Our Factory in Tabanan
We call it a factory, but it doesn't look much like one. A rambling collection of open sided sheds wanders down a hill, and in the center trees surround a large grassy area.
You can look over the rice fields to see the sea way off in the distance. In the afternoon a breeze comes up from the west and blows through the open walls and keeps the rooms cool.
About 120 to 200 girls work here to make Uluwatu lace, with another 100 or so people helping with cutting, washing, sewing, ironing, and packing. It is difficult to say exactly how many are working day to day, because in Bali there are many ceremonies and family gatherings, and to any Balinese these are much more important than work could ever be.
Some of our workers take weeks or even months off for other things that they feel are important, but in Bali we can only accept this and wait for them to return when the ceremonies are finished. It can be hard to keep schedules like this.
In 1994 we held a ceremony called Melaspas. It was a blessing for the land and for the people who work at Uluwatu. We had several days holiday while all the families gathered to assist and enjoy the ceremony.
Made would like to tell you something about our production process and quality control because it is important for an understanding of what is really special about Uluwatu..
"You maybe are not interested in every detail, but we tell you about it here just if you would like to know. But at least please read about Krawang and Trimming because they are very important to our quality."
Our material is the finest quality available in Indonesia. Our rayon is always the best export quality. We inspect it upon receipt for defects to be cut out before pattern cutting can begin, because even the best fabric will have occasional natural defect areas. We then wash the fabric to preshrink and stabilize the material before starting production.
There are many different qualities of material. A cheaper material has a looser weave and thinner threads than a higher quality material. They may all look about the same when new because the threads are covered in fuzz. But after a few washings the fuzz is gone and the cheap material sags and stretches and has no life in it. This is why we always use only the best material so that after all our hard work to make the lace; the garment will stay beautiful for years of wear.
Cutting for outfits can be complex because we always lay out tops and bottoms together to ensure exact color matching, and then we mark the matched top and bottom so that they can be reunited at the end of production. This is necessary because natural fabrics like rayon, cotton, and linen always vary slightly in color between bolts, unlike polyester and other synthetics in which color can be controlled precisely. The variation is not noticeable in patterns, but we use only plain colors.
Sewing is done by a single tailor for each entire garment, rather than by an assembly line method as in most garment factories. Because of the complicated krawang production process, most garments must be sewn in several stages. For example the shoulders and yoke of a blouse may be sewn first so that the krawang can be added across the front and back of the yoke while the yoke lies flat on the table, then the side seams are sewn only after this krawang is finished. In this case, the garment generally goes back to the original tailor for the second step of sewing.
Why do we do this? Partly because our production runs tend to be small, but more importantly because with our factory emphasizing quality and handicraft techniques, our people feel more responsibility and pride of workmanship by taking sole control of their own portion of the process. We couldn't get them to work an assembly line if we wanted to.
Just as the fabric color varies slightly, so does the color of the krawang thread. In preparing the garments for krawang, we have a worker whose entire job consists of precisely matching fabric color and thread color.
Now comes the most interesting part of the process, the krawang sewing. Many visitors to our shops have seen our krawang girls demonstrating their sewing techniques and they assume that this is a marketing gimmick. It is not. This is exactly how our krawang is produced in Tabanan: it is stretched by hand on bamboo hoops and sewn on foot powered machines.
I wish we could show you in detail how the krawang is done, because their work is like a spell of magic weaving across the bamboo hoop. They follow the faintest of lines silk-screened onto the fabric to guide them in their pattern. Many visitors cannot even see these pattern lines until they are carefully pointed out. The needle whirs so fast as to be invisible to our eyes, and with no needle guard to protect them (and which would also obscure the pattern), their fingers always dance away from the haze that is the needle while the krawang take miraculous shape under their fingertips.
Of course, one girl always does an entire garment, top and bottom in the case of outfits, from start to finish. Each girl has a slightly different style to her work. And again, there is a pride of workmanship that can only be satisfied by each girl taking entire responsibility for her creation.
There are other ways to do krawang. Electric machines are available and are the primary production tool at most other krawang manufacturers. Electric machines are about 10 times faster than foot powered machines. They have a knee lever than causes the needle to vibrate; more pressure on the knee lever causes a wider swing of the needle. To make a leaf shape, for example, one starts with a slight pressure, increasing and then decreasing again as the hoop travels in a straight line across the table. The result is an extremely even, but somewhat thin textured, leaf.
(And it pains me to even mention that other electric embroidery machine now common in China, Belfast, Belgium, and other lace production centers - the computer controlled embroidery machine. So we won't go into it.)
A foot-powered machine is completely different. The needle stays in one position, and the girl uses her hands to move the bamboo hoop back and forth under the needle. The krawang result is thick and slightly uneven because she must rotate and push and pull the hoop all at the same time. This cannot be done on an electric machine, with or without the knee lever, because the worker needs the control and the feel of the machine that the foot pedal gives her.
Is the result from a foot-powered machine really better than that from an electric machine? I suppose it really comes down to personal taste. In general, the result from an electric machine is less durable because the extremely even weave is less interlocked; a single broken thread can cause an entire section to unravel. But the thickness and to some extent the durability of the lace also depends on the amount of thread used. Electric machine lace often uses less thread because electric machines can cover an area more efficiently while using less thread, but of course they could specify a higher thread usage per area if they wanted to.
Hand made lace looks uneven, electric machine lace is very smooth. Some people prefer machine made leather goods to hand tooled leather, or mass produced furniture to hand crafted furniture, because the results are more uniform. We find the hand made products much more appealing, but finally it comes down to perceived value and personal taste. I think that the opportunity to have something that is unique and crafted by hand adds some invisible but special quality to the object.
Finishing is just as important as the krawang work, although it may not have quite the magic as does the krawang sewing. The garment is washed twice, in two different stages (to remove the fingerprints from all those magic little fingers). Then the krawang is trimmed.
Trimming may be the most critical step of the entire process. Those beautiful scalloped edges have a tail of fabric extending beyond the krawang when they finish the krawang process. This fabric is trimmed away with tiny and very sharp scissors; a thread-width too close will nick the krawang, but too far away will leave an unattractive fringe of loose threads. Look at krawang from other companies if you want to see the difference, you will probably see a long loose fringe, especially at the corners of the scallops, because they are afraid to trim too close where they might damage the krawang. Now look at Uluwatu. Watching the trimming process can be just as nerve wracking as watching the krawang process once you know what to look for.
All this attention to quality and detail and handwork comes with a disadvantage: our production volume is low. We don't mass produce lace, we don't sell to department stores because we don't have the volume; our schedule is often booked out for months in advance. We wish we could make more, but we cannot do it while maintaining our quality.