Christiana Vardakou Textile Research in South East Asia Trip

In January 2018, I was in London, it was cold, grey and rainy. I was stressed about my project at university, about what I was going to do after university and I also had a cold. To cheer myself up I started looking at photos from the past September, when I had travelled to Asia for the first time - I went to Indonesia for three weeks, travelling around Lombok, Bali, Jakarta and the Gili islands. 

I remembered how I was feeling then - anxious but also so excited. It wouldn’t only be the first time I was travelling in Asia, but also, the first time I was travelling alone. I loved the whole trip, I saw and learnt so many things about the people and their culture. However, the highlight of the trip was seeing this culture’s textiles. 

The first day I arrived in Jakarta I visited the textile collection at the Jakarta textile museum. Hundreds of batik pieces from different parts of Indonesia were displayed and they were fascinating. The symbols, the stories, the detail. There were also beautiful weave and embroidery pieces, however, at that time I was really interested in Batik since I knew I’d like to use this technique for my final major project at university (I did! You can see my batik work under the ‘Prolonging’ and ‘Turn and face the strange’ projects).

After this inspiration I was lucky to spend one week doing a batik and natural dyeing workshop with ‘Threads of Life’. Threads of Life is an amazing organisation that works with culture and conservation to alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. The organisation works with over 1000 women from different parts of Indonesia. It helps weavers to form independent cooperatives, to recover the skills of their ancestors and to manage their resources sustainably. These women create heirloom-quality textiles that are made using local materials and natural dyes, while reviving textile techniques that are in danger of disappearing. The products are 100% handmade, unique and beautiful.  

The course I did was a five day course with Nia Fliam and Agus Ismoyo - two textile artists that live in Yogyakarta, a place were batik flourishes. I loved everything about this course. Our teachers explained the history of Batik, explained how they work, showed us their work, gave us examples and advice, pushing us to be creative and unique. However,  my favourite part of the day was after lunch. Every day Nia and Ismoyo would bring a piece of their antique batik collection. We  would spend an hour analysing motifs and symbols, learning about Indonesian myths and the country’s history. It was eye opening to learn that almost every dot or line on a piece has a purpose - it was there for a specific reason.

(All photos except from me weaving were shot at the Threads of Life studio by a member of staff) 

This trip gave me so much inspiration but it also made me understand what I love so much about textiles. It’s not only the colour or texture. It’s the people that make them, the process of making them, the reason why they are made and what they mean. Textiles tell a story about the past and that’s what I love the most. That’s how I see myself working in the future as well, I want to share why I make specific products, I want them to have a story and I want to have a connection with my customers. I want them to understand how I made what they bought and why I chose to make it that way. 

So back to that cold January morning in London, I was thinking about all this and next thing I know I’ve booked my flight to Chiang Mai with no return ticket.  I didn’t think about it too much, I just did it. I would graduate in July, and I wanted to spend my summer at home with my family and friends, but I was not sure what I was going to do after that - however, I thought that a trip doing textile workshops and learning more about traditional techniques in South East Asia would make me happy and would be what I needed. 

Turns out it was the best decision of my life - two months later, I’m sitting in an airport cafe waiting for my next adventure writing this and smiling. I have less than a month left (I ended up booking a return flight before going to Asia, for me, family always comes first and I wanted to be with them for Christmas), the stress I was feeling all of last year about my future is gone, I have an idea of what I want to do once I am back and I feel ready to start something new once I return. 

I wanted to start writing blog posts about this ‘textile research trip’ as I call it, for quite some time now. So, here it is! I will try post a blog post every week, but it might take a bit longer because I am still constantly on the move. I promise I will try my best. The main focus will be textiles but I will also include travel tips about each country and funny stories that have happened to me while I am here.  Hopefully you will enjoy it! 



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