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Motif is the main element of designing songket patterns.  When several motifs are arranged within parts of the songket, patterns are created on the songket cloth.  The arrangement of motifs in Malay art pieces always deals with the appreciation of the Malay people of God’s creation.  In the past, songket motifs are very much influenced to the cultures and beliefs of Hindu-Buddhist.  The motifs are later stylized to incorporate with Islamic religious restrictions where realistic potrayal of animals and human figures are discouraged.  Moreover, the nature of the weaving techniques have the tendency to cause the motifs to become geometrical design.  Thus, this helps diffuse the exact depiction of the real figures. 

Songket, often dubbed the king of cloth is a luxurious handwoven fabric, lavishly woven with gold or silver threads.  Traditionally, songket is only worn by Malay royals or officials during formal ceremonies but nowadays it is being used not only as fashion wear but also has been turned into fashion accessories such as handbags, as well as home products such as place mats, cushions, table runners and gift items.  Grace Selvayanagam in her book entitled “Songket: Malaysia’s Woven Treasure” stated that the term songket comes from the Malay word menyongket, meaning to embroider with gold or silver threads.  The beauty of songket lies in the elaborate design of the patterns and combination of motifs that are intricately woven on the cloth.  It varies from the basic 4-petal pucuk rebung to the scenic floral and abstract design. 

Songket weavers are women living in kampongs near the sea or tropical forest surrounded by living creatures of nature.  Thus, most of the traditional patterns and motifs they weave on the songket cloth reflect the environment they live and work in.  For example, the most common flora and fauna motifs such as bunga tampuk kesemak (corolla of the persimmon fruit), pucuk rebung (bamboo shoots), unduk-unduk (sea-horse) and siku keluang (flying fox’s elbow) are all inspired by their surrounding natural settings.  Even the trailing clouds, the waves from the sea and the Malay delicacies they made enthused them to create awan larat, ombak-ombak and tepung talam motifs.

Nowadays, very few people know how and have the patience to create these intricate traditional songket motifs.  An avid songket collector, Datin Noor Azlina Yunus said in the old days a girl was expected to be able to read the Quran and weave a piece of songket before getting married.  This shows how important songket weaving was in their life and culture during the old days.


The traditional structure of songket sarong is divided into four basic compositions, which are badan, kepala, pengapit and tepi kain


Each part of the songket sarong is design with different patterns consisting of several songket motifs arranged systematically.  According to Wan Hashim Wan Teh in his article “Malay Handicraft Industries”, the design of the songket sarong are given names according to the types of pattern on the body or badan part of the songket cloth.  The songket pattern shown above is known as scattered pattern as the motifs in the badan part are scattered over the songket body.  Among the motifs that can be typically found in scattered pattern are bintang beralih, pecah lapan and tampuk manggis.  The badan part of the songket which is referred as the main part of a songket is bordered by a strip of designs called tepi kain.  Motifs commonly woven at tepi kain are kendik tali, bunga kerawang, gigi yu, pagar istana and awan larat.  The central part of the songket is called the kepala kain, usually filled with pucuk rebung or stylised bamboo shoots motifs.  When worn as a sarong, the kepala kain is always placed at the back.  Another part of songket are borders that separated the kepala kain and badan kain is called pengapit or kapit.  Most of time, motifs decorating pengapit are similar to the motifs used in tepi kain simplyat smaller sizes and simpler patterns.


The motifs used in songket patterns have evolved through times.  Traditionally, the motifs woven on the songket use only silver or gold threads; nowadays color cotton threads are also used in the songket designs.  Increase in the cost of silk yarns, gold and silver metallic threads as well as changing fashion and trends had affected the songket weaving industry by the middle of 20th century (National Art Gallery). Songket entrepreneurs have also begun to diversify their production by producing items like handbags, napkins, tablecloths, cushion covers and wall decorators.  Thus modern design motifs, such as geometric shapes, function logos, buildings or landmarks are invented to give exclusiveness to the individual designer and fulfill customer’s requests.  However, Wan Hashim Wan Teh believed traditional motifs of the past are often preferable to the modern ones as tradition is often associated with high quality or highly desirable.  Sulaiman Ghani from Universiti Teknologi MARA stated that traditional motifs are motifs that were created before the World War II.  Azizi and Aldrin also believed that these motifs represented the animist belief and the assimilation with Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic ideologies. They always appear in numbers to signify unity of the community creating the patterns.  Traditional motifs of songket can be divided into four categories: flora, fauna, Malay delicacies (food), and objects or others.


Living in a kampong, the Malays used plants for almost every purpose in their lives.  The flowers, roots, leaves, fruits, bark and even seeds are used as food supplement, medicines and decorations. 


Fauna is another favorite category of songket motifs.  However, these animal motifs have been recreated and restyled due to the Islamic beliefs of forbidding full-form animals’ representation in any art form.  Among the most popular fauna motifs used in a songket pattern are sea horse (kuda laut), cock (ayam jantan), peacock (burung merak) and butterfly (kupu-kupu).


The Malays love sweet delicacies and the shapes of these delicacies become part of the songket motifs.  Most of the Malay delicacies or kueh portrayed in the motifs require brown sugar, coconut milk and flour as the ingredients.  It represents the participation of a community and preserves unity, which the Malays regard as their community strength.


Nature is another influence to the creation of songket motifs.  Mountains, waves, clouds and water are all captured symbolically in the motifs.  Motifs derived from the palace objects are also common. 


Patterns are combination or composition of motifs based on several styles or in simple terms, patterns are motifs arrangement.  Grace Selvanayagam  classified the patterns decorating the body or badan of the songket into five main categories.

  1. Rhomboid patterns (corak teluk berantai) or full floral patterns (corak bunga penuh).

  2. Striped or banded patterns (corak jalur).

  3. Checked patterns (corak tapak catur).

  4. Chevron patterns (corak siku keluang).

  5. Spotted or scattered motifs forming patterns (corak bertabur).

Norwani Nawawi then  added another pattern category of songket sarong:

  • Bamboo shoot patterns (corak pucuk rebung).


Rhomboid patterns or corak teluk berantai means “bays along the coastline linked together” conjures up visions of the beautiful bays of the East Coast of Malaysia. This pattern is normally used at the badan part of the songket sarong as it can be easily woven over large areas.  Some of the most popular motifs used as the central motifs of rhomboid patterns are tampuk buah kesemak, bunga cogan or bunga kota raja, while the chains are made up of smaller motif such as unduk-unduk, bunga cengkih or bunga bintang.

Tampuk buah kesemak and unduk-unduk motifs used in the romboid pattern.
Source: Collection of Fatimah Besar, Losong

Striped patterns are favorites among men particularly woven on sampin and full baju Melayu.  There are two types of striped patterns of songket: vertical stripes (corak berdiri) and horizontal stripes (corak melintang).  Popular motifs for vertical striped pattern are chained bunga kerongsang such as bunga cermai or bunga tanjung.  On the other hand, horizontal striped patterns are not so obvious primarily because they often vary from narrow bands to broad ones. 

Vertical striped pattern with chained bunga tanjung motif
Source: Muzium Negeri Terengganu, Losong
Horizontal striped pattern employing pagar istana, awan larat and potong serikaya motifs.
Source: Collection of Wan Manang Songket, Durian Burung

The third type pf songket pattern that resembles checked chessboard pattern is further grouped into three types: corak ragi, petak catur and corak bugis.

 Corak petak catur with bunga melur motif
Source: Collection of Khalil Haji Awang, Kuala Terengganu

Corak siku keluang or chevron patterns take its name after the elbow of the flying fox, another nature’s influence to the weaver.  This type of pattern is frequently used at the badan and kepala part of the songket sarong.  Its zigzag shape may be weaved horizontally or vertically across the sarong with a number of motifs decorating the background.

Chevron pattern horizontally crossing the songket cloth
Source: Collection of Wan Manang Songket, Durian Burung

Corak bertabur, the fifth pattern almost always decorates the badan part of the songket sarong.  Motifs are repeated to beautifully cover the badan part and the choice of motifs may vary from sizes and combinations.  Among the popular motifs of scattered pattern are tampuk manggis, tampuk buah kesemak, bunga bintang, bunga cengkih and bunga tanjung

Scatters of bunga melur, tampuk kesemak and bunga bintang motifs
Source: Collection of Fatimah Besar, Losong
Equal sizes of setangkai bunga motifs in this scattered pattern
Source: Muzium Negeri Terengganu, Losong

The last type of pattern, corak pucuk rebung is believed to symbolize inner strength and represents the universe in a triangle shape.  There are several varieties of bamboo shoot motifs such as pucuk rebung lawi ayam, pucuk rebung berjuang, pucuk rebung tunjuk langit and pucuk rebung gigi bota

Pucuk rebung lawi ayam (left) and pucuk rebung berjuang (right)
Source: Muzium Negeri Terengganu, Losong