“I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am full of tears and hunger and the fear of death, although I cannot weep, and I want nothing, and I cannot die. I am not like the others now, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret.”
- The Unicorn
Another week, another #geekybaju: here's 'True Hearts', based on The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle which was also adapted into an animated film.
Each time I read it I discover something different. On the surface it may seem no more than a children's fantasy - but dive in and you'll find a surprisingly adult meditation on the nature of stories themselves, on the profound and bittersweet gap between life and dreams. There's also a novella, Two Hearts, which is a beautiful coda to the story.
It should be relatively easy to guess the four characters which inspired these designs:
SCALED WITH STARS
Discover unknown depths under a jeweled sky.
Hidden star motifs woven into a midnight blue ombre shawl allow you to shine when necessary.
Incompetent, inept, yet possessed of great power, the wizard Schmendrick has been cursed to wander the earth, never aging until he comes into his own. He joins the eponymous unicorn on her journey and grows in wisdom on the way.
I've always wanted a starry shawl to go with my few Punjabi suits (which consist of the baggy salwar pants, tight at the ankles, and tunic-like kameez), so this is somewhat wish fulfillment. Wonder if it'd be possible to make it with embedded LEDs...
Journey forth with conviction in a batik kaftan.
Loose tunics that can be worn as loungewear or with a belt for a more dressy look, these batik kaftans can be found in local marketplaces.
The indomitable Molly Grue first appears as the harsh, world-weary wife of Captain Cully, but becomes tender and gentle the more time she spends with the unicorn. Brave and perceptive, she also befriends the scullery cat in King Haggard's castle during the group's long stay there.
It's my dream to be a cat aunty later in life, lounging at home or walking to breakfast in the kind of baju kelawar one buys from night markets. Note the cat in the batik design here, near the waist.
Break like waves upon the shore with a bolong-bolong breast cloth and indigo wraps.
Breast cloths or kemben are worn on the torso and paired with longer kain.
The unicorn is ageless, having known no sorrow or regret until she embarks on her quest to find out where all the other unicorns have vanished to. Along the way she meets all manner of people: prince and pauper, old bitter kings and young guardsmen, calculating townsfolk and generous companions. Reflecting this, her design's colours draw from the other characters: blue from Schmendrick, orange and brown from Molly Grue, a deep red from the Bull, and white for herself.
And then she comes to the edge of the sea...
Kemben/ kemban is the term for a torso wrap for females in Java and Bali, wound around the chest to leave the shoulders bare. The cloth used might be batik or other types of fabric, including the bolong-bolong (lubang-lubang, many holes) variety here, which struck me as being very similar to sea foam.
Images taken from this site, original photographer unknown.
Where others falter, you bring destruction clad in red.
Ikat textiles are made by resist dyeing the yarns before they are woven into fabric, a labour-intensive technique.
The Red Bull is an ancient, monstrous, and powerful being, bidden by King Haggard to round up all the unicorns in the world and drive them into the sea. How he derives his power isn't explicitly shown in the book, but even the unicorn fears him, and only deep love and mortal harm can move her to resist.
With the shoulder cloth and samping, I tried to include imposing angular forms, reminiscent of the bull's horns. Notice Haggard's castle in the ikat-inspired weave.
Ikat is a technique of dyeing where yarns are bound before being dipped into dyes and then woven together. While this form is practiced by communities all over the world - Maritime Southeast Asia including Indonesia, Borneo, Thailand; India; Japan; Central and South America - the word ikat comes from Bahasa Indonesia, meaning 'to tie' or 'to bind'.
The Red Bull's design is inspired by the brick and burgundy colours of Balinese ikat, particularly the darker blood red tones of cloth made in Nusa Penida.
Image source from the Pusaka Collection.
Here is an especially fine example of Sarawakian pua kumbu, made with the ikat technique. The same site has a good primer on the ikat process. And these ikat are from Central Asia, shown at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. So gorgeous!
“Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?”
Have you read The Last Unicorn? Which of these designs would you wear, if you had the chance?