Creating ‘gringsing’, a study in patience

Patience attains almost a state of grace in the hands of Tenganan village’s gringsing weavers.

Each length of the sacred fabric also known as double ikat, demands six to eight years to be brought into being; preparing and tying in the motifs takes the better part of a year before the dyeing process begins. This takes from four to six years. The final act in its creation, the weaving, is a doddle, at around a month.

Double ikat is woven only in the Bali Aga village of Tenganan in Indonesia, Okinawa in Japan and Gujarat in India.

It is believed in Tenganan, Karangasem regency, Bali, that gringsing was developed long before the Majapahit royal houses were established.

“Before kingdoms came to Indonesia, in the days of Bali Kuno, we already had gringsing. There was a famous man of our village named Gigringsing,” says one of the Bali Aga village’s foremost gringsing weavers, Nyoman Nuri Suarni, who began training in the esoteric art when still a child.

“It was during the Japanese occupation. I was big, maybe 9 or 10, and I started to learn from my mother. Later I learned from my mother-in-law who was a great gringsing weaver. Gringsing is complicated, difficult, but I kept trying. At first it was hard to learn and you need patience,” says Nuri of the training that took almost a decade.
Now a great-grandmother in her 80s, Nuri is still weaving the cloth her village believes protects its wearers from harm and illness.

The son of a family friend, Nengah, helping with translation from Balinese, explains the words gring and sing are Balinese for “illness” and “without”.

“So gringsing means without illness. Gringsing is medicine for the people of Tenganan because it is made from natural materials and has the three-color symbols of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva,” says Nengah, adding his village is more correctly known as Tenganan Pegringsingan, the village between the hills and the shore whose people make gringsing.

Medicinal and sacred beliefs bound into every thread of gringsing are part of the daily tapestry of Tenganan life, with the sacred fabric used in rituals almost from cradle to grave.

“People start to wear gringsing from about 7 years of age. It is used in teeth-filing, weddings and as a blanket for the dead. Babies do not need the protection of gringsing because they are like gringsing and sukla, still whole and perfect,” says Nuri.

She explains that when gringsing comes off back-strap looms, it is a circle and sukla, united with the gods. Gringsing in its sukla state cannot be worn; it is used as an offering to the gods. Once the end threads that join the gringsing are cut, it becomes part of the human world where it protects the people.

“We use the gringsing as a blanket for the dead. After burial we take the gringsing to the seashore for purification, so it can be used again,” says Nuri of the textile that also binds together three villages.

Across the mountains surrounding Tenganan are Budakeling and Bug Bug. These villages supply the sacred gold jewelry worn with gringsing in rituals and the indigo dye that is the base for the black tone in gringsing weavings.

“This bundle of tied threads is ready to go to Bug Bug for the indigo dye. We cannot use indigo here. It is a sacred color to the people of Bug Bug,” says Nuri, nursing a length of intricately tied hand-loomed cotton thread sourced from the cotton trees of Nusa Penida.

Before the indigo dye is applied, the threads are soaked for 42 days in a mix of candlenut oil and watered ash from burnt tamarind trees.

“This is called the aka kambuhan time. The threads are turned every three days and the 42nd day soaking is the same time as for baby’s ceremonies,” says Nengah who has worked as a dyer of gringsing for Nuri.

Once the indigo tied threads are returned from Bug Bug they are dyed with sunti root to create the red and the blacks from over-dyeing the indigo.

“We don’t have a natural black dye here so we need the indigo to create that when mixed with red,” says Nengah with a hank of deep brown, black and red threads that have been in the dying process for some years.

“We soak the threads in red dye for three days, then allow it to dry for a week. Then we set it aside for a few months for the dye to develop further. We check the color and repeat the process many times. See here inside the threads are still yellow. There is still a long way to go before it is perfect,” says Nengah, opening out a section of tied threads to reveal the cream color where the red dye has yet to penetrate.

Weavers of Tenganan have 24 motifs for the gringsing with the Wayan Putri motif one of the most difficult. Today there are just a few people left who can create this pattern.

“It is very intricate and difficult to make the Wayang Putri and it takes many years. You must be patient,” says Nuri of the tie-dyed weft and warp she has been creating for three quarters of a century, adding there are no easy motifs in gringsing.

— Photos by J.B.Djwan – See more at:

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