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December 2014 Newsletter
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Season's Greetings and Happy New Year, and Happy Galungan, too! Galungan is the high day of a Balinese 10-day ceremonial period of ancestral worship celebrated in every household's family temples all across the island. It occurs every 210 days and this year falls on December 17th. Darta, who owns the homestay behind the Threads of Life gallery often starts explaining Galungan to visitors by comparing (and contrasting) it to Christmas. This year it almost falls on Christmas, as well. 


Articles in this month's edition include news of our relocated dye studio and garden, and exciting updates about our work with Sulawesi weavers, our collaboration with Timor Aid, and current field work.

The Bebali Foundation's
New Dye Studio and Garden

The Bebali Foundations has spent much of the year moving its dye garden and studio after the 12-year lease in Ubud expired. With the cost of land in Ubud skyrocketing, it was not feasible to ask for a new lease and we decided to create a dedicated space for the dye studio and garden on the land of our sister organization, the Umajati Retreat in Petulu (

We have been building a new dye studio, preparing the ground for the dye garden, replanting the dye plants, creating interpretative signs, and laying out walkways. About thirty dye plants have been planted so far, but at the time of sending this email, the garden is overgrown with indigo (Indigofera tinctoria and I. suffruticosa) which we are growing for seed.

From the seed we will cultivate indigo nearby for the studio's small-scale production work and dye classes. Now both Threads of Life clients and Umajati Retreat guests can participate in these classes. We are also planning one-week fiber workshops next year based around the garden.

Sulawesi Natural Dye Update

In the March 2013 newsletter we discussed a challenge we were facing with the weavers' groups we work with in Sulawesi. They were adding synthetic dyes to achieve their red color because their Morinda citrifolia dye plant supplies were inadequate to their needs. We wrote about how we solved this problem in our blog.

A significant part of the weavers problem getting a good red was the lack of a good mordant (a salt of aluminium that binds the red dye to the cotton thread). The only source they used was from the bark of the Pali tree, which is in the oak family, but a poor aluminium accumulator. We suggested using the dried Symplocos leaf powder that the Bebali Foundation was offering as a mordant. However, the weavers did not trust the powdered Symplocos; they had taken onboard our caution against using synthetic dyes and did not trust that the powder we were offering was free of chemicals!

After a community visit in August 2013, Pung and Sujata were on the way out of the villages when the jeep's gearbox broke. They had to walk for several hours before finding transport, but on the way Pung spotted Symplocos growing beside the road and collected some fallen leaves.

In June this year, during the next field visit, Pung further discovered Symplocos growing in the mountains right above the weavers' villages of Batuisi and Saluleke. Pung used fallen leaves in a red dye process demonstration with a group of weavers. The women were amazed how quickly the red color emerged in their yarns and finally understood that Bebali Foundation's powder did not include any synthetic dyes! Seeing is believing and using their plants from their own forests was even more important as weavers would not need to buy their plant mordant.

With this key ingredient in place the weavers are now back on track and producing very lovely 100% natural-dyed textiles. This June we received our first ten new textiles from two groups of weavers with very good results (see the beautiful sekomandi warp ikat pictured on the heading of this article). Through November and December we have received several dozen more, which are now in the gallery and selling well.

Congratulations to Pung, the Bebali Foundation dye team, and the women of Batuisi and Saluleke.
Weavers from Malaka and Amanatun
relearning a black mud dye process

Collaboration with Timor Aid

The island of Timor is divided politically. The western half is Indonesian while the east (plus the little enclave of Oecusse) is the country of Timor Leste. However ethnic groups that straddle the border continue their traditional kinship practices despite these boundaries.

Over the last hundred years there have been several major waves of migration of people from Timor Leste to West Timor due to wars and conflicts. People migrated to where they had family and in one area established replicas of their home villages in Timor Leste. Village structure, traditional house architecture, rituals, traditions, and the textile dyeing and weaving arts represent the common threads of their cultural identity. Whenever the political situation allows it, there is cross-border sharing of information and celebrations.  

With the development of a new airport and oil terminal in Timor Leste, six villages in the area of Cova Lima will be disbanded, breaking ties with their ancestral roots.

In response to this cultural threat, Timor Aid requested the Bebali Foundation to help document cultural and social conditions as well as the weaving arts and plants used by the "mirror" communities in the Betun area of Indonesian West Timor. Concurrent documentation was done in the communities in Cova Lima, Timor Leste. As part of this project, the Bebali Foundation sponsored a workshop in Bokong, West Timor, where villagers from the West Timor "mirror" villages came together to discuss, share and document their dye recipes, dye processes, rituals associated with textiles, textile motifs, and stories.

Jean attended the event, but found she was mostly an observer. "I was so impressed by the Bebali Foundation staffs' effortless facilitation of the process. After all the years of working together to develop these skill sets, it was clear we had reached our objectives. And even more surprising was to see how well the host community of Bokong [who we have worked with for the past 8 years] handled themselves. Not only did both the men and women of the community graciously feed and house their guests but I was touched that they included so many of their customary adat practices in the welcoming of their guests. I saw that, in fact, recovering traditional textile skills and dye recipes also recovers and restores pride in the deeper levels of their culture."

A new and very promising weavers cooperative in TTU Regency, Timor, has been producing some excellent indigo ikats

Field Notes

So far this year, Threads of Life staff Wenten and Yansen have carried out a pair of three-week-long field trips in Timor including visiting the villages in the area of Betun that "mirrors" villages in Timor Leste (see the article above). Though we have not previously worked with these villages, Threads of Life sees potential to take on weavers as producers. In some villages our staff met a few weavers who are still using natural dyes. In one village they met an elderly woman who is still using her own hand-spun cotton and natural dyes. She has ten indigo dye pots inherited from her mother. We commissioned a few small natural dye pieces from each village to evaluate their skills and quality. Though we are very excited that some of these villages may have good potential for producing for the Threads of Life gallery, it may take several years working with them to produce consistently high quality textiles and for them to learn how to sustainably manage their natural dye resources in their forest gardens.  

Best wishes,
from William, Jean, Pung, Choy and everyone 
at Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation
The staff of Threads of Life, the Bebali Foundation and Umajati Retreat on a recent staff outing to the Pasar Agung temple on the slopes of Mount Agung, Bali
In This Issue
Article Title
Article Title
Article Title
Field Notes
Thank you to everyone who reviewed us on TripAdvisor: now ranked #3 of 54 places to shop in Ubud
Threads of Life is a fair trade business that uses culture and conservation to alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. The heirloom-quality textiles and baskets we commission are made with local materials and natural dyes. With the proceeds from the Threads of Life gallery, we help weavers to form independent cooperatives and to manage their resources sustainably. 
Donate to
The Bebali


Threads of Life's nonprofit partner, the Bebali Foundation, works with the same communities as Threads of Life to support cooperative development and environmental sustainability. The Bebali Foundation trains weavers in the establishment and maintaining of credit unions, and the sustainable cultivation, harvesting and use of dye plants. Its groundbreaking dye plant and dye recipe identification and documentation is the backbone of ongoing work to safeguard endangered indigenous weaving traditions, and the livelihoods they represent, from extinction. To support the Bebali Foundation, please donate at via Give2Asia, PayPal, or bank transfer.


Umajati Retreat

Rated #4 of 239 Specialty Lodging in Ubud on TripAdvisor and winner of TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence 2014


Surrounded by tranquil rice fields, Umajati is a lush garden property hosting two elegantly converted 100-year-old Javanese teak wooden homes that provide 21st century living in 19th century houses. Each has a kitchen and several private garden spaces around a shared swimming pool. Umajati is just 10 minutes north of Ubud and offers daily, weekly or monthly rentals hosted by Balinese house-keepers and cooks who specialize in healthy and vegetarian food. 

1-bedroom house, 

USD 190 per night. 

2-bedroom house, 

USD 245 per night. 

Weekly and monthly rates are available on request.


Threads of Life 
on TEDx
Weaving a new approach to poverty alleviation: William Ingram at TEDxUbud
Weaving a new approach to poverty alleviation: William Ingram at TEDxUbud
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