Thursday, March 6, 2014

Newly Found Treasures - Saht Weaving Time





Weaving A Colorful Saht

Throughout Isaan now, women are busy weaving sahts, woven reed mats, that are used for a variety of purposes.  Sahts are given as offerings to Monks.  They are given as gifts when people die, when people move into a new home and when a son is ordained as a Theravada Monk.

Sahts are used in place of furniture - they are placed on floors, the ground, on raised platforms for people to sit upon and to place vessels containing food rather than upon a table.  A saht is placed inside of a coffin prior to placing someone in the coffin.  Many people use a saht as a bed.  Babies and children often nap in a hammock that has a saht first placed in it.

The ubiquitous handicraft of weaving sahts has been the subject of some of my previous blogs.  The following links to three of the blogs provides a fairly good background to the tradition and process of making sahts.

http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2010/03/saht-weaving-time.html

http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2010/03/saht-weaving-rest-of-story.html

http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2013/02/saht-time-of-year-again-saht-weaving.html

This 2014 (2557) saht weaving season and in particular this blog entry is more about the frequently used Thai expression of "Same, same; but different"

Women are weaving now just like any other season - the work load in the fields has diminished.  The sugar cane harvest is winding up.  The new crop of cane has been put into the fields.  The only work related to rice, is men rebuilding or repairing the dikes around the paddies in anticipation of the return of the rains in May.  The rubber harvesting season concluded in December.

The weather has turned hot.  We are now approaching 40 degrees everyday (105F) so women are not spending as much time as they were two months ago when it was quite common to come upon clusters of people huddled around an extended family fire to keep warm.  Now you commonly encounter women outside of the house but underneath the shelter of a corrugated metal or thatched roof weaving sahts, cotton cloth or silk cloth.

The hotter temperatures these days also accelerate the initial drying out of the harvested Ly plants.  The plants are set out alongside village streets and home yards for the sun and relative low humidity to desicate them.  Once the reeds have been sufficiently dried, the women use a knife to split them into 4 or 8 pieces.  The reed slivers are then dyed bright colors over a wood fire, after which they are once again hung out in the open sun to dry.

March is also one of the three times a year when the Ly plants are harvested.  This March is no different than other March that I have experienced here in Isaan.

What is different is the motifs of the sahts that we found being woven by the local villagers as well as the width of the woven panels.  Prior to this week, the sahts that we had seen were a combination of  1 meter (39 inch) wide panels woven by two people on a flat loom set upon the ground.  Due to family matters we traveled out into the countryside, out along dirt roads into the sugar fields, the rubber plantations, the wood lots and fields of cassava, to a small village about one-one half hours from our home.

One evening when we were at the village, a man came to us and wanted to show us his home.  It turned out that he was the husband of Duang's friend from her days at Tahsang Village Elementary School.  We went with him and I was quickly stunned.  Underneath a thatched roof on a raised tiled concrete area illuminated by a single short florescent light tube, Duang's friend was busy weaving a saht.  She was using a small hand built loom sized so that one person could operate it.  The loom was a three dimensional device more closely resembling the hand built looms that local people use to weave cloth than the flat looms that I had previously associated with saht weaving.

Besides being narrower than the saht panels that I was familar with, the saht was extremely colorful and had design elements incorporated into it.  I had only seen sahts that were bands of alternating colors or some variation of checkerboard patterns.  The saht that she was working on had colorful butterflies.  It was gorgeous.

Encouraged by my enthusiasm for her work, Duang's friend then proceeded over the next fifteen minutes to bring more of her work from inside her house to show us.  It was absolutely astounding!  The sahts were the most colorful and artistic that I had ever seen.  Hmmm ... I am starting to write like Donald Trump sounds when he talks about his developments.  I will have to watch it!

Since the lighting was so poor, practically non-existent, we said that we would like to come back later this week to photograph the sahts and get more information to write a blog.  Duang also had her eye on buying the butterfly saht that the woman was working on.

Two days later we returned to their home in the morning to take photographs of her works as well as other villagers that we learned do similar work.

A Neighbor Weaving Saht


The Saht Being Woven



Another Neighbor Weaves A More Typical Saht
The sahts were even more impressive in the light of day.  Duang's friend has been weaving her beautiful sahts for two years.  I asked about how she knew what to make and how to make it.   It turns out that she, like Duang, can look at something and figure out how to make it.  Many times I have observed Duang intensely inspecting an article of clothing in a department store  Originally I thought that she was considering buying the clothing.  I now know that she is seeing how it is made.  Often we return home to have Duang pull out her steel rulers and curves, large paper, cloth measuring tape, and pencil to create a pattern for what she had inspected at the store.  Within a few days she is wearing the item at a very much reduced cost.

Duang's friend looks at magazines and traditional cloth for inspiration.  She then experiments to create her interpretation and vision out of dyed reeds for her sahts.  Upon very much closer inspection, I saw that the designs were created by having individual reeds (weft) of different colors than the background lying on top of the very thin nylon string of the warp.  Varying the number of warp threads covered by the reeds as well as the location of the overlap develops the designs as the saht grows.  The woman keeps track of her design development as she proceeds in the process.  Once she has fully developed her design, she weaves from memory.

"Fish" Saht With One of the Failed Attempts to Create the Fish Pattern

One of her sahts reflects the design development.  The saht that I refer to as the "Fish" Saht incorporates some early failed attempts to create a fish pattern.







The "Butterfly" Saht Which We Purchased







Duang's Friend, Tiim, Weaving Another "Butterfly" Saht
Home Outside Work Area With "Butterfly" Saht In Progress

It takes three days for Duang's friend, Tiim, to weave a saht.  The sahts are either three panels wide or two panels wide.  On her loom that her husband built, she produces  58 cm (22.5 inch) wide panels about 200 cm (6 feet) long.  The length of the panels is restricted by the geometry of the loom.  A loom with a higher horizontal bar (bamboo pole) would allow for a longer saht.  We purchased a "Butterfly" saht - two panels wide for and overall dimension of 1.2 meters wide (46 inches) and 2 meters long (6 feet)

Equipment For Binding Saht Panels
Tiim does not have the equipment necessary to bind the edges of the panels or to bind panels together.  However, there is another woman in the village that has the equipment (an industrial Juki sewing machine), knowledge, skill and desire to make and install bindings for sahts.  I had looked at the bindings of sahts and assumed that people purchased binding material approximately 2 inches wide to sew over the saht edges. Once again based upon how I expect things to be done in the USA, I had figured out, or rather incorrectly figured out how it is done here in Thailand.  As Duangchan frequently has to remind me "Thailand not same as America".

Bound Saht Along With Material For Binding
Here in Thailand, people purchase full sized cloth to be used as binding material for sahts.  They cut the cloth for the required width to bind the saht edges and to connect panels to each other.  The same material is cut and sewed to create handles and lashings for transporting the saht when it is folded up.

In addition to creating and installing bindings for the village sahts, the woman that we visited at the other side of the village, also weaves her own sahts.  Her sahts were also amazing - colors and designs.  She very willingly allowed me to photograph some of her sahts.





 
 
 







 
 








It was quite a discovery for us - one that I just had to share with others.  The quality of life is not solely defined by the amount of material items.  The quality of life, in regards to material aspects, is greatly influenced by the style and beauty of those material possessions.

Duang and I were extremely happy to observe how, in addition to asserting their self-sufficiency and self-reliance, the people of this village were able to incorporate their sense of style along with their artistic expression into their work.  We had found many treasures.

Often it takes getting out of the metropolitan areas and into, sometimes deep into, the countryside to experience the true depth and breadth of a culture.  I am extremely fortunate that my wife enjoys these types of quests and can give me so many of these opportunities.



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