It Takes a Village to Make a Handcrafted Rattan Bag

You may have heard of that proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That’s very true here in Bali. It means that your community helps to take care of, look out for, and ultimately contribute to the welfare of your children as they grow up.

What you may not have known is that it also takes a village, figuratively speaking but sometimes literally, to create one of our rattan bags. Each bag is not usually painstakingly made by just one immensely talented individual, but painstakingly made by many, many talented and tireless craftspeople.

First things first. While our bags are popularly referred to as “rattan bags”, that is actually a misnomer as most of the time they are not made of the plant known as the rattan palm. The plant material used to make our bags is a type of vine known around these parts as “ata” (AH-tah), a little bit thinner and more flexible than rattan.

Dried ata vines waiting to be processed

People in their homes would help wind young, flexible, thinner ata fibres around more sturdy ata strands to form the basic long, ropelike building material for the baskets.

Other people may then weave these materials into various shapes. Each person may be skilled in making specific pieces. For example, some people may specialize in making rectangular sheets, some others may excel at making ovals and end pieces, yet others are really good at making buttons and ribbon fasteners, and so forth.

ata bag assembly
Component parts assembly into the final ata bag

These component pieces are eventually assembled together to make a handbag. But we’re not done yet! The bags still have to through several more steps before they’re ready for you.

Assembled ata baskets are sanitized and disinfected

The bags are boiled in water, an essential process in making sure they are properly disinfected of any mold or fungus that may have been on the plant material. They are then left out to dry.

Ata baskets are smoked and cured in the oven for 24 hours

After the bags have dried, they are then cured and smoked in an oven to condition and strengthen them, as well as imparting that lovely brown patina finish. This is also why the bags may have some of that lingering smokey aroma that I happen to find very pleasant. (It’s okay if you don’t, just leave the bag to air out for a few days. The scent will eventually fade.)

For the finishing touch, the cloth lining is sewed and attached to the bag. We like to showcase Indonesian materials and traditional batik patterns, though I think mixing and matching other textiles such as gingham works exceptionally well too.

The finished product, with batik lining and leather strap attached. Isn’t she lovely?

The whole process from start to finish takes a very long time, we’re talking weeks or maybe even months for some shapes. But the product of these hardworking craftspeople are very well worth the effort, don’t you think?

Which is your favorite kind of bag?

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