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Nusa Penida Island off the coast of Bali
Warp ikat with special techniques
Ccotton, natural and synthetic dyes, circa 2010-2012
Purchased at Threads of Life, Ubud, Bali
Anne and John Summerfield Textile Study Collection
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross

Cepuk cepuk detail
cepuk detail

Cepuk cloths woven on back strap looms were once mainstays of Balinese and Nusa Penida ritual life and ikat weaving excellence but for many years in the late 20th century cepuk hand technologies lessened a great deal in quality.  Threads of Life NGO is working with a few Nusa Penida households to bring back reliance on natural dyes and to retain some of the more complex motifs of older cepuk. Cepuk can be used as wraparound cloths, inner hip cloths, cloths upon which to place offerings, and as decorative bands for the top of a door frame in shrines (according to a chapter on Endek in Balinese Textiles, 1991). At base, cepuk are magically powerful protective cloths that guard families from harm.  They can also be dangerous cloths, tied to the undersides of magic.  Cepuk means “to meet, to encounter” in the sense of encountering divine powers (Balinese Textiles 1991: 97).  These are exceptionally powerful ikats.

Cepuk have a standardized layout: a middle field filled with florals and geometrics; broad selvedge bands that include rows of Barong teeth motifs in white; more ikat work along the selvedges; and horizontal bands at the top and bottom, to form a patola-like overall plan.  These are sacred cloths with a cosmic plan in them.  Ikat techniques can include daubing certain dyes onto the threads on the frame with bamboo sticks (1991:96).

Many old cepuk are fragile family heirlooms and newly-woven ones like this fine ikat are one way to recreate cepuk traditions in the here and now, especially since some families have sold their heritage textiles to international collectors. Machine-made cepuk are available in stores and textile stalls in Denpasar; this handloomed example is clearly of a much higher quality than those.