Pure Luxury

A section of "Anticipation", the songtik shawl
with a jasmine motif
The perfect combination of batik and songket

What happens when you blend two traditional Malay crafts – songket and batik? You get Songtik – a new Malaysian textile that was first unveiled in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.  This unique textile artform is the result of the collaboration by Pink Jambu founder and design director, Tengku Marina Ibrahim and Dr June Ngo Siok Kheng, Universiti Malaya Sarawak (Unimas) Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts Department of Design Technology senior lecturer.

Tunku Shahariah Tuanku Abdul Rahman [Centre] graced the
event where Tengku Marina Ibrahim [Left] and Dr June Ngo
Siok Kheng introduced their songtik
These design experts were in Johor Baru recently to talk about their creative journey and present samples of Songtik creations in the Jaro Heritage Fair.  Jaro is an established brand that needs no introduction because it is a household name among Johoreans and expatriates who appreciate beautiful, quality and useful handicrafts made by artisans with disabilities. 

Founded in 1952 to rehabilitate former patients from the Johor Baru General Hospital, Johor Area Rehabilitation Organization or JARO in short, is a sheltered workshop with sections for basketry, book-binding and tailoring and several retail outlets. 

Members of the Jaro Committee, guests and Jaro regulars had the privilege to touch and see Anticipation, a luxurious Songtik shawl from the Fables 2011 Collection designed with a motif that features the Melur (Jasmine).  When it was unfurled for display, curiosity could not keep them in their seats as they approached the table for a closer look.  They soon found out that songtik feels softer than traditional songket and the colours are lighter and more contemporary while the motifs are uncluttered and minimalist.

Jaro members and guests admiring the intricately woven
songtik shawl named, "Anticipation"
Tengku Marina, an entrepreneur with 10 years experience in interior designing, started designing material around 1992 before going into batik designing.  Playing with abstract motifs, flowers and geometric patterns, she designs on various types of material like silk and cotton.  She also works closely with renowned fashion houses and designers to market the Pink Jambu range of couture and ready-to-wear fashion items.

“The name Pink Jambu reflects our corporate colour while jambu – the Malay word for rose apple – is also the colloquial word men use in the Malay language to describe a pretty girl,” said Tengku Marina.  “I want the feminine motifs of my designs to have jambu appeal,” she added with a laugh. 

Dr Ngo signing a book on songtik that she later
presented to Tunku Shahariah [Left]
While Tengku Marina, a princess from the Pahang royal family, was bringing out the best in batik and making a name for Pink Jambu in West Malaysia, across the sea Dr Ngo, a textile designer-educationist in Sarawak was reinventing traditional songket.  In her doctoral thesis entitled, Transforming Malaysian Traditional Songket into Contemporary Songket for Broader Apparel Usage, she created a lightweight songket in silk, organza and crepe. 

This incredible revolution from traditionally stiff songket into new-style softer songket was documented in the “Songket Revolution,” a project that brought Dr Ngo in touch with Tengku Marina.  While working on this project, Tengku Marina and Dr Ngo merged their expertise in batik and songket in a collaboration that resulted in the creation of Songtik.

Samples of filament silk that is used to weave songtik

After Dr Ngo completed her PhD, she joined Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ), the foundation that aims to improve the lives of artisans like songket weavers and textile designers to ensure the sustainability of heritage crafts such as songket.  Marketed under the brand, Royal Terengganu Songket, this breakthrough new songket changed the face of the traditional songket industry and have been used in creative couture by some of Malaysia’s top designers including Melinda Looi, Rizalman Ibrahim, Tangoo, Jovian Mandagie, Tom Abang Saufi, Radzuan Radziwill and Tengku Marina.

“Depending on the complexity of the designs, skilled weavers can produce from 12 to 17 cm of songtik per day,” said Dr Ngo to emphasize the skill and patience it takes to create this textile which uses both batik-painting and songket-weaving techniques on a single surface.  There are at least 11 steps in the traditional hand-made process of songket weaving and it takes at least 600 hours to complete one handmade songtik shawl.  After the Pink Jambu range of songtik shawls made its debut in 2010, it was followed by the Fables 2011 Collection of wearable art and they went on to make specially commissioned items for furniture, wall-panels and décor.

Japan Club of Johor Baru members, Mihoko Yui [Left] and
Yuko Oka, admiring samples of Royal Terengganu songket
In a sustainable approach to ensure that the songket heritage will be preserved, Dr Ngo said YTNZ production centres in Kuching and Terengganu employ highly skilled young women weavers on a full-time basis who receive a fixed salary with Socso and EPF savings. 

“When they get married, they can still have a career,” said Dr Ngo because this younger generation of weavers is now empowered with marketable skills and can be financially independent.  As they are encouraged to value and cherish their traditional craft, the cultural heritage of songket can be preserved.

Jaro organizes handicraft and heritage events regularly and its showroom is open daily from 8.30am to 5.00pm, Saturday from 8.30am to 1.00pm, and closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.  It is located along Jalan Sungai Chat, between Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar (English College) and the Mawar Complex, and has retail outlets in City Square and Holiday Plaza.  Tel: 07 – 224 5632.  Visit website: www.jaro.com.my

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 1 August 2012

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