Born in 1962, Shirley Vilin grew up in Rumah Ikok, Nanga Nirok, Sungai Ngemah, Kanowit district. She was regularly exposed to the daily activities of the womenfolk – to her grandmother & mother’s handicraft & weaving skills. This also included weaving essentials such as baskets & rattan mats.
Her interest in weaving was a natural progression. Her initial skill was mat weaving with rattan, bemban, kerupuk & senggang fibres. As a teenager, she learnt how to ngebat (tying kebat) a simple design for a placemat. From then onwards, there was no turning back, she was hooked.
In 1992, she began weaving full time with her friend, the late Datin Amar Margaret Linggi, along with the late Datin’s sister in law, Siah Jugah. Together, they began recording down the processes of Iban kebat weaving – from harvesting natural fibre for tying, spinning cotton, ngar – ritual mordant process, tying & dyeing threads with natural dyes, to the final product – the pua kumbu, a sacred ceremonial blanket.
Over the last thirty years, she perfected other Iban weaving techniques of tenun sungkit (supplementary weft wrapping weave), karap (supplementary weft weave) & subak (tapestry weave). Shirley is the senior instructor at the Tun Jugah Foundation & manages the foundation’s Kapit weavers. Aside from her textiles department responsibilities, she is also a research assistant in the oral history department of the Tun Jugah Foundation.