Tekat, the art of embroidering golden thread onto a base material, generally velvet, is a tradition that has long been practiced amongst Malay communities in peninsular Malaysia. In Perak tekat is also known as tekat bersuji or hiasan suji timbuL The embroidery is generally raised above the surrounding surface of the cloth due to the fact that it is done upon a base (mempulur).
It is most likely that the art of tekat flourished as part of court practice which included the preparation of royal costumes as well as ceremonial paraphernalia. Some evidence for such a past for tekat is provided by traditional Hikayat literature. The first evidence for such use of tekat derives from the period of the Malacca Sultanate, the likelihood being that it developed as a result of Chinese influence. In Malacca itself the art of tekat developed amongst the localised Chinese (Baba) community. From there it spread to other parts of the peninsula following the collapse of the Malacca Sultanate. The principal areas where tekat continues today are Johore, Selangor, Pahang, Perak and Negeri Sembilan. Of all these Perak has the reputation of being the state with the highest quality tekat work. There is some evidence of recent court involvement in tekat. It is known, for instance, that a Raja Permaisuri of that state made a presentation of tekat articles to the Prince and Princess of Wales of England during their visit to Singapore in 1901.
Tekat objects have invariably been given high esteem in the context of ceremonial (adat istiadat) usage when their fullest decorative potential is exploited. Thus they may be encountered in weddings, appearing in the form of betel nut containers (tepak sirih), bedspreads, cushion covers and fans.
Alternatively tekat objects may feature in ceremonies marking the completion of the Holy Quran (berkhatam Quran) and circumcisions (bersunat). To a lesser extent the use of tekat may be seen in common everyday situations such as home decoration.
Tekat involves the coming together of gold thread and dark coloured velvet, with the preference for red, maroon, green or blue. The flowers or decorative designs usually rise above the surface material due to the technique of embroidery used. The first article that needs to be prepared in the process of tekat is a wooden frame (pemidang). The measurements of the pemidang depend upon the size of the article to be created. The next item is the spine (mempulur) upon which the thread is to be woven. This serves to strengthen patterns as well to hold the threads from slipping or becoming loosened. The mempulur, also known as init, is usually made of cardboard. For thicker embroidery small pieces of rattan or bamboo are used, cut according to the shape of the design and the basic pattern drawn upon the velvet. The tools required are rough needles (cuban) made of bamboo or wood. The gold thread is placed in the cuban before being actually brought into contact with the mempulur affixed upon the cloth. The thread which then gets wrapped around the mempulur, is held in position and strengthened by means of ordinary white or black cotton thread.
In well‑executed tekat work, it should not be possible to see the mempulur upon which the thread is fixed. At awkward positions where this is a problem, additional decorations created by means of beads serve to conceal gaps as well as to enhance the overall beauty of design.
There are clear differences in tekat that comes as an inheritance from China among the baba communities, and that produced by Malays. The principal difference lies in the motifs. Chinese tekat tends to use animal designs, including dragons, birds of paradise and phoenixes while Malay tekat work prefers plants or floral motifs and geometric designs.
Plant motifs commonly encountered include leaves or shoots such as ferns (daun or pucuk paku) leaves of the water hyacinth (daun keladi), padi and bamboo shoots (pucuk rebung). The floral motifs are cloves (bunga cengkih), mace flowers (bunga lawang), frangipanni (bunga cempaka) and flowers or fruit of the pomegranate (buah delima). Recent trends have introduced newer floral motifs including the hibicus, orchids and sunflowers.
Tekat, the technique of embroidering gold thread, is perhaps the most important of the decorative arts among the Malays. Although materials, designs and even the colours seem restrictive, combinations of these elements Produce works of exquisite beauty ‑ works such as fans and tepak sirih that continue to occupy an important place in traditional Malay society.