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Tarum - Natural Dye Workshop

Amongst the verdant mosaics of Gianyar’s rice fields lies Bali’s largest all-natural dye workshop – Tarum.  Named after the plant which yields the hard-to-find botanical blue dye, Tarum’s story began in 2001 with curious local brothers, Made and Andika.

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Starting with just five employees and a sole client, the brothers’ enterprise has swelled to accommodate 30 local craftspeople and a network of 70 weavers in Bali, Java and Lombok. Today’s small factory produces naturally dyed, hand-woven textiles for an international clientele of individuals and small businesses in Indonesia, America, Canada, Sweden, France, Italy, Australia and Africa, and beyond.

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Stepping around puddles of blue dye, we watch as local craftsmen, garbed in gloves and wellies, methodically dip and knead sheets of fabric into big vats of deep indigo, massaging the cloth between their stained fingertips.

Andika greets us with a warm smile at the front of his simple workshop. He is typically Balinese with his pleasant demeanour and youthful, round face. Over the years, he has hosted visitors from far and wide, and as he guides us around his small atelier, it’s clear that his knowledge runs deep.

A pungent, herby aroma is the first thing that hits your senses as you enter the workshop. “It’s all organic,” says Andika, “the smell comes from the leaves slowly fermenting,” he shouts over the grinding of machinery.

Stepping around puddles of blue dye, we watch as local craftsmen, garbed in gloves and wellies, methodically dip and knead sheets of fabric into big vats of deep indigo, massaging the cloth between their stained fingertips.

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Tarum is among less than ten percent of dye manufacturers in Indonesia to produce and use colourings derived entirely from nature.

“Before we opened the workshop, we looked into finding natural alternatives to chemical dyes locally,” says Andika, who established Tarum after only three years of research.

Having worked at a synthetic dye factory, Made saw firsthand the environmental problems caused by the textile industry, including hearing complaints from the surrounding communities about the chemical deluge contaminating the local the water supply.

Made and Andika’s solution?

To create botanical dyes from indigenous plants and trees.

”Naturally dyed fabric is gentle on your skin, it won’t cause irritation and it doesn’t pollute the surrounding environment,” says Andika.

The Dyes

Tarum dyes are extracted from the leaves or bark of native Indonesian trees, some of which are grown locally in their plantations close to Ubud.

Research by the natural-dye house indicated that the best, most vibrant colour came from tree roots, yet the Tarum team still chose to use the leaves, even though it meant the dying process would have to be repeated several times to obtain the same shade.

“We were aware the colour from the roots is brighter, but we knew that if we used the roots, the tree would die,” explains Andika.

Sustainability was so important to the brothers that they made the decision to operate their entire business with this in mind, extracting colour from the leaves several times a year, rather than the using the roots at the cost of the whole tree.

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“Yellow dye comes from mango tree leaves, and black is made from the young leaves of the ketapang, or ‘umbrella’ tree,” explains Andika, gesturing towards each bushy shrub. Also extracted on site, mahogany leaves provide natural browns for the workshop, but red and blue botanical dyes are sent from Java, mixed from the bark of their native secang trees and the leaves of tarum (indigo) plants.

By blending the five base colours of yellow, black, brown, red and blue, Tarum can create a whole spectrum of different hues.

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The Dyeing Process

At Tarum, the fabric-dyeing process takes at least a week, from dyeing until drying.

Leaves are collected from Tarum’s plantations, then finely chopped by machine. The ground-leaf mixture is boiled with water for six hours until the dye is ready to use. Fabric is dip-dyed for an hour before it’s washed, and the process is repeated six to ten times depending on the shade required. Hung to dry under the Balinese sun, the excess dye runs off the fabric into a field of plants cultivated specifically to filter the water before it runs into the river.

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Tarum x Katamama

Bespoke rugs, table runners and soft throws fill Katamama’s artisan suites, and these were designed and handmade over three years by the craftspeople of Tarum. Around 1,000 metres of hand-woven fabric was used to decorate Katamama’s interiors, and we are proud to support a workshop which pays such high respect to nature, tradition and quality.

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