Other Visual

Our History with Embroidery

The Malaysian model and embroidery artist, Sheena Liam’s, recent embroidery art which blew up on social media has brought the art and wonders of embroidery into the spotlight.

(Credit: Teen Vogue https://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/interview-with-model-and-embroidery-artist-sheena-liam#9)
Sheena Liam’s embroidery (Source: Teen Vogue https://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/interview-with-model-and-embroidery-artist-sheena-liam#9)

Starting off as merely a hobby to pass the time, her embroidery art has

“The best way to learn is to just start. It´s not about beauty, followers, or being good; it’s about doing, creating. Embroider whatever you like, use the colors that make you happy.” – Sheena Liam

The intricacy and creativity woven with each thread remind us of the story they each tell, as they come together to paint a picture worth a thousand words. Yet, we must remember that our relationship with embroidery stretches far back, making its mark on our culture and history.

The art of embroidery is often prevalent in the culture of the Malays and indigenous tribes of Sabah and Sarawak.


(Credit: Michael Blackman Ltd http://www.michaelbackmanltd.com/2242.html)
(Credit: Michael Blackman Ltd http://www.michaelbackmanltd.com/2242.html)

Tekat, or known in Perak as Tekat Bersuji or Hiasan Suji Timbul, is the art of embroidering golden thread usually on velvet, is arguably the most significant of the decorative arts found in Malay culture.

The art, found in the tradition of Malay communities throughout the peninsular, emerged as a result of the Chinese influence in the period of the Malacca Sultanate. The art developed in the local Chinese community. As told by Hikayat literature, Tekat flourished as it was implemented in court practice, embedded in royal attire and ceremonial equipment.

Ceremonies, such as Majlis Berkhatam Quran and Majilis Bersunat, recognize the beauty of Tekat, therefore featuring the embroidery in their decorations, illustrating the respect and value the Malay community holds for Tekat. Now, Tekat can be found on everyday household items as well.

The art found in Tekat produced by Malays and inherited of the baba communities from China, show distinct differences. The main difference being found in the motifs. Chinese Tekat is geared towards animal motifs, such as dragons and phoenixes. Malay Tekat illustrate plant or floral motifs and geometric designs.

Tekat only continues in a few states within the Peninsular currently, Johor, Selangor, Pahang, Perak and Negeri Sembilan. With Perak known to produce the highest quality and most beautiful Tekat.

Murut Tangala Embroidery

(Credit: The Borneo Post http://www.theborneopost.com/2017/04/28/living-legacy-of-murut-embroidery/)
(Credit: The Borneo Post http://www.theborneopost.com/2017/04/28/living-legacy-of-murut-embroidery/)

The Murut Tangala embroidery found in the attire of the Murut Tangala tribe from Sabah, is potentially a lost art.

As revealed by Dainsing, from Kampung Inarad, Tongod, during “MANAH: A Living Legacy” exhibition, she is the last within her village to know themart of the embroidery.

According to legend, the ancestors of the Murut Tangala tribe first learned embroidery and weaving from the spiders, as they spun their webs in wild.

As much as the embroidery is an art, it is also a science as it involves careful calculation from one stitch to another. If not, it leads to a faulty a piece.

Each motif of pattern is symbolic, being passed down from generations. Intricately threaded and woven, the embroidery is a cultural treasure, representing their history and people.


(Credit: The Star https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2018/03/16/making-keringkam-shine-again-project-launched-to-preserve-sarawak-malay-traditional-embroidery/)
(Credit: The Star https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2018/03/16/making-keringkam-shine-again-project-launched-to-preserve-sarawak-malay-traditional-embroidery/)

In Sarawak, the art of Keringkam is practiced by very few.

Keringkam, whose name is derived from gold or silver coated thread, is the art of embroidering nature-inspired motifs or Ronda Joneh, weaving the thread into lace edges.

It is known that the higher the number of motifs embroidered, the higher its value.

Traditionally, the scarf, worn a wealth signifier as in the past it was only worn and afforded by aristocratic women. However, nowadays they are hardly seen at Malay weddings.

There are two types of Keringkam, a Selayah Keringkam, a short scarf which covers the head and shoulders, and the Selendang Keringkam, a long scarf which reaches the waist.

A content and domentation officer from the Sarawak Museum Campus, Natasha Nur Amarina states that there are only around 10 artisans left in Sarawak.

The embroidery which is completely hand threaded, requires endless time and patience. A simple piece can take as long as two to three months to complete. The art of Keringkam remains vital of Sarawak Malay heritage, as they push to remember and preserve their roots.

As we all flock to admire embroidery, let us pay our due respect to the art which surrounds us. The need to preserve and recognize the importance and beauty of varying forms of embroidery is more important than ever.

As Malaysians, we pride ourselves on our multicultural and multiracial nation. Yet, some arts are bordering extinction. It is more than just art. It is our identity and our history at stake and we must push to remind ourselves who we are, who we are as individuals and the bigger role we play in our culture and our nation.

We must learn to appreciate before they are lost forever.

To learn more about Malaysian embroidery and textiles, one can check out The National Textiles Museum in Kuala Lumpur which showcases 4 different galleries!

Featured Image Credit: http://tempahtekat.blogspot.com/

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