Business, Fashion, Lao Tradition, Laos

Lao Textiles, Lao Silk

I came from a family of seamstress and for us to have a fascination for silk fabric is not surprising at all, my oldest sister loves silk fabric, but I believed she is more familiar with the Thai silk than the Lao silk, I think Lao textiles are no less beautiful than the Thai textiles.

Oct Pop Tok means East meets West

I recently learned about a company that manufactured Lao textiles through the Today Show called Ock Pop Tok, means East meets West. From their website, Lao textiles are still used in many aspects of daily life from ceremonies to the household such as,

  • Pha Bieng Scarf for the upper body (used by Buddhists)
  • Pha Hom Blanket
  • Pha Sabai Healing cloth
  • Sihn Skirts
  • Pha Phok Long Funeral cloth
  • Pha Kaan Head cloth
  • Pha Phii Mon Shaman Cloth
  • Pha Mong Mosquito net decoration
  • Pha Khan Mon A love gift handkerchief
  • Pha Tung Prayer Flag

What I find fascinating is their ‘Silkworms & Natural Dyes Workshop, Dye your own Scarf,’ this is on my to-do list if I’m ever in that area and if time permits. Below is the agenda for the workshop, and I found photos by annamatic3000, Anna Lee who took the class during her visit to Laos,

Spend the afternoon in a stunning Mekong riverside garden. Prepare natural dyes and dye your own silk scarf. The workshop looks at silkworms, natural dyes and weaving techniques. The afternoon’s programme is interactive and full of fascinating information; a unique and entertaining opportunity to learn about silk dyeing & weaving.

Meet the silkworms. First there is an explanation about the worms’ lives; where they come from, who makes silk in Laos and a bizarre list of facts regarding sericulture. Guests are invited to prepare mulberry leaves and feed the worms.

Silkworms

Below are the mulberry trees on a misty morning Vangviang Organic Farm, Laos. The mulberry trees provide leaves to feed to the silk worms, plus mulberry tea, mulberry wine, and mulberry shakes.

The mulberry trees

Dye your own scarf with a natural dye. After a brief introduction to the natural dyes, guests are invited to prepare a dye source. Indigo – green, turmeric – yellow, sappan – pink or purple, lemongrass – light yellow, annatto – monk robe orange, indigo paste – blue. After preparing the dye source white scarves are dyed in the chosen colours.

Below are Turmeric (yellow), Annatto seeds (monk robe orange), Indigo leaves (blue green), and Sappan wood (purple)

tumeric Annatto seeds

Indigo leaves sappan wood

Try weaving & meet the weavers. After an introduction to weaving techniques guests are invited to try weaving and spinning on our demonstration looms.

Spinning

Fast weaving Geometric

From Anna: Here is one of the center’s weavers in action. There is an area with about 8 looms where the women are busy at the looms, chattering and laughing with one another while working.

Weaving

From Anna: Believe it or not, this is how a pattern is recorded on a loom. The weaver designs her pattern here, by tying horizontal strings to select vertical strings. Those select vertical strings are, in turn, tied to select strings on the warp. An expert weaver would be able to look at this and see what kind of pattern it would produce.

The pattern

Starting the pattern Pattern

Below are cocoons, and some luscious rolls of dyed silk.

Cocoons Silk

Boiling of cocoons.

Silk threads soaking in the turmeric dye.

From Anna: Approaching the weaving village (Luang Prabang, Laos), we saw silk tapestries for sale.

Silk for sale

Handicraft market

Handicraft market

The event in NYC might be something that my oldest sister is interested in checking out.

events

Lao Weaving & Culture Festival presented by Silk Moon Gallery, for those that live in Sebastapol, California.

It’s the details that make this experience special.

Did you know that you can eat silk worms after the silk has been spun?
Did you know that a number of the dye sources also make great tasting drinks?
On average a weaver can weave around 30 cm a day.

It is nice to see our Lao Textiles at the recent Seoul Friendship Fair 2008, photos by Lao Ocean Girl at the Lao PDR Booth.

Seoul Friendship Fair

The Laos booth

Textiles from the Laos booth

My grandmother raised silkworms while my mom was growing up, at any given time a family can look after 10,000 silkworms or more, and according to The Today Show (Broadcast from Laos), it sounds like it’s raining when they’re munching on the mulberry leaves. They eat for about a month, then it would take them about 4 days to make cocoons, then it goes into the pot for boiling.

My mom told me that my grandmother quit raising silkworms because one morning, one of the monks came for morning Alms Giving and he said that he heard sorrowful cries every time that he passes her house, and he believed that it was from the silkworms because they have (had) to go into the hot boiling pot. I’m not sure if he meant the live worms only, or also meant the dead ones because Lao people believed in spirit, and silkworms I believed would have spirit as well. This might sound ridiculous to some, but to my grandmother it wasn’t, she felt guilty, and it must have haunted her each time she had to boil the cocoons to get the silk, knowing that the worms are inside.

12 thoughts on “Lao Textiles, Lao Silk”

  1. These type of textiles are so natural that we can practically eat the fabric and not die from them. Organic materials are great for our infants and the planet compared to the synthetic materials. Because women today are getting breast cancers without knowing the cause or the source of the cancers, the modern women may benefit from these materials.

  2. One thing I don’t see is Pha Sarong. I remember seeing only a few men wearing this around the house/village when I was younger back in Laos. My father wore this around the house too here in the US.
    (Anyone (Laotian men) wear sarong around the house? or maybe it is just me.)

    I was fortunate to have seen the entire process when I was younger. Also the silk worm was very delicious. 🙂

  3. Sim, I think seeing something like this makes us appreciate the art of handicraft more, and certainly cleaner and safer for the environment. The dying process in the modern day is far more advanced, can be done in large tubs, and overall cheaper I would say. The antimicrobial that is being used sounds really good, but to see the actually process of how the yarns are soaked in a large metal tub, then putting in the heating box to dry often makes me wonder if it really served its purpose, sometimes not even go through the soaking process but they called it antimicrobial anyway, this kind of stuff bothers me. The end product that we’re seeing come from various parts of the world, no telling what is in it, of course most would use ISO for guideline, but are they really ISO quality.

    >>One thing I don’t see is Pha Sarong. I remember seeing only a few men wearing this around the house/village when I was younger back in Laos.<<

    Dallas, I really don’t know, the only man in my household seeing whilst growing up was my dad, and he doesn’t wear Pha Sarong (I don’t have any brother). I’d assume that it’s not popular. In Thailand, whilst I was growing up, the men would wear Pha Kama (often blue and white checker pattern) for bathing, and often use it to tie around their waist as belt. I think it’s slightly different from Pha Sarong because Pha Sarong is longer I believed.

    I never did get to see how it was done, my grandmother passed away before I was born, I only heard the story from my mom awhile back, and my dad recently told me the story again on mother’s day, and that’s why I decided to write this post.

  4. Pingback: how to dye cloth
  5. Ginger, I love the idea of natural organic dyes over synthetic anytime.

    My grandmother used to raise and spin her own silk too. Despite what the Buddha said, my grandmother just loved them too much to give it up. But none of her children continue with the silk farm, they were actually afraid of the silk worms. And my mom said grandma was very dedicated to them, she cared for them day and night like her own little ones 🙂

    Btw, I am not too far from Sebastopol and will try to go see the textile show in July. I would not have known about it if not from reading your post – so thank you!

  6. Hi Ginger, wow it’s already July! I forgot to mark my calendar. I really wanted to go out to Sebastapol and see this event. But there is a Lao Buddhist ceremony on the same weekend, and I’ve already promise to go with my mother.

    But I did post about it on LV, in case anyone else can go and let us know about it 🙂

  7. Hi Salat, I saw, that is a nice post, I totally forgot about it also until I saw your post last night (still up 🙂 ) I’d love to go to event such as that but we don’t have anything like that in our area.

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