Sandra Niessen with flowers and gifts after the Amsterdam launch of Legacy in cloth

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Sandra Niessen - Legacy in cloth
cover of Legacy in cloth: Batak textiles of Indonesia by Sandra Niessen

Legacy in cloth: Batak textiles of Indonesia offers the first definitive study of the woven heritage of the Toba, Simalungun, and Karo Batak. The most complete analysis of Batak textiles ever published, it provides a record of more than 100 different design types, including archival and contemporary photographs showing how the textiles are woven and how they are used in Batak culture. Legacy benefits from fieldwork conducted over two decades and consultation of all major European collections of Batak textiles and private collections in Indonesia.  

2009, Leiden: KITLV Press. 568 pps. 900 illustrations. ISBN 978 90 6718 351 2.

Download a sample chapter pdf 4.72Mb. 

Copies of Legacy in cloth can be purchased directly from me.  Payment, including mailing and packaging costs, can be made via Acceptance Mark  Please contact me with details of the number of books you wish to purchase and your mailing address to finalise costs.


The Batak are rice farmers with a vibrant material culture. Using backstrap looms, the women have created textiles that protect not just the body, but also the soul. Over centuries, Batak weavers built up an extensive repertory that is both aesthetically pleasing and technically diverse. 

The textiles reveal much about the history of this extraordinary Sumatran tradition. Pre-colonial Batak life was steeped in magic and mysticism. According to Batak legend, the first weaver was a goddess from the Upper World who escaped an unfortunate marriage by sliding down her newly spun yarn to the seas of the Underworld. There she created the earth, the Middle World. Spinning and weaving practices are thus associated with the very origins of Batak life. Research also suggests that the Batak weaving arts are among the most ancient of the Indonesian archipelago.

Since colonial annexation of North Sumatra at the turn of the nineteenth century, Batak weavers have successfully adapted their art to new economic and social circumstances, gradually transforming the fruits of their looms into items of commerce and fashion. In this way, they have re-invented their weaving tradition—ironically, their success threatens the survival of the ancient tradition.

Changes in the weaving practices in the vicinity of Lake Toba (Sumatra) represent a considerable loss to Batak and Indonesian culture, and also to scholarship. The contents of the book dovetail the interests and results of scientific research with the goals and tasks of museums, collectors, and specialists, as well as the Batak  themselves. The dream, as outlined in ‘Back to the villages’ is to have an Indonesian translation of the volume which will return to the Batak, in photograph form, their textile heritage which has been collected by Western visitors and some of which is now stored in Western museum collections. Many have expressed a strong interest in a publication that will pin down their textile tradition for posterity. If the weaving tradition ever undergoes a resurgence, it will be due to their efforts.

To purchase a copy of Legacy in cloth please contact me.

click the relevant thumbnail photo below to access the web page or file:
Omphu Sihol, one of Sandra Niessen's Batak weaving teachers during her research
A personal biographic statement: Exploring Magic in Batak textiles written in 2006, when I was guest-curating the Woven Worlds exhibition at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam which appeared on the website of Bona ni Pasogit (Association of Batak Tribes in Europe).
oth in Amsterdam
Photo gallery compiled from photos taken at the Amsterdam launch of Legacy on 15 May 2009.
Article on Legacy launch in Amsterdam May 09 from Oxford Asian Textile Group magazine of June 09
The Amsterdam launch of Legacy described in an article which appeared in the June 2009 edition of Asian Textiles, the magazine of the Oxford Asian Textiles Group.
to photogallery of Legacy promotion in San Francisco Feb 2010
Photos of the promotion of Legacy at the February 2010 Arts of Pacific Asia and the Tribal Arts and Textiles shows in San Francisco.
to review of Legacy from the Maiwa Handprints blog
Review of Legacy on the Maiwa Handprints Ltd. blog. "We met with Sandra in the fall (2009) as she came through Vancouver. She had a sample of the book with her and it was nothing short of stunning."
Kaleidoscope Pdf 1.7Mb See a kaleidoscope of words and images from June 2010 - December 2011 recording taking Legacy Back to the villages and the ensuing exhibitions, lectures, a film project (Rangsa ni Tonun), Batak textile revival, a book (Berkelana dengan Sandra, Menyusuri Ulos Batak by MJA Nashir) and so much more.
click the relevant thumbnail photo above to access the web page or file:

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