We’re back in Thailand and back in Bangkok. Tonight we’re taking the night train South to Chumpon where we will catch a ferry to the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.
We are way behind on blog posts, but here is the first of our catch-up posts. This is Mila’s account of the weaving class in Luang Prabang many moons ago!
Hi everyone! We’ve been wanting to post about one of the best experiences we had in Laos…learning to weave! Here is an overview of our day…
We made arrangements to be picked up from our guesthouse by tuk-tuk at 8am and driven a few kilometers from the center of town to Ock Pop Tok, a textile workshop and studio.
We arrived safely, and were invited to sit and wait for a few moments down in their riverview cafe. An attention-seeking cat came right up to Jette and decided to get comfortable in her lap. We weren’t too surprised as this is quite typical animal behavior; Jette attracts friendly animals around the world.
We had originally planned on taking a half day class to learn about silk dyeing, but were also tempted by the half day class for silk weaving. Jette really wanted to learn about both, so we signed up for a full day.
We began with a lesson on the silkworm lifecycle and were introduced to the various plants and minerals that have been used to dye fabric for thousands of years. We had a chance to go through the weaving studio and watched some of the master weavers. Shortly thereafter, we walked down a small path into a field of indigo on the property, to collect its leaves as Jette had picked blue as one of her desired silk colors. Other materials were waiting for us; we chopped sappan tree wood pieces for purple and shook annatto seeds from their pods for the saffron color used in monk robes.
Ock Pop Tok has done a great job of landscaping the property with trees and shrubs that are still used in natural dyeing today. It was nice to find out they they do not use chemical dyes in any of their products. They do, however, have to import silk from Vietnam and Thailand to keep up with demand.
We were shown how to crush and boil everything before finally getting to dip our own silk skeins into the pots of dye. Most were boiling hot, except for the indigo which is a “cold” dye, meaning that darker blue coloration would require repeated dips into the dye bath over many days.
We took a break for a delicious provided lunch and gathered energy for the second part of our day.
After lunch, we were each assigned a master weaver who would help us throughout our weaving project. Two design options were available, so Jette and I each chose one. Our weavers showed us everything from seat position at the looms, parts of the loom, pattern re-use, and proper shuttle technique. I can’t say we “mastered” the art, but Jette and I worked hard for about four and a half straight hours. We had broken silk strands, frustration, elation and ended with general exhaustion, but with a deep sense of pride in our finished pieces and for the women who spend their days making beautiful textile art and keeping tradition alive, while thriving themselves, with the higher wages they are able to secure in their collaboration with Ock Pop Tok.
We were informed that the women who work there are paid a fair wage for their finished pieces and are supplied with all of the materials they need as well as a loom when they partner with Ock Pop Tok. The relationship provides marketing for the weavers’ artwork, has a website (www.ockpoptok.com) for international sales, as well as two beautiful boutiques in Luang Prabang. The direct translation of “Ock Pop Tok” is “east meets west”, so it is no surprise that many of the pieces have a modern aesthetic incorporating traditional patterns. The quality of the pieces is very high and I was tempted to break our budget (and backpack carrying capacity!) with textile purchases.