Sumatra, Palembang, second half of the 19th century
Silk tabby embroidered with silk floss (drawn work; buttonhole stitch, double running, eyelet, and hem stitches) and metal thread; attached tassels of glass seed and coral (?) beads
National Museum of Singapore [G-0911]
Nyonya embroidery from Sumatra
Palembang, on the east coast of Sumatra, was renowned as a centre for Malay needlework in the 19th and early 20th century. Likewise, Malay and Minangkabau embroidery flourished around West Sumatra. Although historical accounts seldom mention nyonya needlework from this area, some of the finest drawn work and silk thread embroideries are attributable to these places.
This handkerchief is a masterpiece of nyonya needlework. The embroidery, inspired by drawn batik (tulis) handkerchiefs, illustrates how inventive needle-workers borrowed ideas from other textile media.
The pattern at the centre resembles intersecting coins, but seen as a whole, it simulates the repeating squares and circles of ceplok batik patterns. The colours echo costly tiga negri (three region) batiks that were highly regarded by the Peranakan Chinese. Stylized flowers in double running stitch resemble indigo batik borders.