The Tais is a traditional cloth born from centuries-old knowledge and techniques passed down over generations, done by women with the assistance of a back-strap loom called back-strap loom

Tais weaving and coloring were passed down through the female line from one generation to the next, from mothers to daughters, continued to granddaughters and their subsequent female generations in the family. It is known that this tradition was also passed on from mothers-in-law to their daughters-in-law.

"The textile artisans in Timor-Leste who continue to practice futus resist-dye weaving are custodians of an ancient heritage"

The most popular techniques of Tais making are generally classified into three, namely:

  1. The direct dyeing technique to produce plain or striped woven clothing;
  2. The resist dyeing technique known as futus; and
  3. The floating warp technique (vertical yarn) known as sotis.

In direct dyeing, the yarn that has been colored naturally, syntethically or is sold in stores is arranged on back-strap loom and woven outright. Stripe variants may be obtained by adding by more warp yarn of different colors. In resist dyeing, the undyed parts of yarn in the process used to be fiercely tied by natural fibers (now raffias) that were able to hold the dyes that they would not penetrate the fibers of the yarn. Once the dyeing process was complete, the tie would be released and result in rich white decorations on top of the yarn.

The arranging of motifs may be repeated several times so as to produce the desired variety of color combinations. Afterwards, the decorated yarn is ready to use, while the warp yarn (vertical) is woven on the back-strap loom, and the weft yarn (horizontal) is rolled across binoculars. As soon as the warp yarn has been placed on the loom, the motifs will be seen as a whole. Meanwhile, the single-colored, plain yarn is scrolled by a piece that is to be woven past the warp yarn.

In the meantime, the Tais made by the floating warp technique does not require resist dyeing, in that naturally and synthetically colored yarn, or store yarn, may be used directly. Weaving a sheet of Tais by floating warp requires a shorter time, delivering a cheaper price compared to the one done by resist dyeing. In addition to the above techniques, weavers from several Tais making centers are also experts in the floating weft and supplementary welf wrapping techniques; and tapestry that they normally practice in order to make the Tais produced more radiant, thereby adding higher selling value.


Handspun cotton is widely used across weaving centers in Timor-Leste, especially for classical motifs. The cotton crops that have dried and been cleaned of its seeds, are pounded until they puff back up and once this happens, are spun into yarn. The spun yarn is then separated into two sections.

The first section is used as warp yarn which, once dyed, is placed vertically on the loom. The other part will be the weft yarn woven horizontally past the first yarn.

Today, the cultivation of silkworms and silk weaving is intensified, with focused training being done in Baucau. Nevertheless, due to its costly price, the use of silk yarn remains strictly controlled. Nowadays, rich variants of synthetic yarn, which are far cheaper in price and easier to use in weaving, are available in the local market.

Before learning of chemical coloring, weavers in Timor-Leste relied on plant variants in their surroundings to make dyes. These plants included indigo leaves (indigofera) for blue, mud for black, nenuka root (morinda citrifolia), candlenuts for various shades of red, kinur (turmerics) for yellow, bua matak (betel nut barks) for brown, chilli leaves, ketapang leaves (terminalia catappa), and mango leaves for green.

However, natural coloring requires a lengthy time and complicated procedures. In order to shorter the time and meet the increasing demand for Tais, most weavers now resort to ready yarn available in stores and chemical dyes in producing modern and contemporary Tais.


Weavers of Tais in Timor-Leste still use gedog, a historically popular back-strap loom in Tais making. In a typical weaving process, a back-strap loom is placed between two wood posts on the veranda or in an empty cellar underneath traditional houses. Certain weavers will then leave loom rolls in the storage chamber and reopen them for future weaving.

These days the Timor-Leste government has introduced a non-machine loom that comes with a chair in that the weaver can sit more comfortably while working all day. Nevertheless, its costly price for home production, in addition to the substantial size, presents a real obstacle to the weaver; whereas back-strap loom can be dismantled and stored with greater ease, making it simpler to set it back up in any occurrence of damage.


The entire process of dyeing and weaving is usually done by women. Whilst it can be carried out by a certain number of people, it may also be completed by one person alone. In the past, before weavers began their work, a certain ritual had to be performed, in which they had to prepare offerings for their gods and ancestors. This is because in some places, Tais making skills were believed to be a gift from God, and it was the gods that bestowed inspirations and instructions. In fact, Tais weaving and coloring were passed down through the female line from one generation to the next, from mothers to daughters, continued to granddaughters and their subsequent female generations in the family. It is known that this tradition was also passed on from mothers-in-law to their daughters-in-law.



To the people of Timor-Leste, the rainy season is the farming time in rice fields or farms. Women work to help their husbands cultivate their plants until the harvest season comes around. Cotton plants are also grown in the same period so that they can be harvested during the dry season. Once the harvest season is finished, women are back to their weaving routines, from processing harvested cotton to weaving with back-strap loom.



To guarantee the renewability of Tais, the majority of Tais products are made of ready colored yarn in that they can be used smoothly in the absence of climate or weather constraints. It is thus no surprise that weaving activities are ongoing every day at Tais centres throughout Timor-Leste.

Tais making skills are spread almost evenly across sucos (villages) in Timor-Leste, and weavers usually work alone about their homes or assisted by other females in their core family. Occasionally, there are collectors frequenting village areas to purchase Tais directly from weavers while exchanging them for yarn supplies. On these occasions, weavers can board their Tais with the collectors so that they can be sold in the big cities. If not, they may also offer their Tais to the local traditional market that is open on certain days.


To enhance the welfare of weavers, the government has provided training to 27 Tais development centers across Timor-Leste in 13 municipalities. In the training, the weavers are directed to work in groups with better management. Usually, each group owns access to with a dedicated workshop space along with a showroom to promote the Tais manufactured by its members. They also actively take part in exhibitions and other promotional schemes administered by the government.


Economic and tourism developments have positively impacted on the increasing demand for Tais. In addition to working at home, weavers also work in galleries, boutiques or privately owned outlets to enable visitors to witness the whole process of Tais making every day. On its own, Tais weaving has always been a prime attraction to foreign tourists.


In the society of Timor-Leste, Tais originally functioned as everyday clothing worn to cover up limbs and protect oneself from hot or cold weather. In every family, a woman is wholly responsible for the availability of Tais to be worn by her kin.

For ritual purposes, Tais is normally stored in traditional houses, where the ancestors are believed to protect it. It is because the existence of the historical fabric is equated with the regeneration and survival of families and tribes who wear them.

The creation of Tais motifs and colors stands inseparable from the beliefs, geographical conditions, availability of natural resources and influence of foreign cultures in the form of intercultural connections or trade relations with other countries.

Tais is considered an indistinguishable part of the people of Timor-Leste and used formally at traditional rituals, such as:

  1. Birth celebrations;
  2. Marriage dowries (feto sau mane);
  3. Wedding ceremonies;
  4. Funerals;
  5. A shroud for covering dead bodies; and
  6. Occupying a new home.

Along with the civil development happening over several hundred years, Tais' role too has been changing. Nowadays, Tais is no longer a mere piece of clothing worn by the whole family, but also a sacred medium of unity and the very identity of the people of Timor-Leste. On certain occasions, it may be used as a welcome greeting and a sign of friendship. For instance, a sheet of Tais is draped around important visitors arriving in Timor-Leste at government institutions. However, this ceremony is not restricted to the government community but has also become common practice in other informal activities in public spheres. In local welcome ceremonies too, guests are normally entertained with the Bidu Dance, with female dancers wearing colorful Tais motifs.