Whenever I come to Bali a pilgrimage to Jalan Sulawesi in Denpasar is a must. This is the centre of the fabric shopping universe on this wonderful island, although there are plenty of other options too. Indonesia has a fabulous textile tradition and for a textile lover like me this is heaven on a budget!

For my nearest and dearest it is several hours of torture while I ooh and ahh around the fabric shops, so this time I arranged a driver to go by myself and left my beloved to entertain himself for the day. It costs around AU$55 for an all inclusive driver and car, which probably makes a dent in the savings on fabric, but honestly, if I had the choice between fabric shopping and sightseeing for a day there would be no contest. So I am charging the $55 to the entertainment budget, not the fabric budget. 🙂

Jalan Sulawesi is a small street in the old part of Denpasar with maybe 30-40 fabric shops. The Asian custom of grouping like businesses together is a blessing because you don’t need to travel all over the place to get your fabric fix like you would in a Western city. Here it is all crammed into a stretch of about 200m, very convenient, if a little overwhelming.

There are wovens of all kinds, cottons, linens, silks and an avalanche of lace fabrics which are used for the traditional women’s lace blouses worn over a sarong type skirt for formal occasions.


Of course there is also the ever present poly. Lots of treasure amid a bit of trash, and I saw a few knits too, but not many and nothing I would want to buy. I was after wovens, and principally after the kind of fabric I can’t buy at home, batik and ikat.

There are wonderful batiks in just about every store. Most of them are the traditional kind with dark colours and intricate designs. They are beautiful, but for garment sewing I prefer the contemporary style batiks with their brighter colours and simpler shapes. There are 3 shops I found that specialise in these, the largest is Mr Maju near the end of the street opposite the car park. I must give him a plug because I have shopped there for a number of years now, and apart from the fact that he stocks the sort of batiks I like, I have found him straight forward and honest to deal with.

No need to bargain here, Mr Maju’s cotton batiks are all 26000 rupiahs per meter, which is around AU$2.60. I think the rayon batiks are a little cheaper, although I did not buy any.

Unfortunately none of the cotton batiks I bought have photographed particularly well. I tried twice, with the iPad and then with my Samsung phone which normally does a sterling job, but the painterly watercolour batiks I mostly bought, that in reality are a subtle and mellow blend of lovely colours turned out a lurid and harsh distortion.  It gave me some sympathy for people selling fabrics online, especially batiks. But here is one other type I bought for my grandkids that photographed better.

Mr Maju also has a small amount of non batik, plain fabrics from time to time. I bought nice looking midweight black linen, 140cm wide, for AU$6/m and he had other tempting colours as well. Thinking of my already substantial stash of linen at home and my dislike of ironing I just managed to resist. The black will be great for pants and I can live with wrinkles better with those.

White voile for dyeing was AU$2, 150 wide, but unfortunately he only had about 4m left, or I would have bought up big. There was a small amount of silk chiffon, 150cm wide, for AU$6 as well and I bought 4m for silk painting. I should have bought more but it’s easy to be wise in hindsight.

I am not a quilter, but I noticed that he had precuts and fat quarters as well, principally because of the marketing efforts of the dedicated sales team.

The sales assistant in the remnant department was not to be outdone.

A few shops further on is another shop selling contemporary batiks. I have bought lots here in the past, including this quite spectacular linen batik.

Unfortunately this time the 2 batiks I liked only had small amount left, not enough for my purposes.

So I bought 5m of unprocessed (white) batik cotton for my dyeing and block printing, 115cm wide for AU$2/m, and left it at that.

The third shop where I found contemporary batiks is on the other side of the street, further away from the car park end. Their cotton batiks were 10c dearer than at Mr Maju, not that that stopped me from buying 5m each of these:

This should be a classy French navy background with the fish design in a lighter blue. On my screen it looks black and grey.

And this is just a straight white and grey stripe, despite the funny colour variation in the middle in the photo.

Sadly I could not find any ikat fabric I liked. Last time I bought 2 lovely blue ikats, beautiful quality, for AUD4.50 or thereabouts. This time they were more expensive and although there were lots of ikats everywhere I couldn’t find ones where the colours and pattern were suitable for a garment I would want to wear, in my mind anyway. Indonesian and western colour combination preferences diverge, and while the ikats were beautiful in their own right, taken out of their context to be made into a garment worn in Australia would not have shown them to their best advantage. It can be done but you have to find the right one. And I have a rule whenever I fabric-shop in foreign places, where I know that getting my loot back home will need substantial conniving to get past airline weight limits: if a fabric doesn’t jump me, wrestle me to the ground and sit on my head until I buy it, I won’t. Calling to me is not enough!

Here is an ikat I bought a few years previously and made into a long jacket.

There were lots more beautiful cottons, silks and linens I could have investigated, but after 3 hours and slightly more than 40m of fabric I called it a day. I must be getting old!

A final word about bargaining. I have spent much time in Asia and lived several years in the Middle East, so while I am no expert, I do have some experience.

As a tourist you will never get the same price as the locals. That is ok, you have a lot more money than they do. (The exception is buying gold and diamonds in a Middle Eastern Souk, but that is a whole different category.) What you are after is not necessarily the lowest price possible, but a little respect, you don’t want to be the dopey foreigner who was suckered into paying an outrageous price just because of sheer stupidity. Much better to settle on a price both seller and buyer can be happy with. Always smile and be pleasant when you are bargaining, treat it as a friendly game. Inexperienced Westerners are often embarrassed to bargain, and when they don’t get the price they want they feel rejected, and can come across as bad tempered or aggressive. That ends up being unpleasant for everybody.

Do your research, then after the seller starts the process, make a counter offer maybe half of what you think you will have to pay.  If the seller refuses to bargain further you know you have offered much too little. If they agree too quickly you may have offered too much. Walking away is often a good method to judge how low a seller will go. If they want to sell they will make a lower offer. If not you can usually find the same item in another stall or shop and try again. The Balinese tend to be friendly and fair-minded, it’s a good place to learn if you are a beginner.

Another thing to remember is that Asian sales people will always know how much you want something. If your livelihood depended on judging other people’s face and body language you would be good at it too. Consequently things you don’t want very much will be ridiculously cheap and things you want a lot much less so. Can’t be helped. If you want something desperately, give in and pay up cheerfully!

Specifically regarding bargaining for fabric in Jalan Sulawesi, the contemporary batiks seem to be fixed price, 26000 or 27000 rupiahs per meter. You can get a small discount if you buy a lot, but not much, maybe a dollar or two. With the other fabrics I thought there was sometimes some leeway for bargaining. The way to find out is to ask if you can get a discount after they quote the price, or if this is the ‘best price’. If they quote lower you can try to bargain them down a bit more. But really, the prices are pretty good anyway. I was offered plain heavy linen in good colours for AUD10, and white cotton sheeting 240cm wide for AUD4.50, a price that can compete with pretty much anywhere.

Just steer clear of the women who approach you in the street and want to show you around. They will charge a commission for ‘introducing’ you to a shop, an introduction you don’t need. All the shops are perfectly happy to deal with you direct, in fact they prefer it. Say no politely, but firmly, and stick to your guns.

Shopkeepers and their staff will call out to you, but there is no real high pressure selling. I usually greet them politely, with a genuine big smile because I am having a great time fabric shopping. If they beckon me into their shop I either go in if I’m ready, or tell them ‘just looking now, maybe back later’. They are perfectly happy to let me do that.

If you want to read a bit more about fabric shopping in Bali, here is another post I found on the subject, written by a young South Australian sewist.

Fabric shopping in Denpasar Jalan Sulawesi and Klungkung market