Weaving songket from memory

Delicate art: Mok Su (left) with Hajar inspecting a songket fabric at their home workshop. — Bernama

KUALA TERENGGANU: Being blind has not stopped Gayah Awang, 54, from earning a livelihood weaving traditional songket.

Though it has not been easy to memorise the layout of the threads and maintain the songket pattern, the single mother of four is determined to continue the tedious process with her sense of touch.

Gayah, who is affectionately known as Mok Su, was widowed at 34, and started losing her vision gradually when she was a teenager due to a neurological disorder that runs in her family.

“Five of my seven siblings have vision problems and I am totally blind now.

“When I am sitting in a bright place, I can only see shadows but cannot make out what they are.

“When weaving, I will be groping as I can’t see anything but I have my daughter to help me arrange the threads and prepare the weaving equipment.

“Then I will start weaving by counting the thread strips and rely on my sense of touch to make sure the woven fabric is neat and beautiful,” she told Bernama at her house at Kampung Pasir Panjang here.

Mok Su said every roll of yarn is marked with a rubber band to enable her to differentiate each yarn colour that would be used for each piece of fabric.

Usually, Mok Su would weave a variation called “songket bunga dalam”, which she says was much easier due to her disability because in this way, not many colours, patterns and flowers are used.

“I don’t take orders directly from customers too because with my condition, it will take me a week to complete one piece of songket, while others can have them ready in two days.

“Besides, I don’t weave a lot and will take my time to do just enough to earn some money to cover our daily essentials,” said Mok Su who started weaving since her primary school days.

She said for the more intricate “songket bunga penuh”, she leaves it to daughter Nurul Hajar Ismail, 26, adding that they are still using their ancestral traditional weaver machine that is made of wood.

“Weaving was all I could do to raise my children after my husband died of complications from asthma,” said Mok Su who completed her Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) and was offered a place at a teacher training college, which she declined due to her vision loss at 19.

Working as a traditional songket weaver, she said, was not easy but her love for the art, which has been her family tradition, has motivated her to persevere in her work al though she could not earn much from it.

“I do not want this unique skill of songket weaving to go to waste, so I am passing it down to my daughters.

“Hajar is already good at it and she is assisting me full-time,” said Mok Su, whose work has received the support of the Malaysian Handi-crafts Development Corporation branch in Terengganu.

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