piece,” she said.
Saanah said she was grateful to Kraftangan Malaysia and the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation for helping to promote her centre’s products globally and organising songket weaving workshops.“Our products have a wider reach now and have even been sold in countries like Australia and New Zealand,” she said.
“Thanks to these agencies, Sarawak songket has once again become popular.”
However, although the revival of the local songket industry has made her happy, weaver Salmiah Aba is worried about the future as not many youngsters in the village seemed interested in learning the skill.
She said initially, there were 19 weavers at the centre but the number had now dwindled to eight.
“Right now, we don’t have people who will take over from us but I hope we can pass our skills to the younger generation someday and keep this art alive,” added the 73-year-old. — Bernama