Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lao Fabrics and Textile Handicrafts

A Partially Completed Needlepoint Piece from Baan Xiang Hai, LPDR
On the day that we visited Baan Hat Hien, Blacksmith Village, and Baan Xang Hai, Whiskey Village, we also visited Baan Phanom which is known for its silk weaving.

We stopped at a large tourist stop facility at the outskirts of the village.  The facility is a fairly large modern facility where I assume local women set up in the front area selling the fabrics that they have woven.  The room lacks all the character and ambiance that you can find at either markets in the larger towns or at the weaver's home in smaller villages.  Seeing a couple of the organized tour vans and buses parked in front of the building was somewhat of a turnoff for me.  However having traveled to the village, I decided to check it out.

Part of the front room hard been set up for some type of celebration.  There were several tables set up as if to have a conference.  Name tags were located on the tables in front of each plastic chair.  A man was occupied setting up the public address system for perhaps speeches or just as likely Lao music.  In the room beyond the display room I could smell as well as see food being prepared.


An Idle Loom In Baan Phanom, LPDR
As Duang checked out the various textiles in the front room, I investigated the back room.  It turned out that the back room was actually an area for weaving silk and for sewing although today the room was being used for food preparation.  The weavers were not producing any fabric during our visit but were busy preparing many of the foods that I have become familiar with in Isaan for celebrations.  In a corner of the large room, women were busy preparing river algae.  The river algae is harvested from rocks in the river and dried into sheets on woven bamboo mats or bamboo trays. Seasoning such as garlic, boiled tamrind water, sesame seeds are scattered on the drying algae.  To prepare for eating, the algae sheets are cut into 3 in by 6 in rectangles, partially folded in two, held together with a bamboo toothpick, and quickly fried.  I first ate kai paen jeun at the Boat Landing Hotel and Restaurant earlier this year in Luang Namtha.  I liked it, so when I was offered some of the food directly from the wok, I quickly accepted.  It was delicious.


Striped Patterned Silk Being Woven on Wooden Loom

Silk With an Intricate Pattern On An Idle Loom
I went off to the other side of the room and started photographing the idle looms.  It was interesting to see the partially completed fabrics on the old wooden looms.  The solid colored silk fabrics were not mystery to me.  I could imagine being able to weave them with a minimum of instruction.  However some of the silk fabric had very intricate patterns using different colored threads.  Other fabrics had several different colors.  I remember reading about how the predecessors to today's computer were cards that were used to produce intricate patterns in the 1800's cotton mills of New England.  I did not see any such guides or references for creating the patterns before my eyes in the weaving room.  From my past experience with the home weavers of both cotton and silk in Isaan as well as in other areas of Laos, I know that the patterns are retained in the minds of the weavers.  They are able to imagine a pattern and take the appropriate steps in the weaving process to recreate the pattern in their woven product.

Baan Phanon Silk Weaver
After a while one of the weavers who had been preparing food graciously offered to do some weaving while I took photographs.  It was an offer that I accepted without hesitation.  I am always interested to see how things are made and our trips to Laos usually are great learning experiences.

Weaving Silk

While in Whiskey Village, Baan Xang Hai, while I was drinking Lao Lao with the distiller, Duang had wandered off and found his wife and some other women embroidering some fabrics.  Duang came over and led me to where the women were working.  I was very impressed.  The women were occupied needle pointing intricate patterns on black cotton fabric.  Throughout the village these were the only women actually working and the only people doing needlepoint.  Both Duang and I appreciate and enjoy collecting textile handicrafts from the Hill Tribe people of Southeast Asia.  We consider their handicrafts to be art and expressions of the people's culture.  The fact that we are able to witness the artisans producing articles similar to what we purchase is even more gratifying to us.

Lao Women Needle pointing and Embroidering

Two Baan Xang Hai Handicrafters
I wrote earlier that I was impressed.  Well it turned out that I was a little too impressed.  Perhaps it was the double shot of Lao Lao.  Anyhow Duang showed me a very beautiful piece - 29 inches by 37.5 inches black cotton with a very colorful section 22.5 inches by 31.5 inches with intricate patterns and birds.  The piece struck me as being similar to Hmong motifs.  I asked the woman how much in Lao.  She answered me and I immediately paid her for the work that she claimed to have worked two months on.  I made a mistake.  The woman had quoted the same price earlier to Duang and Duang had offered her 25% less.  I had interrupted the negotiations with my unbridled enthusiasm!  Well Laos is like Thailand - things have to be "good for you, good for me".  The women discounted the price that I paid by 10%; a face saving gesture for Duang but not enough to prevent me from hearing about it for a while from Duang.  I put the 10% versus 25% cash discount into cash perspective for Duang and we enjoyed a good laugh together and the matter has not been discussed since then although I suspect that she has not forgotten.

Silks and Needlepoint from Baan Xang Hai


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