Sunday, March 29, 2015

Karawo: Bali Cut Work Embroidery of Indonesia in Modern Vintage


The tradition of cut work or open work eyelet embroidery is a long one in Indonesia. I realized that I knew very little about this wonderful regional textile craft and after some research on it, thought that you too might be interested to know a bit more about Indonesian or Bali cut work and embroidery.

Known as Karawo, or Karawang, 20th century versions are popular in the tourist destination of Bali. The embroidery technique is termed makarawo, and was first introduced to Indonesia in the 1700's. This handcraft is produced in villages all over Indonesia, but especially around Gorontalo. The term originally comes from "terawang" that means "can see through".

A style that includes cut edges as well as open textured and filled areas, cut work or Embroidery Anglaise (or eyelet) can be created on a wide variety of textiles. In fashion apparel, modern vintage tops, dresses and skirts made from rayon textiles are often found.  Rayon is popular for its soft and drapey hand.  Vintage cotton, silk and linen fashions are also available.


In cutwork embroidery, the fabric is fit into a hoop to stretch it tight. A design sketch is transferred to the fabric, followed by a process where the 'holes' are carefully cut away, leaving the space where embroidery will bind off those edges.




This is a process that can take up to month to complete when working on a heavily embellished textile by hand. The Kebaya, originally a very sheer white cotton top with white embroidery native to Indonesia and worn over the long wrapped skirts is an early example of this work. The drawings above date from the late 1800's French needlework book by Therese de Dillmont

Machine made cutwork from Indonesia that imitates this difficult hand work has also been available for a century, when embroidery machines began to be popular in manufacturing. It is interesting to note that even though a machine can be used to create embroidery stitches, it remains an intensive process worked by individual operators.  Usually handwork must be used to transfer the design and cut out the shapes, making it still a labor intensive process.


When worn today, modern vintage embroidery from Indonesia is the perfect look when detail and feminine patterns can be worn in contrast with jeans and other casual styles.


Originally, many garments were adapted from European linens in styles that resembled nightgowns, corset covers, tea gowns and other lingerie worn by Western culture around 1900.


This vest shape is traditional in it's cut and silhouette, but fully textured with rich embroidery.


In the same silhouette as a Victorian nightgown, this vintage top is an adaption that includes elastic ruching around the waistline for a 20th century update.



Vintage embroidered fashions from Indonesia are one of the current bargains you can find. Look for lavish cut work and hem details and you know you have found a great piece to wear.

The examples of modern vintage Bali / Indonesian tops shown here are currently listed for sale on my Silverthorne-Nye shop on Etsy, where I curate a collection of ethnic textiles, linens and heritage garments.

Read more about Indonesian Textiles, HERE.

3 comments:

Jessica Cangiano said...

Gorgeous examples of bali cut work. I've always adored this awesome design element and can clearly (no joke) remember the first time I saw it as a little girl. It was amongst the fashion pages in a late 80s Sears catalog when I was a little girl, offered up on crisp white, pink and blue dresses. I was captivated by it then and still am today. :)

Big hugs & many thanks for your terrific comment my time management post,
♥ Jessica

Lisa said...

How beautiful! I can't even imagine being able to create something so amazing. I can barely sew a straight line, ha!

Thanks for sharing and thanks again for your thoughtful comment on my ModCloth post.

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