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... stories, adventures and all things related to life in Singapore and Southeast Asia by AWA members

Embracing Opportunities for Change through the Art of Weaving

Faces Behind the Makers, by Elena Boyce
Heddles and reed in action on a traditional loom from Laos

Ikat is a traditional dyeing and weaving technique used to create intricate patterns on cloth. The process involves resist-dyeing the yarn before it is woven into fabric, resulting in distinct designs with blurred edges and a characteristic feathered appearance.

'Ikat' originates from the Malay term 'mengikat,' meaning 'to tie.' The exact origins of ikat weaving are difficult to pinpoint, as the technique developed independently in multiple cultures. Archaeological evidence suggests that ikat-like textiles existed in various parts of the world as early as 4,000 years ago. Ancient examples have been found in places like Central Asia, India, Japan, and pre-Columbian Peru.

Detail of ikat on the loom

In Southeast Asia, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have a long tradition of ikat weaving. Indonesian islands such as Bali, Flores, and Sulawesi are known for their intricate and vibrant ikat designs. The Indonesian island of Sumba is particularly renowned for its complex and skillful ikat weaving.

The technique's beauty lies in the unpredictable nature of the process, resulting in mesmerizing patterns that appear slightly different in each piece, making each fabric a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Ikat weaving requires exceptional skill, precision, and patience, and it has been a significant cultural and artistic tradition in many regions for generations.

Lynelle Barrett at her traditional loom from Laos

I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Lynelle Barrett, an American artist deeply passionate about the art of weaving. Lynelle studied Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design and was a lecturer in the Diploma in Fashion Programme at LASALLE College of the Arts. She has conserved costumes and prepared them for exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Stedelijk Museum Leuven. Since 2015, she has researched traditional weaving and natural dye techniques and travels to learn from indigenous weavers. She has dedicated her studies to the intricate technique of ikat weaving, delving into its origins in Borneo.

Lynelle, what sparked your initial interest in ikat weaving?

I have always had an interest in costume and textiles. When I moved to Singapore in 2013, I joined the Friends of the Museums Textile Enthusiasts Group and found a passionate community of textile lovers. Many of the members were well-traveled and had collections of SE Asian textiles. In the beginning, I was enchanted by all the textiles! It wasn’t until later that I realized it was the ikat textiles that really spoke to me.

What aspects of this craft do you enjoy the most?

I love that you can really experience the weaver’s hand in ikat textiles. Each cloth is unique, even if the pattern or motifs are traditional. The weaver’s creativity and skill show in the tying of the pattern, the colour of the dye, and the quality of the cloth. There is so much room for creativity in the ikat process. With enough skill, a weaver could use her cloth to tell a story, conjure magic, or illustrate a dream.

Lynelle uses natural dyes for her textiles

Are you currently encountering any challenges in the craft?

When I first decided to learn the ikat process, it was difficult to find instruction. Many books discuss ikat textiles, but information is limited on how to create them. My path eventually led to the Iban weavers at the Tun Jugah Foundation in Borneo. I am truly blessed that they accepted me as a student. My biggest challenge now is allocating enough time to pursue this labour-intensive art form.

Lynelle with her weaving teacher, Shirley Vilin Ikok at the Tun Jugah Foundation

How can we ensure that the art of weaving will be passed down to future generations?

That is a question many people in the ASEAN traditional textile community are asking. It is very difficult for an indigenous weaver to support herself solely by selling her textiles. Many young people today have no interest in learning traditional weaving skills. It’s sad to say, but they can make a better living by leaving the village and getting a job in places like Singapore. However, there are some organisations that are working hard to support weavers and preserve traditional knowledge. A good example is Threads of Life in Ubud, Bali.

Pirns and quills of weaving yarn, ready for action

Has studying traditional textiles impacted your life beyond just learning weaving techniques?

Yes, absolutely. In the beginning, I had to be fearless and ask for help. All along the way, everyone was so supportive—from PhD’s to indigenous weavers. This really helped build my confidence. Now I’m connected to a global network of textile researchers and creators, as well as organisations that support indigenous weavers. This network is the reason I have had amazing opportunities to learn. My study has brought me to faraway places and remote villages. I have slept in traditional adat houses, joined in ceremonial dances, and pounded dyestuff until my muscles ached. Being a weaver makes me part of a sisterhood that seems to be recognised in even the tiniest village. Studying traditional textiles has been a gateway to learn about the world, and all the fascinating people in it.

Lynelle Barrett

Warp yarn tied with motifs and ready to dye (photo by Lynelle Barrett)


Elena Boyce is currently working on her new photographic project, "Faces Behind the Makers" that aims to create awareness and revive an interest in Singapore's heritage trades. Find out more at

​Contributing Editor

Since moving from Philadelphia in 2018, Helena has been active with AWA's Walking with Women, Writers' Group and International Vocal Ensemble, as well as with Urban Sketchers of Singapore. See her artwork on Instagram @helena_antolin_cochrane


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AWA members are women who come from many countries and life experiences but they all have one thing in common — they have chosen to live in Singapore. Some members are new to Singapore,  while some have been here a long time or have returned to Singapore after time away. Our magazine - written and curated by AWA members - focuses on a diverse range of topics including wellness and family, travel tips, cultural events and information, and other helpful tips around navigating and experiencing life in Singapore to it's fullest. 

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