My trip to Bali in January was a huge success. My quest? To understand more about this mystical purse. How are they made? Who makes them? What are they made of? The name used for the bags is "Ata", that I knew. What was more confusing, however, is that Bali is also a large producer of woven rattan products (as in porch furniture from my Florida childhood) as well as various "straw" bags like those you may have seen on a beach vacation.
I didn't get all my answers on my initial visit. I was shocked to find that many locals didn't seem to know or couldn't really describe it. A breakthrough came on my first Saturday in Bali where I stumbled onto a remote craft shop. Upon arrival, they gave you a mini tour of how they make products out of this material. You've seen many of these objects before -- plate chargers or placemats for the dining room, coasters, and even tissue boxes.
In the picture is the Ata vine. So the first thing I learned was, it is a vine. It has roots in the ground and grows on any structure that can provide it support.
The purses are made from the core vine itself after the leaves are stripped away. (More on the process in another blog). It was great to see a live plant (pictured here) after carrying my purse for over 15 years and not knowing its ... roots.
Still a question bothered me. Is it rattan? Is is the exact same plant as the rattan used to make rattan furniture?
I learned later that the act of weaving these types of materials together is a process called wickerwork. And we experience in everyday life items that have been woven out of seagrass, raffia (which is from a palm tree), bamboo, or rattan.
Rattan, you can quickly learn through an internet search, is a name giving to over 600 species of climbing palms. It's climbing ability or behavior makes the plant a liana. It is the cane of the liana that is used to make rattan products.
Similarly, the "ata" used in these purses, is also a liana. The pictures, however, of the rattan palms have true palm like leaves vs. the leaves of the ata plant pictured here.
Check back with us. As I continue my quest and get more facts, I will share them. What I can tell you, is there is a definite difference in texture between raffia, straw, rattan and the ata. A difference you will feel and love.