Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Detail of a tekat gubah of a pillow end circa early twentieth century © Ariff D’ Tanjung

The Metallic Thread of Malay Embroidery

Historically, Malaysia (the Malay Peninsula) was known as the Golden Chersonese, and in the past, Malay populations lived in riverine and coastal settlements, which were some of the most important trading hubs in Southeast Asia. The Malay maritime empire was once a large kingdom, stretching from the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia to Southern Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra, Riau, Sulawesi, and Southern Philippines. Across the Malay-speaking world, fabrics embellished with gold were for the rich and powerful, such as the ruler of the kingdom. Besides the golden fabric, songket, Malay embroideries were mostly used by nobility and royals. In the fifteenth century, the Melaka Sultanate instituted sumptuary laws governing the types of ornaments and colors for interior and soft furnishings, such as curtain fringes, bolster ends, cushions, prayer mats and other items. Across the Malay world, the numbers of dais, bolsters, and layers of siting mats, were associated with a certain hierarchy, varying across the regions.

Embroidery stitches can be classified into three types—flat, loop, and knotted. The various embroidery styles developed in different nations and cultures and were invented and passed on from generation to generation. Fortunately, many of the styles have survived. The centuries-old tradition of decorating textiles with embroidery offers a wealth of information on traditional designs and costumes and is a rich source of inspiration for textile and fashion students, researchers, designers, and embroiderers.

Several types of Malay embroidery are made using different materials and used for fashion, soft furnishings, and mainly Malay wedding ceremonies. There are many types of Malay embroideries—tekat timbul, tekat gubah, tekat perada, kelingkan, and keringkam.

Heart-shaped wooden box in tekat timbul, a new version of a tekat timbul product © Norwani Md.Nawawi
Perak state has acquired the distinction of being a major producer of tekat timbul, embroideries of metallic threads couched over a cardboard template, which is known as mempulur, to create a relief effect of beautiful gold motifs on velvet material. Tekat timbul is made using cardboard as the base structure of the motifs. Gold thread is placed on top of it while black or red thread is sewn from under the cardboard template to hold the gold threads in place on the velvet cloth. In the past, locals, especially in Perak, prepared tekat a year in advance for weddings. Today, Tekat timbul is still produced in Perak and Negeri Sembilan.

Perak is renowned for this art form, where gold thread works are believed to have been influenced by Arabs or Turks. Tekat gubah was also popular. Made with metallic thread using couching stitches to form patterns, tekat gubah motifs are delineated with a red or black cord made of ijuk, a plant fiber wrapped in colored thread. Glass beads and sequins are used as decoration between the main structures of the tekat.

In Kelantan and Terengganu, east coast states of Malaysia, tekat perada is often used in wedding ceremonies. It was made by cutting gold paper into decorative patterns and applying it to fabric surfaces couched with gold thread outlines. Sometimes, glass segments were attached with a series of crisscrossing stitches to hold the glass from the back of the fabric. This kind of embroidery was popular in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, and the most popular tekat motifs were mostly flowering buds to decorate products for the rich and influential.

Classic kelingkan and keringkam embroidery use similar materials, a flat ribbon-like thread. However, the needlework techniques are different and tedious processes that require precise calculations, as can be seen in keringkam veils. The kelingkan shawl can be found in Selangor, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan and Terengganu. A collection of tekat timbul, tekat gubah, tekat perada, kelingkan, and keringkam works are in the National Textile Museum in Kuala Lumpur (http://www.jmm.gov.my/en/museum/national-textiles-museum).

Malay embroidery using golden threads must be taught to younger generations to inject a breath of freshness into this classic and elegant handicraft. In Malay embroidery forms, interesting shapes, lines, and colors show the intelligence and skills behind the design and workmanship. The meaningful motifs and patterns create repetitive and mirror-image designs. Knowledge of these arts should be understood and appreciated by younger generations to continue traditional Malay embroidery for use in contemporary products.

References

Cheah, Hwei-Fe’n. 2008. “Embroidering the Golden Chersonese: Metallic Thread Needlework in the Malay Peninsula.” Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings: 87.

Febby Febriyandi.YS. 2010. “Makna Tudung Manto bagi Orang Melayu Daik.” Balai Pelestarian Sejarah dan Nilail Tradisional Tanjung Pinang.

Jabatan Muzium Negara. 2012. “Teluk Berantai Gallery—National Textile Muzium.” (pg.79-107)

Norwani Md.Nawawi. 2008. “Sulaman Tekat.” Kosmo—Stailo: 39.

Rusli, Rose Dahlina. 2017. “Investigation on Kelingkan Gold Thread Embroidery, History, Motifs, and Techniques.” Unpublished thesis. Universiti
Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.