Wednesday, May 2, 2012

TEKAT - the Malay Art of Embroidery

TEKAT – the Malay art of embroidery is centuries old. It is kept alive by a select group of women who have mastered the refined art. Its beauty and origins can be traced back to the royal palace.
Hundreds of years ago, only the occupants of royal households could afford to have cushions, pillows, bedsheets and handbags that had embossed golden patterns and designs.

But tekatan benang emas (gold thread embroidery) eventually found its way into homes of the ordinary folks as those who have studied the embroidery art started their own business to cater for growing demand.

In the old days the embroidery art used real gold thread which was imported from France. However, in recent years  the price of gold has gone through the roof and has escalated beyond the reach of most of these skilled artisans.

Presently, each ream of "cotton gold" of 5,000 metres costs RM250. If more are needed, the costs will rise accordingly and the customer will have to make up the difference in terms of labour and cost of materials.

A set of wedding items comprising normally of two pillows, two cushions and a bolster costs about RM8,000. Such an order usually takes about a week's time of manual labour and planning.

The patterns are normally chosen by the customer and traditional patterns which are more elaborate cost more. Thus, a Malay wedding ceremony involving lots of beautiful latticework and embroidery on pillows, cushions, shoes, fans and formal clothing can cost  a small fortune for both families concerned.

In the absence of real gold, golden thread has become increasingly common.
Since the embroidered products have limited uses, today these items are mainly found at Malay weddings, engagement and circumcision ceremonies, religious rituals, birth occasions and in royal palaces.

This embroidery art is the proud heritage of the Malay community.

Perak is one of the few states in Malaysia that has a strong tradition in this  refined art.

Historical records reveal that the Malay art of embroidery has its roots in 15th century Malacca. This was later seen in the attire of   the Malacca babas and nyonyas.

The embroidery art involves velvet materials, gold and silver threads, cardboard, starch motifs and a sturdy wooden frame. This form of embroidery requires a lot of  patience and lots of research.

It takes determination, dedication, intelligence and lots of patience to attain  mastery respected by buyers of the embroidered products.

Needless to say, products of such refined  embroidery  need to be handled with great care. Pillows, bags, cushions and bolsters for official functions are treated with great respect because they are not only expensive, the items are considered works of art.

Collectors of such embroidered materials know that there are two categories of this form of embroidery. There are the finished products which are  for sale and those which are made specially for  certain occasions.

For more elaborate requests from customers, certain materials are used and these include beads. About 30 years ago, motifs and filigree of flowers, rice and geometric Islamic patterns became popular.

These new additions were incorporated into the embroidery art. Today, the myriad designs available  have added a new dimension to an ancient palace art form.

A deep appreciation of the Malay art of embroidery can only be attained by careful study of the needlework involved and the complicated process through which many exquisitely  works of art are created.

Those who are interested in this art can call Azizah  at 017-512 8720 or call  her daughter Faizatol  at 012-560 9597 or email her at

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