NTT Tenun Ikat

East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur or NTT) is one of the 33 provinces in Indonesia archipelago. The province has over 500 islands, and the three largest islands are Sumba, Flores and Timor. Each island or each tribe in the islands have their own colours and design that distinguish the textiles, resulting in diverse decorative patterns/motifs woven on traditional fabrics called tenun ikat (ikat weaving). The patterns are describing mythical figure, plants, animals, and also abstract motives which shows a deep appreciation of the power of nature.

The traditional figurative motifs have meanings, for example horses are usually linked to male prestige or wealth. Other animals such as snakes, which may be stylised and appear as geometric zig-zag motif, are very ancient and are often associated with the underworld and fertility.

Woven (Tenun) are highly valued within most communities. It is now treasured by later generations as preservation on the art of weaving by the ancestors.  Woven motif that worn during ceremonies and used as an identity or characteristic of a tribe or island. The people are happy and very proud wearing these original tribal weavings.

The oldest form of Ikat is Warp ikat (tenun ikat) is the dominant technique used in East Nusatenggara (NTT) , a unique dye-resist process which can be broken down into three overarching categories of tying-dyeing- and weaving - that makes the whole process of creating a piece of textile extremely complicated and may take months to years to produce.

Traditional way of making the textile are using handspun cotton and natural dyes to colour threads, although today more and more synthetic dyes are used for practical and commercial consideration. In natural dyes colour process, Blue was traditionally obtained from indigo plant, Yellow are obtained from turmeric (curcuma domestic), Red shades like Magenta colour are obtained from sappanwood (caesalpinia sappan) and a brownish red hue are from morinda (morinda citrafolia). Green  by mixing Indigo and Tumeric, while Black by mixing Morinda and Indigo. The natural dyes are more environmental friendly and result beautiful earth-color and usually favour a blurred appearance of colours.


Many areas still grow and spin their own cotton and dye the threads using natural dyes.

Ende, a region in South Central Flores, has had Islam influence in the past. The warp ikat designs of  elephants and horses have become stylised to such degree that they now appear as geometric motifs, and barely recognisable as animals. Many Ende textile also include  diagonal patola design (see notes on Patola at end of this article).

The predominant textile of the Manggarai region is dark indigo and motifs are predominantly flower and geometric. Ngada people, a fairly isolated area, still grow their own cotton and have zig-zag, arrows and stick-like horses pattern. Chicken, fish and elephants motifs are also common here.

In Lio region, warp ikat generally has yellow-gold pattern woven on a reddish or blue-black ground and influenced by patola designs.

In Sikka region, red-brown or blue-black backgrounds have lighter hues for the pattern. Sikka came under the influence of the Portugese in the 16th century then also Dutch,  especially in the area around Maumere. This result many western-inspired motifs such as flower bouquets, deers, and lions.


Many of the myths relating to the ancestors are expressed through ideas that are visualised through weaving. The Sumbanese live in a stratified society, and in old times, only noblewomen could weave the fins ceremonial textiles. Today, women from any section of society and many looms may be seen in the hundreds of villages all over the islands.

Wrap ikat made in both East and West Sumba have different pattern. 

West Sumbanese textile are usually blue-black, plain white and black cloths. While in East Sumba, ikat woven is much brighter, having glowing red-brown hues and blues.



Timorese have two kinds of weave motifs: Insana and Biboki, both are also name of areas producing it. Insana motifs tend to be bright in colours as they're using factory cotton Whereas Biboki motifs are more natural and understated colours as it tend to use natural colouring.

They are two techniques to make: Sotis (a warp faced floating weave that appears reversible) and Buna (a discontinuous supplementary weft that looks like embroidery). Buna usually priced  more expensive than Sotis as it is the most time-consuming one. Example of Buna technique one are Tenun Ikat from Ayotupas, in the southern highlands of West Timor.




Patola refers to double ikat silk textiles from the Patan region in Gujarat, India, but they have influenced the design of Indonesian textiles, particularly ikat cloths. From the 17th century. patola from Gujarat were widely traded in Indonesia and has since became treasured heirlooms in Java and Bali, as well as on the far-flung islands of Eastern Indonesia.

Patola were so admired, or even revered for the protection. They were believed to protect against evils, material and spiritual. Their patterns inspired village weavers in Sumatra, Bali, Flores, Sumba, Roti and other islands, and were often blended with or integrated in traditional tribal textile motifs. Patola with the circular floral motif shown below were particularly treasured, as evidenced by the widespread adoption of the pattern throughout the Indonesian archipelago.