February 2017 Part 1.

March 2, 2017

 

I am going to write 2 bogs for February. One will be on weaving in the studio (Part 2) while this will be the start of more to come.

I have just returned from an amazing textile research trip to Laos and Cambodia. Some was self- directed but there was also an organised textile tour. Over the next few months, I will be assimilating and reporting on aspects of this trip. There is a lot to take in and I have barely unpacked, so only a very brief taster will be shared here. It will be the start of things to come.

First up let me say that it has been just 2 years since I was in the north of Laos at Luang Prabang and 1 year since I was in Vientiane. There have been big changes connected with “progress”. One of note was the number of brand new fuel station along the roads. It felt like every kilometre there was one. Is this a sign of investment and even a raise in living standards? How has this impacted in particular on textiles? What has happened in the time that I was last here? These are some of the issues I will be considering later in addition to where I found textiles and the mechanics of various aspects of weaving.

dsc04608-400-x-600

The pink line outlines this trip. The orange on in 2015

First a brief overview of where I went. I started off in Ponsovan, then drove to Luang Prabang. Trood Newman joined me on this leg. At Luang Prabang we joined the Textile Tour, organised in a fashion by Intentionally Different. The two experts who absolutely made this trip were Valerie Kirk who has been travelling here for many years and has a wealth of textile knowledge to share and Jit, our local tour guide. From Luang Prabang we flew to Pakse. Using Pakse as a base we explored the area working our way down to Kong Island at the most southern part of Laos. Driving north we passed through Savannakhet to Vientiane where the tour finished. From there Trood and another friend, Libby Hepburn, and I explored the area around Siem Reap.

I am going to structure my report based on the areas that we visited before looking at in-depth aspects of weaving. Well that’s the plan.

Weaving in Ponsovan.

This area was heavily bombed in the Vietnam War and is often referred to as the “Secret War” as often the world didn’t recognise that Laos was a casualty in that conflict. Even now there are many unexploded ordinances (UXO). This has had the impact of much of the buildings needing to be rebuilt. Farming has been restricted because of the uncertainty when it comes to expanding farms and even digging in existing ones. There is a sense of ‘newness’ overlying tradition while at the same time progress being held in check because of the uxo’s and the community being kept poor. UNESCO is involved in clearing uxo. Land that was cleared needs to be re-cleared as more uxo become exposed. Tourism centres around the Plain of Jars. In a cultural sense, the actual jars are amazing. They are large stone jars. Why are they here? What were they used for? What significance in the development of culture did they have? They are awe inspiring. The shapes and forms and how they sit in the landscape are certainly a focus for contemplation. Even the fact that they survived the extensive bombing that happened in this area is a amazing.

 

Mulberries. www.mulberries.org

I was keen to visit Mulberries after my previous trip in 2015 where I came across the organisation in Luang Prabang. Mulberries was set up by Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong is a centre that focuses on the development of a sericulture industry. In 2015, I was aware that she developed this industry that involved the whole community and wanted to follow up on this project. Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong had because of her involvement in strengthening the position of women in the community been presented as an applicant for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is what I saw.

We drove to the centre on the outskirts of Xiengkhouang and met by a guide. This is the place where obviously the focus is on growing the mulberry trees and the raising of silk worms. We were shown all stages of silk production: reeling, skein winding, dyeing and weaving. It was disappointing that there were not many people working there when we visited. There were a couple of workers using skeining equipment while the dyers were off at a wedding and there were only 4 weavers at work. I wondered if some of the work that could be done off site (winding the silk from cocoon to skein, weaving and finishing) was being done off site and whether this centre apart from the silk worm/silk growing aspect was more of a collection/distribution centre. The weaving produced is sold in the gallery on site and in Vientiane. The retail outlet in Luang Prabang is now closed. In Vientiane, we visited the gallery and met with Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong. An interesting comment that she made was that the organisation was diversifying into soya production to support their community. I must admit that after the visit to the Centre, I felt that the strength of the textile production as to what I had remembered was not as great. More will be noted of Mulberries when we get to Vientiane.

dsc04062

Mulberries grows 5 varieties of silk worms with several of these being cross breeds.

 dsc04065

Silk being reeled from cocoons.

DSC04067.jpg

This equipment allows for many skeins to be prepared.

 dsc04074

One of the four weavers. She is using a vertical storage system with sticks. There was a loom set up with string looms to store pattern but it had a few cobwebs and was obviously not currently being used. I understand that bamboo sticks are preferred though when the space becomes too cramped to use these, they move to the loops instead.  All four weavers were using sticks. The weavers are from the Black Tai, Red Tai and Lao Phuan ethnic groups.

dsc04075

A close up look at what is being woven.

dsc04082

The gallery at Mulberries (Ponsovan)

Next: Luang Prabang.


March 2016 Part 3

April 4, 2016

In this blog, I record the actual specific of weaving and things related from my recent textile tour to Bhutan. This blog follows on from my previous one.

Yarns.

1

One of the most popular yarns is “telecotton”. It is cheap and comes in a huge variety of colours. It is most likely according to all the tests I could do 100% synthetic. It’s strong and weaves quite well; though not of course as well as silk or even cotton. As the fabric is very tightly woven, the handle is satisfactory. All the “cheaper” fabrics will be woven from this. It’s also what I used for my warp when I wove in Khoma. It will be imported probably from India (most goods seem to come from India)

2

This store has some silk. The colours are brilliant though finding a shop that sells silk is much harder than the telecotton. Here both are on sale. The silk is kept in plastic. We saw cotton also being used for weaving though we didn’t actually try to buy some so I have no idea as to ease of access.

2a

Silk is of course the most highly prized yarn and is used for kushü. Here are spools of coloured silk for use for the supplementary weft pattern threads. I must admit that I acquired some lovely plied natural coloured silk- all that was left in a store 750g. I’m looking forward to using it.

3

Wool. Yak hair is spun. The women will use a drop spindle to spin yak fibre. Here two spinners from different countries share a moment. We were also told that there are 3 types of wool: Australian is most preferred though it is expensive. Next best grade is wool from India and then lastly local wool.

Dyeing

While many yarns are bought coloured, there is some natural dyeing being done. At Leki textiles we attended a half day dyeing workshop. We were told that in old silk textiles the following colours were used: white (natural silk), blue (indigo), red (stick lac), yellow (turmeric with buck wheat) and green (turmeric and buck wheat over indigo). This is the oldest textile in their collection. It is over 100 years old and came from the oldest sister of the first king.

4

At the dye workshop we worked with 2 colours: red from stick lac, jatsho and yellow from turmeric. The following is what I observed and recorded. I have not confirmed details with any publications. I thought it was more important to write what was actually seen.

The yarn was pre-mordanted by boiling with symplocos paniculata known as Asiatic sweet leaf. We were told that alternative “sour fruit” may be used. There was some discussion whether this meant quince. The yarn was set to one side while the lac was prepared.

Using stick lac.

5

The lac was put in an aluminium buck and warm water added. It was worked vigorously.

6.jpg

The water temperature was gradually increased to hot. It was repeated as many times as possible till there was no remaining colour in the lac. As the lac got hotter it clumped together, ending up as a solid brown mass that could be formed into flat hard cakes. This residue was used for sealing wax. The dyer must work more quickly, the hotter the water became.

The liquid was strained and then boiled. Before being put in the lac, the pre-mordanted yarn was rinsed.

7

Some “sour fruit” (quince?) was added to the boiling lac.

Using turmeric

Put the turmeric in the water and boil.

9

This is buck wheat (sour variety) that is milled into flour and then blended with a small amount of water.

10.jpg

Once the turmeric is boiling, the buck wheat slurry is added and brought to the boil.

11

The fabrics and yarn are added and boiled.

12

In all cases, the fabric is allowed to cool down before rinsing. I undertand that best results are obtained when the dyed material is left a while and allowed to dry before being rinsed e.g. for a week.

Winding a warp

13

This is the most basic of procedure that we saw and is for winding a basic plain weave fabric and was demonstrated at Leki Textiles. Required: two end posts and two vertical posts in the middle. The warp length is determined by the distance around the two outside posts. Noe that they are firmly weighted by heavy rocks to prevent movement. The two posts in the middle create the two sheds.

14.jpg

The larger central post is used to create heddles. One thread (blue) goes through a heddle formed by the white thread. The other smaller post has the green thread looped in a half hitch. It is quite a skill winding a warp ergonomically.

Please ignore the sound on the following movie. It has nothing to do with what you are seeing.

This movie shows a friend, Bettes managing both warp threads.

 

The more complex the type of fabric, the more involved is the winding of the warp. We saw two different methods for winding a warp that included a supplementary warp.

15

Both methods required an extra two sticks. They will be used for both sheds for the supplementary warp.

 

Method 1. This method was the one that we felt was the most difficult. The warp was wound back and forth. The basic principle for the ground is the same. The two yellow threads are the ground and are used alternatively for the heddle and other ‘shaft’ stick, as before. The red thread is the supplementary thread and passes alternatively around the extra sticks. It is quite lovely listening to the mother and daughter talk while she winds the warp. This method achieves 2 ground warp to 1 pattern warp in this case.

This was the cloth that she wound the warp for. She used it to check her warping sequence.

16.jpg

Method 2. The warp was wound in a continuous circle. This is the start of the plain weave outside stripe. The supplementary thread has yet to be started.

17

The winding of the warp has been finished. It was too dark the previous night to record the addition of the supplementary thread. The supplementary thread as per the previous video has been wound around the two extra posts. The difference is that there has been no change in direction. This method seemed more logical for me.

18

I have used my sample that this warp was prepared for to confirm that 2 ground threads and 1 thicker supplementary thread is wound at the same time.

18a

The warp is wound up, starting at one end.

19

20

It is now taken to where weaving will happen.

Looms

There are two styles of looms in Bhutan: the triangular back strap and the horizontal loom.

The back strap loom

22

At Leki Textiles here are many versions of the same frame for the back strap loom. The basic framework is a vertical frame which has two sides. The two sides must be sturdy as force will be exerted against it when tension is applied. The two sides has a series of holes that match. Here some looms have a braced frame (blue warp) while another utilises the framework of the building (white warp). The one in the front was 2 metres high with the holes about 15cm apart. The choice of holes and height of the frame will determine the length of warp that can be woven. We saw variations on this in other establishments.

23

The warp is tensioned by body tension. One end of the warp is around two pipes attached to the frame (top and bottom). This allows for separation of the circle that is the warp. The third corner of the triangle is the ‘front beam’ which the warp goes around. This is attached to the body by the ‘back strap’. Tension is applied when the weaver braces her body against the loom and released when she relaxes. This ability to tighten and then relax is necessary to achieve good open sheds to put the shuttle through.

The following sequence shows how the warp is anchored in the front ‘beam’ to stop it slipping.

23a

Note there are two halves to the front beam.

23b

At this point the warp is not anchored between them.

23c

Once the warp is organised to her satisfaction and weaving is ready to begin, the warp is sandwiched between the two halves.

23d

The warp is wound around the joined beam

23e

And tied together. The other end of the rope is attached to the strap that goes behind the weavers back.

The width of the back strap loom is limited by the comfortable width for the weaver to work with.

24

In this tent there is a loom. The height of this tent does not allow for a tall back strap loom of the type we have seen. An alternative way has to be improvised to weave a long length.

25

Here is one end of the loom. At the far left the warp is tied to the framework of the tent. The height of the loom is achieved by 2 forked sticks which are the same height.

26

At this end is the weaver. She braces her feet against a board attached to the forked sticks.

The horizontal loom

27

The horizontal loom was introduced from Tibet sometime around 1920. Apparently the story is well known. A young man Sonam Dondhrup went to Tongsa Dzong, the home of the royal family at that time to seek his fortune in the king’s service. He became a skilled back strap weaver. Ashi Wangmo, the young daughter of the first king who was a nun noticed his skill and asked him to stay with her as an attendant. She had over 100 female weavers but no male ones. She knew that there was a different loom in Tibet and asked him to go and learn about them. He spent 9 months there but no one would teach him. Then Ashi Wangmo sent two sets of gift cloth to give the Tibetans and after that they taught him. He came back and made a horizontal frame loom, and taught her how to weave on it. (excerpts from “the Land of the Thunder Dragon” see reference list on previous post. It was introduced into central Bhutan by the 1930s. The loom I measured was 94 cm wide, 104 cm long and 110 cm high including the castle (top part at the centre of the loom). There are 4 foot treadles which are often not anchored to the frame of the loom. These are tied directly to the 4 shafts.

28

The shafts operate in a counterbalance method with shafts 1 and 2 being linked and 3 and 4. Note the rollers at the top of the loom that allow movement of connected shafts. There are two sets: one for shafts 1 and 2, the other for shafts 3 and 4. (I’m allocating shaft numbers by counting from the front.) When shaft 1 is pulled down, shaft 2 will go up and vice versa. At the same time when shaft 3 goes down, 4 will go up and again vice versa. It is important to note that the first two shafts ae not linked in any manner to the second two. This has repercussions for achieving weave structure. If the warp was threaded from shafts 1 though to 4, then plain weave could be achieved by depressing with two feet treadle 1 and 3 for one row and then treadle 2 and 4. This makes weaving the “everyday cloth” of the previous post very easy.

29

The other point of interest is the breaking system. Notice the use of 2 metal spikes with a bent end. Holes in the front and back beam and nails or in this case pegs on the inside of the top of the loom is used in combination with the spike. The right combination will achieve a desirable weaving tension.

Weaving equipment

30

The weaving sword is a solid piece of wood that has both a narrow and a wider edge. It is used to open a gap (weaving shed) through which the shuttle passes and beat the weft into place. Because of the tightness of the weave it needs to have reasonable weight to help pack in the weft thread.

31

The shuttle is just a log stick that has the weft thread wound around it. Here the shuttle with green thread can be seen inside the weaving shed.

In this weavers hand is a slim pointed stick used to pick up the design. It may be brass or made from bamboo. In following movies it will be seen to be used.

33

A temple is used to keep the weaving width constant on a back strap loom. Unlike a western loom, there is no reed to keep the warp threads spaced. If a temple is not used, the weaving width will gradually decrease. Look for it under the cloth being woven near the edge of weaving. The temples used are bamboo cut to size with two points either end. These points leave quite large holes along the selvedge.

Weaving Processes

33a

Many Bhutanese textiles have this chain effect on the ends. It may be one or two colours. It may be a single row or several. It may be done on a back strap or horizontal loom. In this case it is done on an open shed. This means it will only be seen on this side of the fabric. It is easiest to work with 2 loops as that will ensure one loop passes through the other.

Weaving with a back strap loom.

All Bhutanese fabrics whether for plain weave, kushü, supplementary warp or supplementary wefts require the ability to weave plain weave.

34

This image shows the two elements to achieve both lifts for plain weave. When the yellow heddles are relaxed, the warp threads that pass over the bamboo are raised, especially when tension is applied. When a weaving sword is inserted and turned on its side, a gap is achieved to allow the shuttle to pass through.

When the yellow threads are pulled up and to do this the warp tension is relaxed, the weaving sword can be inserted, turned on its side to allow the alternative shed for the shuttle to pass through.

35

The weaving sword on its side. It is in this gap that the shuttle will pass.

Kushü being woven

 

This movie shows a simple form of Kushü being woven. In this case after every row of supplementary weft, a plain weave row must be woven. There are several important things to note. The first is that the insertion of the supplementary weft is always done on an open shed. This means that the fabric is one sided with only the tails of the reads being seen on the reverse side as they are poked through to the back when finished being used.

An examination of a kushü fabric will show that there are several styles of stitching.

36a

There are two classes of kushü stitches. Sapma includes the filling stitches: A and B in the above image. Thrima includes the wrapping or coiling stitches: C (diagonal), D (vertical), E (horizontal).

37

In both A and B above, both have an outline and then the centre filled. The filling for A is achieved by picking up the motif and inlaying the thread, while B has a solid centre. Note on B that there appears to be crossed threads.

38

This sample shows how to construct both the diagonal and how to create stitch B. This sample was woven on a loom that Wendy (our tour expert) had provided. While the yarn wasn’t great it allowed an understanding of process.

This scale of thread also allows for the management of the warp threads to be seen. When weaving kushü 4 sticks are required to set up the loom. Two are for normal plain weave. Two extra sticks are used to raise all threads that will be used to work the kushü. A 6 warp sequence id required- 3 on one shed and 3 on the other. The threads for the kushü is picked up so that 2 threads are on the extra rod and then one dropped, for each extra rod. If you look closely at the above image you should be able to see this. The gap provides a space for the supplementary weft threads to turn and sit nicely (especially if there are 2 in the one turning point) and is a very useful tool for choosing placement of motif.

The sampa or filling stitches as well as the diagonal thrima are completed every row.

The following movie shows how to complete a horizontal row.

 

Here’s how to get ready to move to the vertical position

 

The vertical stitch is worked every 2 rows in the following manner.

 

39

These are two samplers. One with the basic stitches and half a pattern that I worked on Wendy’s loom and the sample that we worked on at Leki Textiles. I can’t claim credit for the whole lot, only the very top end: that was half a day’s work. The rest was done by a weaver at Leki’s. We were fortunate that they did some patterns as this will give us reference for how the stitches are used. The most important thing to remember is to be aware of what will be the next pattern row and to get your threads into position.

Supplementary warp being woven.

40

There are 4 sticks required for the supplementary: 2 for the ground or base fabric and 2 for the supplementary stripes. The weaver picks up alternate supplementary warp threads, constructs heddles for them and places them onto the extra rod. The process is repeated for the alternate supplementary warps. In this image from the bottom is the heddle rod for plain weave, then one of the pattern rods and then the alternate one. The rod she has in her hand is the one that will hold the pattern heddles. She will repeat it for the other pattern rod.

41

The process complete.

DSC02693 (600 x 400)

To weave, the pattern row is lifted and included with 2 ground weave passes. This as it is shown will achieve a horizontal row of supplementary warp. If a more complex pattern is required, the pattern is picked up from this rod.

Weaving supplementary warp and kushü together

The general sequence is:

  1. Pick up supplementary pattern rod and select motif with the pick-up stick. In this case as the pattern is picked up, it is stored for temporary use on an extra rod. You will also notice that in the initial stripe, she corrects a mistake. An extra ground thread had been picked up.
  2. Then change the ground shaft and weave.
  3. Select the shaft that has the rod for the kushü.
  4. Pick up the motif.
  5. Bring back down the supplementary stored design. The stored pattern is used twice.
  6. Change the ground weave and beat.

The following 2 movies show the sequence. My apologies for the background chatter. Most of it does not apply to this loom.

 

Weaving Yathra on the horizontal loom

42

This example shows the characteristics of yathra. It is a supplementary pattern on a twill ground. To weave a 4 end twill which is what this is, requires a 4 shaft loom.

But the inherent qualities of the Tibetan horizontal loom having 2 separate rollers means that it cannot be threaded as we would on a western loom. A reminder: on a horizontal loom when shaft 1 goes up 2 goes down. Both cannot be up or down at the same time. The same applies to shafts 3 and 4. So for us in the West a normal till progression may be shafts 1 and 2 followed by 2 and3 and so on. This obviously will not work. So the Bhutanese have come up with an alternative threading system: shaft 1, 3, 2, 4 or it could equally be 1, 4, 2, 3. The important point is that the back and front alternate. That means a twill progression can now be achieved by shafts 1 and 4; 2 and 4; 2 and 3; 1 and 3. For those that are weavers the following draft will explain the theory.

yathra draft 2

The supplementary weft needs to be added in.

43

The supplementary thread is added in the same shaft as the ground. This is a two faced fabric. In other words pattern can be seen on both sides hence it is inserted in the same shaft.

44

The same style of wrapping and twining as for the kushü may be used.

The background row of weaving follows the pick-up row. The pattern row may be every row and this will achieve a diagonal line or it may be every 4th row for a vertical line. A single shaft will be used for a horizontal row. (see above blue textile). The pattern rows alternate in the following example.

45

There is one remaining mystery: what causes the “breaks” in the vertical that you may have noticed in this and the above textiles. It appears that the diagonal line of the twill is interrupted.

46

This effect can be seen very clearly in this fabric on the loom. From a weave structure aspect, it has no answer. But look to the reed for the answer. Four warp threads ie shafts 1,4,2,3 are all placed in the same dent. The spacers are very solid bamboo. These spacers are what is causing this pattern effect. By the way the new yathra textiles are sold unwashed. These gaps may close up with wet finishing. But in Bhutan, how often does that happen?

The trip is over, analysed and recorded. The memories are fresh. It was an amazing trip. I have collected new textiles for my collection and for sharing with others.

47

My current textile wall. They are all there (nearly). There are 2 from Laos and 7 from Bhutan in all different techniques. I do like the fact that two of those are ‘foreigners’.

It is however what follows now that I am looking forward to. I did bring home a full back strap loom that I had set up in in Khoma with a supplementary warp as well as other loom bits. I will look forward to playing.

48a48b

 


March 2016

March 30, 2016

A textile tour to   Laos and Bhutan Part 1.

This trip started with a Laos extension with 2 friends (Bettes Silver-Schack and Deb McClintock) before we joined the tour to Bhutan.

Laos: Vientiane

The main purpose of this part of the trip was to attend the Paeng Mai Weaving School. This was just too good an opportunity not to value add. Deb had attended the school several times prior to this trip and was keen to re-attend, so we organised a 4 day class where we each chose a specific topic. Of course while we were in Vientiane we also added in a much textile related activities as we could.

Any basic loom information can be found on my previous trip to Laos/Thailand. The looms are similar. Here, I will be focussing on specifics related to the topics covered in the course.

I chose to work on the supplementary warp technique (Muk).

DSC02349

This is the traditional cloth from which I took my inspiration. I selected 2 of the supplementary warp motifs. As well as supplementary warp, it has weft ikat and brocade (discontinuous weft).

The basic loom was set up before I arrived though it was decided to move it as the light wasn’t great.

DSC02355

One of the advantages of this style of loom is that it can be easily dismantled and reassembled. Before adding in the extra warp, weaving of the ground begins. About 1 cm is woven. This provides a means of anchoring the supplementary warp later on.

DSC02375

The supplementary warp was wound. This is an extremely large warping board capable of winding a 60 metre warp. The principle of using a threading cross (bottom centre) is the same.

DSC02380

The supplementary warp is chained and taken to the loom.

DSC02383

Note the supplementary warp( white) is kept separate from the ground warp (black). It follows a different path and is tensioned separately. The angle of the supplementary warp under the ground warp is quite exaggerated. When required it is raised above the ground warp. When not required it will stay well out of the way. The warp is positioned on the loom frame before combining with the ground warp.

DSC02389

Once positioned, the supplementary warp is placed in its correct position in the ground warp. Each supplementary warp is passed through the vertical storage system, between the ground weave shafts and through the appropriate dent in the reed. The ground and supplementary warp alternate. The ground sett remains the same.

DSC02391

 

The supplementary warp is then secured on a stick at the front.

DSC02399

The next step: Adding the supplementary warp heddles. Each warp thread is allotted to a shaft ( length of bamboo) and a heddle constructed. In this case there are 6 shafts with the supplementary threaded point twill (11 threads)

DSC02402

When required according to the design, the shafts are picked up and raised. This “S” shaped hook secures the selected threads while 2 ground rows are woven. In this case 5 shafts were required and are on the hook. It varies every 2 rows according to the drafted design. That “s” hook is suspended by a series of rubber bands to give stretch to allow movement of the shafts on and off the hook.

DSC02403

Weaving progresses. Note: The single supplementary warp threads alternating with a single ground thread. (The weaver would be at the top of the image).

DSC02418

Close up showing some supplementary warps picked up and left unused. There is no danger of the warp being accidentally caught.

DSC02429

The warp is weighted to ensure it stays down.

DSC02439

I’ve finished weaving…. well me and my loom buddy, Tan,  have finished. Whenever I got up she would keep weaving and she was at it before I got to the studio and after I left. I did weave at least half. At least it got finished just before time was up on the last day.

DSC02406

Meanwhile Bettes has worked on a brocade technique (Chok) using a vertical storage system.

DSC02351

Deb had decided that she wanted to master a lace weave technique that she had seen on a traditional cloth. The loom was set up to aid the picking up of the leno groups but it is all finger manipulated. It originally was a Tai Lue technique.

Deb has mastered ‘Pineapple” leno.

DSC02449 (2)

The finished scarves. From LHS Bettes, mine and Deb’s scarves.

The following are a couple of interesting tips.

Until now I had used a knot above the head of the weaver to tension the warp. It must be undone and then reformed. However this modification means that the knot does not have to be shifted. The rope allows for the warp to be released, advanced and then retightened.

The following are a couple of interesting places to visit.

Lao Textile Museum

This is a privately owned museum which had a display of looms, traditional textiles and a shop with the focus on silk. I noted a couple of loom modifications. There was also an amazing collection of textiles.

DSC02309

On one of the looms that was set up, we noticed the bottom bar is extended. This is an alternative device that separates the supplementary warp from the ground warp.

DSC02310

This is an example of the supplementary warp fabric woven on this loom.

Carol Cassidy     www.laotextiles.com  A well known and long time USA entrepreneur/weaver, living in Vientiane who works with local weavers selling through her workshop/gallery.

Taykeo Textiles Gallery  An amazing collection of historical textiles as well as modern traditionally based ones. Taykeo Sayavongkhamdy is owner.

DSC02459

Detail of one of the silk supplementary weft brocade cloths based in a traditional design.

Bangkok

A free day in Bangkok while we waited to join the tour to Bhutan, meant that there was an opportunity to visit The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Deb had organised a private tour with a curator. Unfortunately there’s no photography allowed of the exhibitions but at the end of the tour we came across this weaver and some interactive displays. This is an amazingly complex fabric. And she managed to keep track of what was going where while talking to us.

 

The Jim Thompson House is also worth a visit. www.jimthompsonhouse.com

Over the next few days I hope to post the second instalment of my last adventure where I go to Bhutan- where there are the most amazing living textiles.

 


June 2015

July 7, 2015

The primary focus this month has been getting ready for the opening of my weaving school. Occasionally I have taken time out to work some more on the Laos loom project.

Firstly the school.1The space comprises of two rooms. One was full to overcrowding with looms. I am not sharing that mess. This other space had been occupied by my friend Marilyn who looked after my place while I was away. It is now empty. I get to take from the other space and rearrange here.

2

The first loom is up. It’s the one that I collected from Maureen not so long ago. Each loom has it’s own floor rug. It’s a great excuse to weave some rugs. As they are not huge, it’s a quick and interesting project..

3

This room is now ready.

4

And so is the other one. I am so pleased to now have space!

5a

I’ve had brass plates made to celebrate my ‘friends’ and their looms. Kati’s loom will always be Katie’s loom (the draw loom) as will all the rest. All I have to do is attach them.

6

And friends have come and visited. Pat was one of my very early weaving friends. Marg and Mike used to own a ‘friend’ in my studio. In fact Mike made it; a 16 shaft computer assist countermarche beauty.

7

And the Weavers Interest Group came from Qld Spinners Weavers and Fibre Artists.

I can hardly wait till my first week’s class.

I haven’t had a great deal of time to work on the Laos loom project. At the end of last month, I had knotted the new warp onto the dummy warp.

8

Now to get it on the loom.

9

Step 1: Sort out what goes where. Suspend the beater and shafts.

10

Another view. I’ve used a set of pulleys on the plain weave shafts. When one shaft goes down, the other will go up. Note at this stage there has been no effort to get either the beater or plain weave or pattern shafts at the correct level.

11

Step 2: pull the knotted warp through firstly the vertical storage pattern heddles and then the plain weave heddles.

12

Now it is very easy to see how the heddles are made: two interlocking loops with the warp thread passing through the junction.

13

Step 3: Pull the knotted warp through the reed/beater. Then tie the warp onto the front bar of the cloth storage beam.

14

Step 4: Level the heddles and beater making sure the warp threads are centred. The warp needs to be under tension. I have it secured with the ikat clamp I used previously when knotting the two warps together.

15

Step 5. Now to attach the treadles. These are the original treadles. They would be way too heavy for this project.

16

I’ve attached two lengths of pine. They are not anchored at the front in the style of what I saw in Laos. They are attached to the bottom of the plain weave shafts. I’ve centred them on the shafts so that they will pull evenly down. This has resulted in the treadles being very close together. I may make both slightly off centre: one to the right, the other to the left to give some foot space. Notice the loom is on blocks. We’ve had rain and a bit of water came through here. I’ll take it off the blocks when I come to weave.

Step 6. Now for the biggest challenge: to provide tension to the warp. I was very pleased that I took videos of the knot that is used in several perspectives. I watched it over and over working out how it is done. Here’s a link so that you can see it.: youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3skR6eZB3J0

When it is time to advance the warp, the weaver undoes the knot, winds the warp on and then re-tensions with this knot.

18

Here’s an image of it loosely formed.

19

And of the real thing. And it works! The warp is under beautiful tension. Next month maybe I’ll get to weave. My aim is to do plain weave first and just get a feel for weaving on this loom. You’ll notice that the vertical storage system is set well back and will not play a part.

june loom (600 x 400)

All ready to weave.

 


April 2015

May 5, 2015

Unfortunately, I wasn’t home with enough time to continue the exploration of looms from Laos. It will have to wait till another time.

This month was a month for teaching away from the studio. Firstly there was Fibres Ballarat organised by Glenys Mann. The class was titled Ties: Decorative, Functional and Unconventional. There were four in the class. They worked extremely hard experimenting with the many aspects covered and ended up with a collection of well documented samples and designs. For those who chose to, there was also the opportunity to start a project on the end of their warp. The following are some images from the class.

DSC01148

It was a great space with plenty of natural light and lots of space.

DSC01160

The samples with tags. There’s lots of information here.

The following images show more detail of samples.

DSC01162

DSC01163

The class of 2015: Wendy, Jeanette, Di and Denise. Five days and several late nights resulted in great results.

The class of 2015DSC01161

DSC01145

Each day there were additions of wonderful installations. I was particularly taken with a grouping of altered books suspended in a tree. Deb McArdle was the artist responsible.

And another of her installations.

DSC01155

For next year’s Fibre Arts at Ballarat’s offerings go to http://www.fibrearts.jigsy.com

Then it was immediately off to the USA and teaching at the Fiber Forum hosted by the South East Fiber Forum Association at Arrowmont. http://www.sefiberforum.org

It was a delightful destination.

DSC01173

Around the garden some interesting sculptures could be found.

DSC01187

The title of the course was East Meets West where students explored traditional backstrap techniques interpreted into shaft weaving. As there were twelve in the course, there was a great variety of work produced. The following shows some of the student’s work.

DSC01175

DSC01176

DSC01177

DSC01181

DSC01182

DSC01183

DSC01184

DSC01186

 

DSC01189

At the end of three days, this was the result. Somehow, I am missing three students work above. My apologies to those whose work is missing. I am very proud of what all achieved.

DSC01188

Each day I walked under these. It was only on the final day it registered how clever these were: a very appropriate entrance to the painting studios.

DSC01190

DSC01191

Then it was off to visit my friend Judith. She’s currently studying printmaking at Georgia State, Atlanta. I was fortunate to be asked along as a visitor. I wonder what the motorists thought of this. Here we are on a traffic island with the traffic whizzing around while the sun worked to develop a solar screen. This is was the most convenient location where good sunlight was possible.

DSC01196

When we get together, we usually have a play with some sort of technique. This time we took the opportunity to work with cyanotype. It was used in the creation of blueprints. Chemicals are mixed and applied, in this instance to paper. The moment it is exposed to light the chemicals start working. In the following cases we explored using stencils, plants and shadows. Once the sun has activated the imagery (time is critical), the paper is washed. The imagery turns blue; a process in some ways very reminiscent of indigo. The following shows the process.

The treated paper with images is exposed to sunlight. The places where the sun can’t reach will stay white.

DSC01209

We hope enough time has elapsed. We timed it for 15 minutes. This is how the paper appears before washing.

DSC01210

After washing off the chemicals. The paper was hosed. The images turn blue and it’s quite like magic.

DSC01211

At some stage I’d like to return to this process and explore applications on textiles. It has potential.

Next month will have a focus on exhibitions. While I was in the USA, I was approached by Gatakers Artspace to hold an exhibition. The exhibition, Interlacement, opens in Maryborough next Friday and will be open for May.
311 Kent Street, Maryborough
Phone: (07) 4190 5723
Email: gatakersartspace@frasercoast.qld.gov.au

The following month, Pattern: A Universal Phenomenon will be hosted by Emerald Regional Art Gallery. 5th June – 17 July.

Plans continue for the opening of my school. Check out the details on either this blog or my website.

 


March 2015

April 3, 2015

Firstly I have an announcement to make. Because of the mothballing of weaving at Sturt and the reduction and in some cases the elimination of weaving in educational institutions, I have become increasingly concerned about the future of learning to weave. I have decided to do something about it and set up a school in my studio. I have a quantity of looms that are great to work on and are of different types. To launch the school, I am offering a week long workshop from Monday 6th  to Friday 10th of July. I will be posting details of this launch on both my blog (see heading above) and on my web site.

Following the launch, there will be a variety of learning opportunities which I hope will suit the needs of individuals in the weaving community. I hope to see some of you here in the future sometime.
As promised last month, the focus of this month’s blog is looms and weaving from my trip to Laos and Nth Thailand.

The basic loom

There was a similarity between them whether they had a vertical or horizontal storage system or just wove plain weave. The framework looked the same. I must admit that I was in some ways surprised at how little variation there was. In reality one could just remove one storage system and drop in the other and it would be ready to weave. The way the warp was handled also was similar throughout.

DSC00414

A basic loom that I measured (and I only measured one)had a height of 160cm, width of 99cm and depth of 220cm. The only minimal variation was in the width as that could govern the width to be woven eg a skirt or a scarf. The above image is of a two shaft loom with no pattern storage. It is not the one I measured though gives a point of reference to the following.

DSC00254

 

Let’s start with the warp threads. They were always in a bag either hanging from the top beam (note the warp wraps around the beam when it comes out of the bag) or placed in a bag on the ground at the front. A bag on the ground held heavier warps. The warp when I looked in the bag looked as though it was taken from where it was wound and then just coiled in the bag. I do not know if anyone was doing a variation such as chaining that western weavers might do. I did not see any warps being wound but was told at several places that they were prepared under the house using the house stumps to measure out the length. There was no evidence of the warp being tied before it was placed in the bag. No one was undoing ties as they advanced a warp. The warps were all very long. In one case I was told that the warp was 100metres, in another 72meters. It is not surprising that very long warps are used because of the effort required in setting up a loom.

DSC00495

I was surprised that the warps were just coiled in the bag and that there appeared to be no problems with them becoming a mess. This warp was very heavy and was sitting in an open bag on the ground rather than hanging from the loom.

DSC00251

The warp was knotted with a stick inserted in the knot on a front beam above the weaver’s head. This was then end where the tension of the warp was adjusted. The weaver would wind on the woven cloth and then tighten the warp here.

DSC00287

The warp threads passed over the top of the loom down the back of the loom to the front. I’ll ignore the pattern storage methods for the moment. At the front the cloth was wound directly onto the beam at the front of the loom. This beam also served as a means of controlling the tension at this end. There was some variation in how this was done. The most common was a squared end of a beam with slots so that the warp could be advanced a quarter turn.

DSC00423

Only one end of the stick had a slot for tensioning.

DSC00334

PVC pipe used in a similar way. A metal length tied to the loom bench replaces the upright spike on the other method. Sometimes the ends of the cloth beam were carved.

DSC00252

Before the first weft was woven, the warp was secured by a stick placed in a grooved slot along the length of the front beam. When the warp was wound on, the cloth sat evenly around the beam. I did not notice any knots. As far as I could work out the warp was placed on the beam, the stick (white in the case above) put on top and the warp threads pushed into the groove, enabling tension to be achieved as the warp was wound on top of the previous layer.

DSC00652

To get the warp ready for weaving, the warp was pulled out of the bag, knotted on to a previous warp and pulled through. I saw no evidence of someone threading a loom thread by thread.

DSC00713

The beater was suspended from the frame with 2 pieces of cord as was the 2 shafts used for plain weave. The beater was not attached in any one position. It could be slid backwards as the weaving progressed. Then when the weaver could no longer reach the knot above the weavers head was released, the cloth rolled on and the knot remade and the warp tightened. In the image above the shafts swivell in a counterbalance action when the cord slides through a bamboo tube. In the image below, there is a pulley.

DSC00499

This weaver even stood so that she could reach further.

The reed (method of spacing the threads in the beater) was either bamboo or stainless steel. I saw more bamboo reeds. The stainless steel ones were considerably more expensive to buy. The frame was the same for both.

The treadles for plain weave rows were two lengths of bamboo, tied to the bottom of the plain weave shafts. They were not attached to the frame of the loom, but rather just positioned on the ground so the weaver could use a very efficient toe/ heal action with one foot on the two treadles. Notice in the image above the previous one, the rest for the weaver’s feet beside the treadles.

DSC00778

The weaver’s bench was attached to the two front uprights and fixed. They got in and out of the loom very easily. I had to fold myself up when I got in, to the great hilarity of those watching. There wasn’t much room under there to move my legs to weave. Note the shuttle I’m using has two bobbins.

The loom with the horizontal pattern storage system

DSC00337The pattern shafts sit behind the two plain weave shafts. The pattern shafts rest on a suspended frame.

DSC00502

We saw a lot of bundles consisting of beater, and a number of sticks with heddles on them with a short warp threaded through hanging on walls near the looms. Obviously each bundle was for a particular pattern. It was also possible to buy bundles in a market.

As I have mentioned the warp threads were knotted onto the threads in the bundles enabling the pattern shafts with their stored pattern sequence, plain weave shafts and beater to be set up in one go.

The shafts for plain weave had a bar top and bottom. It needs to be tied above and below the loom to enable the alternate plain weave rows to be raised or lowered.

The pattern heddles had only a stick at the top.

I did not see any weaver setting up their own patterns. No doubt a skilled weaver would be able to do so.

This is the weave sequence that I used when I got to sit in one of these looms and weave.

  1. Raise the pattern shaft required. Insert the sword. Lay it flat behind the plain weave shafts.
  2. Weave the first plain weave row.
  3. Stand the sword on its edge and weave the pattern row.

The pattern row may be repeated twice, with alternate plain weave rows between.

DSC00338

The number of pattern sticks denotes how complex a pattern is. The pattern sticks are moved forward or backward in sequence. Sometimes only a part of the sequence may be used so the full repeat need not be used from the first to last stick. The next pattern stick to be used was adjacent to the one being used. This pattern requires 40 pattern sticks.

http://youtu.be?j-AhXloUL_g
The loom with the vertical storage system

DSC00243 - CopyVertical storage system using sticks. The weave pattern can be clearly seen.

DSC00745Instead of sticks the pattern is held by a looped string which can be hooked over the nails in the side of the frame. This allows an even longer pattern repeat to be stored as it takes up less space than the sticks. The system works the same as when sticks are used.

Each warp thread passes through the ‘eye’ of a heddle on the vertical storage system and through one on the plain weave shafts (alternating). The warp is set up on the loom and tensioned before creating the stored pattern sequence. The very long heddles are anchored near the floor and at the top of the loom frame.

DSC00715

To set up the pattern sequence, a pick up stick is used to select the pattern threads.

DSC00719

These are then transferred to the back of the loom using a sword.

DSC00726

And then the threads on the sword are transfered to the pattern storage system by a stick which is then replaced by in this case a looped thread.

DSC00710

 

The same sequence as before is used: weave plain weave, pattern (pick up) etc. The stored pattern the sequence moves from below to above the warp threads and back again. The pattern heddles are pulled forward so that the sword can efficiently select the stored pattern.

The looms with vertical storage were more prevalent than horizontal ones.

Some interesting observations.

On two looms there was a means of spacing the warp evenly across the width. All other looms had no means of doing so.

DSC00433

 

DSC00488

Note the padding on the top beam to stop rubbing of the warp threads.

DSC00417

A bamboo storage holder for multiple shuttles. I’d also seen this in Northern Vietnam.

Shuttles that could hold two or three bobbins so that a thread may be woven doubled.

DSC00519

In one weaving space where they were weaving hand spun cotton, the warp thread was sized in rice water to prevent the cotton from fraying and breaking. One lady here was doing an interesting thing. After she had advanced the warp, she brushed it with a stiff bristled brush to separate the warp threads. Maybe she was having trouble with warp threads sticking together. No one else was doing this so may be this was just a problem warp. But then she ran a piece of bee’s wax over a weaving sword and smoothed it back over the warp threads: in essence putting back on a type of sizing.

DSC00426

There was an interesting variation with a loom where a lengthways border was being woven with a vertical storage system. Only part of the width of the warp required pattern shafts. These were suspended above where they were required.

DSC00431

On the same loom as the one previous, 2 knots were being used to tension the warp. This was a very wide warp as the width being woven was the length of the skirt. The border ran around the hem. This was one of the two looms using a spacer for the warp at the back of the loom. The two knots would have made tensioning the warp across the full width more consistent. I did not note whether the pattern section was grouped in one knotted warp. If this were the case, it would allow for any variation in take up of the pattern verse plain weave only as they were being woven.

DSC00736Discontinuous weft threads are inserted in the pattern row. The pattern row may be selected by either the horizontal or vertical storage systems.

DSC00655This was an interesting variation on the basic loom. Note that the warp runs at an angle to the ground and is extended at the back. The warp is still knotted at the front of the loom with the warp in a suspended bag.

DSC00508A suspended bundle of beater and shafts with the remnant of the last warp knotted in place enabling the next warp to be knotted on and then pulled through.

DSC00200It is worthwhile to note that we only saw one weaver using a back strap loom on this trip. It was used for demonstarting weaving at Patricia Cheeseman’s studio and rolled up after the demonstration was complete. Based on what we saw on the rest of the trip, one would suggest that it was used for convenience sake, and perhaps not a typical loom used by her weavers.

DSC01134 (600 x 400)

Inspired by the looms of Laos, I’ve decided to have a bit of a play. There’ll be more about what is happening here next month, but here’s a bit of a taste of things to come.

 

 


January 2015

February 25, 2015

The end of January into early February was time for an adventure: a textile tour into Northern Thailand and Laos by Active Travel with Valerie Kirk. It was an amazing trip. There were 15 of us and we travelled from Chiang Mai up to the Golden Triangle and the border with China and then to Luang Prabang, a World Cultural Heritage town. I do not intend writing a travel journal. In fact this will be the only tourist photo I’ll share and with a bit of imagination it could be classed as textiles. It is just too good a photo opportunity to miss.

1.DSC00150

The Umbrella Making Centre in Chiang Mai is a major tourist destination.

For this post I will analyse my field notes and report and comment on various textile aspects. As a starting point, I’ll identify the ethnic minority groups we came across. I was struck by the many commonalities that there were here and on my trip to Northern Vietnam. In reality I shouldn’t have been, as the borders imposed on countries have little relation to the movement of people. For instance the Hmong in Vietnam are similar to the Hmong of Thailand and Laos. They can be picked by their very distinctive clothing especially those pleated skirts, batik and embroidery.

2 DSC00830

These Hmong skirts were in the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC), a museum in Luang Prabang. A museum is a very good place to research traditional costume. There’s a list at the end of this post for museums in Laos and Nth Thailand.

Other minority groups we saw included Tai Dam, Tai Deng, Tai Lu/e, Yao, Lanten, Akha, Lo Lo and Kmhmo. I must admit I found the spelling of some of these groups tricky as sometimes I hear them spelt differently and sometimes I’ll even see them spelt differently.  It is interesting to see how costume is evolving. I have posted the costume as seen on our travels. Of course a more elaborate and full outfit could be used for major life events (weddings and funerals etc). While full historical costumes can be seen in museums, I have recorded here ‘living’ costumes as we saw them.

3 DSC00441

Akha ladies are the most committed sellers. They will approach you on the street, in a cafe, at the place you are staying.

4 DSC00389

These young girls entering the village of Nam Mai where some sort of celebration was happening gave a new take on their traditional Akha outfits. There was lots of glitz.

5DSC00379 b

Yao ladies are immediately recognizable by the red pile and elaborate headdress . The flowers on the baby’s hat are to protect from spirits. Here the older children wore western dress.

7 DSC00256

Tai Dam in traditional dress. The heavily patterned skirt can just be seen.

DSC00244 (600 x 400)

The woven fabric for the skirt. The complex pattern is achieves by  supplementary discontinuous wefts. This is extremely time consuming to weave.

8 DSC00675b

The elaborately patterned skirts are instantly recognisable as traditionally belonging to Tai Dam. They are a very common sight and would have to be the most frequently seen throughout our trip. Quite often anything goes on top. The skirts are colourful and attractive and easy to wear. It is interesting to note that Loas government policy that ‘traditional’ skirts or Sinh be worn for government jobs and that it is in general encouraged for other work and formal occasions. As this policy is so widely accepted, perhaps using a skirt as a form identification is not a reliable guide. A question may be asked about the future of traditional dress for other ethnic minority groups and the impact of this policy. They do not have these elaborate skirts. Sometimes they are plain. Other groups also wear trousers as traditional dress.

You will still see the use of traditional dress. However the incidence of its use is reducing, as Western clothing is becoming the norm and is even readily available in markets. Sometimes there is just an echo remaining.

9 DSC00365

A Hmong mother uses a traditional baby carrier.

10 DSC00544

According to TAEC, the Khmu no longer wear traditional dress however the use of head bands for carrying heavy loads identifies this group. These ladies have harvested grass and taking it back to be dried, often on the side of the road. The traffic helps to loosen the seeds so that it can be made into brooms.

Sometimes you have to be fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I am including the following as they were a way of getting traditional cloth out into the wider community.

In Chiang Mai we were fortunate to be there at the same time as the ASEAN conference, held at Payap university. While we did not participate in any of the conference, we did get to see a wonderful exhibition of textiles representative of the ASEAN community..

DSC00142 (600 x 400)

Again in Chiang Mai we heard that there was an exhibition in a shopping centre. What an opportunity to connect with the young and the general public! Traditional old clothing was combined with contempoary accessories. There was a sense of excitement and engagement.

DSC00208 (600 x 400)

At one of the local restaurants, Hive, in Luang Prabang we caught a fashion parade. The young fashion designer had taken traditional fabric and interpreted it into contemporary dress. The parade presented garments using very traditional fabric  and strong links to ethnic styles through to a range of very contemporary garments which had reference to tradition but with no actual ethnic clothing. The market was for both the tourists and new age locals.

DSC00820 (600 x 400)

 

I have found it an interesting exercise to try and assign aspects of textile production with an ethnic group. The following alignment of production and ethnic group is based purely on what I have seen.

Dyes and the dyers: Hmong, Tai Lue and Tai Deng.

The group participated in a natural dye workshop in Ban Phieng Ngam with some Tai Deng ladies. We used four dyestuffs: fresh indigo, teak leaves, sappan wood and annatto seeds.

11 DSC00304

Fresh indigo achieved green though a beautiful turquoise can be achieved. Colour variations are achieved by season, the addition of ash water or rice wine. We got only green as much as we’d have preferred that turquoise.

12 DSC00294

Fresh young teak leaves dyes to tan/ yellow. This was a beautiful mushroom colour.

13 DSC00306

Annatto seeds dye orange. The seed case is shown.

14 DSC00309

The seeds from the case.

15 DSC00311

Sappan wood gives red.

Silk handwoven scarves were provided for the workshop. They were pre-mordanted in alum (solid crystal) at ratio of 15 g alum: 10-15 litres of water. I decided I really needed to sample all dye baths so cut mine into four. The rest of the group elected to do various forms of shibori.

16 DSC00299b

The indigo leaves were pounded with a little water. The leaves were scrubbed to extract the indigo for about 15 minutes till frothy and strained. The fabric was added and indigo bath worked vigorously through for about 10 minutes.

17 DSC00320

All the other processes involved the use of fire. The teak leaves must be fresh and young. 20-30 were needed for half a pot of water and simmered to extract colour. The leaves removed, fabric added and simmered for 10 minutes. A similar process was done for the annatto seeds. The sappan wood was shredded and boiled for 1 hour. Colour could have been altered by using rusty nails or ash water. The wood removed and fabric added before being simmered for 10 minutes. Susan and I stir the pot.

18 DSC00324

One of the washing lines with our samples. After dyeing, they were allowed to dry before being rinsed.

DSC00994 pieced dyed scarf (600 x 356)

When I got home I reassembled my four dyed samples into a scarf.

The familiar blue indigo:

19DSC00644

 

20DSC00643

We saw a number of indigo baths and indigo yarn and skeins on lines. This was in the Tai Lue village of Ban Nu Nyang.

21 DSC00272b

A Lan Ten lady stitches while she waits for the indigo process.

22 DSC00700

This wonderful display of natural dyed yarns was at Ock Pop Tock. The colours from right to left were obtained from: Sappan wood (a) fermented, (b) with ash water, (c) with rusty nails, annatto seed, turmeric, jack fruit wood, mak beau, lemon grass, teak leaves (a) dry, (b) fresh, indigo (a) and (b).

Resist dyeing of the yarn. Examples of weft ikat were in museums. The technique is called mudmee (Mat mi). Contemporary weavers and companies are also drawing on these skills.

23 DSC00203

These weft ikat scarves were inspired by traditional ikat. (Patricia Cheesman)

24 DSC00631

In this Tai Lue village, hand spun cotton is being dyed in indigo as a skein. The pattern shifts as it is woven with at some points it being recognisable and at others random. Both weft and/or warp ikat are being done. It appears that this village may be supplying a specific market. It is unlikely that this style of ikat would be traditional.

25 DSC00464

In the marketplace it is possible to buy resist dyed yarn. I did see evidence of this being included as a stripe element in a more complex fabric. Again this would be an evolving development.

Looms and the Weavers: Tai Lue, Tai Deng, Tai Dam and Lo Lo.

The looms have the same framework with the basic operating method being the same. The difference is in the method of storing pattern.

26 DSC00255

A loom with a vertical storage system As each pattern row is selected, the pattern sticks (or strings) move from top to bottom or vice versa. Two plain weave shafts are at the front and attached to treadles. These looms are used by the Tai Lue. They are also used by western organisations and were in fact the most prevalent loom. The pattern storage system can be identified in the image as those long vertical white threads in the middle of the loom.

These looms are required to make complex patterns. A greater number of pattern sticks can be stored more conveniently than in the horizontal system.

27 DSC00788

A Tai Lue weaver holds a scarf she’s woven using a supplementary weft. Notice her heavily patterned skirt in a discontinuous supplementary weft pattern which would also have been woven on this loom.

28 DSC00466 b

The Tai Lue also use this loom to weave tapestry bands used in combination with complex patterned stripes.

29 DSC00338

A loom with a horizontal storage system. As each pattern row is selected, the pattern sticks move from front to back or vice versa. Two plain weave shafts are at the front and again attached to treadles. These looms are used by Tai Deng, Tai Dam and Lo Lo.

30 DSC00413

Plain weave requires just two shafts. The effect of this weaving is achieved by pure use of colour. Three young Tai dam or Lo Lo girls (The villages ran together so it was hard to differentiate groups especially when there is no costume reference) weave together. One weaves while the other two prepares bobbins. Then they rotate jobs. It is great to see the younger generation weaving though I must admit the incidence was rare.

31DSC00336

A Tai Dam supplementary weft pattern in the same colour as the plain weave. 40 pattern sticks were required for this pattern. There is also a supplementary weft inlay motif.

Embroidery: Hmong and Lan Ten.

32 DSC00366

A Hmong textile in reverse appliqué. This is a very contemporary piece but draws on traditional techniques.

33 DSC00351

The Lan Ten are very accomplished embroiderers. These coasters were very much aimed at the tourist market and seemed to have been made by a wide selection of ages. One saw stitching being done in the marketplace so it is an easily transportable technique.

Gold embroidery. In the era of Royalty, gold embroidery flourished. The start of the Democratic Replic of Loas in 1975, resulted in things royal becoming out of favour and the practice declined. In recent years it has made a resurgence with work being commissioned for bridal wear, dignitaries, buddhist rituals, individual commissions including art work. We were fortunate to see the work of Nithakhong Somsanth. He initially studied with his grandmother but has also several degrees from paris and USA. His work is extraordinary. As well as working in the traditional style he also does contemporary gold work.

DSC00881 (600 x 400)

Gold embroidery on velvet.

DSC00870 (600 x 400)Some of the tools of the trade. Note the piece of traditional gold work.

Other Textiles

34 DSC00472

This yarn is produced from Kheuapiad, a “jungle vine” in much the same way that linen is.

35 DSC00476

It may also be dyed. A darker, coarser, thicker yarn is produced from the Yaboi tree.

36 DSC00478b

It is then netted, crocheted or knitted into a textile by the Kmhmo.

Noteworthy establishments (in no order but rather as we came across them)

Thailand

Bank of Thailand Museum (Chiang Mai). There’s an extensive collection of Thai costumes and coins. A little known treasure even by the locals. Email for times and details: Jirawang@bot.or.th

Patricia Cheesman (studio) and Naenna (retail outlet). She has worked closely with local dyers and weavers to produce contemporary textiles of high quality and design. www.studio-naenna.com

Laos

Tribal Museum (Muang Sing) Opening hours were difficult to establish but a wonderful collection and documentation of ethnic costume.

Productivity and Marketing Centre of Oudamxay. A government initiative aimed at drawing people away from the production of opium poppy. They approach villagers to see if they would be interested in textile production and then implement. Great quality in textiles, woven bamboo purses and bags and products from the Kheuapiad and Yaboi tree. www.pmc.oudomxay.org

Ock Pop Tok (Luang Prabang) means east meets west because the owners, Veomanee Duangdala and Joanna Smith are from both. The studio has static displays, a space where weaving production occurs, teaching facility and shop. There are two retail spaces in town. www.ockpoptok.com

The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (L. P.)is a nonprofit museum dedicated to the collection, preservation of traditional crafts and lifestyle. It is conducting an interesting interview project where local members in a community interview their own community on some cultural aspect. Great costume display. www.taeclaos.org

Le Pavilion de Jade. (L.P.) Aimed at a high end market, scarves and wraps are in handspun silk dyed in natural colours. They look “plain” yet definitely classic.

Kin Thong Lao Silk. (L.P.) Contemporary and traditional hand weaving from Xan Tai Village.

Handcrafts Centre of Ban Phanom (outside L.P.) No weavers were working but an extensive display of textiles.

Mulberries (L.P.) owner is Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong. She has a long time commitment to the production of silk and traditional weaving. www.laosilkandcraft.com

Kopnoi. (L.P.) Owner works with local artisans to produce textiles, accessories and homewares. www.kopnoi.com

A review on the position of hand weaving in the communities I’ve visited.

Because I am a hand weaver I am always interested in the position of hand weaving in a community. In Australia, with various institutions closing and courses being downsized, it is a concerning trend for the future of hand weaving. Both nationally and internationally (USA and Canada in particular as I have had contact there) universities, colleges and other educational institutions (and my past experience at Sturt is included) all show the trend for lack of opportunity to learn weaving. A comment from many guilds is that there are fewer young weavers coming through and fewer people wanting to learn. However I guess we do expect those countries with a strong tradition in textiles eg in South East Asia to exhibit a strong presence of hand weaving. The following summarises my thoughts on what I experienced.

The presence of traditional ethnic minority dress in both daily life and for the tourist does require the maintenance in the main of traditional skills. However there is some incidence of elements being able to be bought in the market and then assembled: base cloth, braids, embroidery.

It is hoped that traditional ethnic dress is seen to be an essential component in the celebration of life events such as weddings, funerals and other significant ceremonies. I have no first- hand experience of the extent to which this is true though I heard it mentioned. If this is the case it could result in the production of a textile with a greater skill component. However whether it is created by the person who requires it or by an outside source may be another question.

Museums and private collectors encourage the acquisition and thereby the production of traditional costume and textiles. Of course some of these are old textiles but there are also new being produced. Vicki acquires a full Lanten costume. (Photo Kaz Madigan)

_DSC7994 (Medium) (400 x 600)

While the Laos government policy of requiring traditional Sinh or tube skirts to be part of a government dress code may have a detrimental effect on some ethnic minority traditions, it does mean that the skills of weaving often supplementary weft patterned skirts is encouraged.

I am sure the use of traditional dress to market textiles or other ethnic goods is recognised by minority groups. This will continue to encourage its production. One catches the occasional glimpse of women stepping into their skirts as tourists arrive. Nor do the Akha ladies need an introduction when they approach you to sell. I am also sure that for some ladies what we saw them wearing is their garment of choice.

The ready availability of western dress in even the remotest of villages does mean that this has become increasingly the norm. A mixture of traditional ethnic dressed and western dressed women is common in many villages. It does vary between ethnic groups and between individual villages. Rarely does one see a man, a child or adolescent dressed in even an element of traditional dress. In all reality one cannot blame them for choosing to buy something that is cheap, very readily available and requires no commitment to time or energy and skill to create. Mass communication and globalisation has certainly impacted. The same applies to other household textiles. Chinese produced blankets were a very common sight. The readily available mass produced alternative textiles of course impacts greatly on the need to weave or use other textile techniques.

Tourism drives the production of a range of textiles including those woven in ethnic minority villages. Often in one village they utilise similar patterns and techniques though varied in colour. A visit will result in women bringing out large numbers of textiles. As we arrive they may come to greet us with either their bags of textiles or them draped over their arm. Alternatively they may have a more permanent display of poles to drape them on. A visit to a weaving village provides the opportunity to see weaving being done as well as an opportunity for selling. This has a double advantage as the tourist is educated in the process of weaving and its presence enforces the concept that these textiles are authentic and are produced ‘here’. I did note that in a village one weaver was selling for a relative further away. This may explain the presence of a textile that is different. A variety of textiles may mean that a form of trading is occurring.

On the banks of the Nam Ou River, this village is well set up for the tourist visitor. Most houses have a rail for the display of scarves. Weaving of traditional styled scarves is obviously a very profitable trade here.

DSC00617 (600 x 400)

Some villagers are more aware of catering to the demads of the tourists. Some villages provide rolls of hand woven indigo dyed cloth. This weaver in this village went one step further and catered for tourists buying indigo hand spun hand woven cotton cloth by the metre. A new product has been developed.

DSC00658 (600 x 400)

Markets and shops in towns and cities provide an alternative point of contact for ethnic minorities to sell their textiles and is easily accessed by all tourists, not just those interested in textiles specifically. One does have to be aware of the danger of not buying authentic textiles. Some imports are easily identified; others require a more discerning eye. There are even printed textiles that look woven or batik from a distance.

Shops and markets in Laung Prabang have a sticker to identify those woven in the area. Is it foolproof? One hopes that the market is ethical in it’s use of stickers.

DSC00991crop (600 x 371)

Some designers, international experts and organisations are working closely with villages to produce work for their outlet. In some cases the textiles have strong links to the past. In others the designs are produced for the villages to weave, dye or embroidered. In some cases the textiles are a traditional format, while in others new product is being produced obviously for the tourist market. Mostly they are using traditional skills as a design base. In some areas people are being approached to develop new work, potentially learning a new skill (eg spinning and netting the Kheuapiad vine by the government ageny:  Productivity and Marketing Centre of Oudamxay). Quality control is usually emphasised.

DSC00682 (600 x 400) turnedThis contemporary transparency wall hanging in Ock Pop Tok (Luang Prabang) has been developed for the tourist market. The materials include non tradional elements as well as silk. The transparency technique is certainly non traditional but the inlaid supplementary discontinuous weft has its roots in tradition.

In one village I found an anomaly. It was hand spun and woven and dyed in indigo. But there was resist dyeing after weaving /shibori tie dye style. I had not seen it before or later on. I bought it because it was obviously a product of a foreigner teaching a new skill. If the market drives textile production, will my buying mean that this new textiles will become more prevalent? The weaver and then delail of the scarf.

DSC00642 (600 x 400)

DSC00988 (600 x 400)

We did hear instances of foreign companies commissioning textile production. One example was for hand spun, indigo dyed hand woven in plain weave fabric for the Japanese market. The entire community was involved in this production. I wonder if any traditional textiles were produced here or were the entire weaving focus on filling orders.

There was several examples of weaving communities obviously working at supplying specific markets. This weaving group has ten looms and mass producing plain weave hand spun cotton textiles in various stripes.

DSC00525 (600 x 400)

Copyright is an issue. I saw a textile that I was told was produced for a particular designer. Later on I saw versions of this same scarf. This means that designers have to stay innovative.

It is an interesting point to ponder: How is tourism affecting the future of weaving? Obviously market demands whether for the locals, tourists or for foreign import will drive textile production. Demand for textiles will encourage weaving (and other textile production) to continue and will encourage weaving to be perceived as a means to earn income and thereby have prestige. Textile work does allow people to stay in their villages. It allows employment in urban towns. People will perhaps want to weave. On the other hand how will market demands impact on traditional skills, patterns and textile tradition? Some weaving techniques (in particular supplementary discontinuous weft) are extremely slow and require great skill. These textiles will also need to be valued for them to be continued to be woven.

Who are the weavers? They are women, in the main not the very old nor the very young. Eye sight impacts on the older weaver. I saw in one village girls of late teens weaving. This occurrence was so out of the ordinary that it was noted. Traditionally the young would have been taught by their mothers and the tradition continued. We spoke to one woman who was in charge of a weaving community. She has 3 daughters. None of them weave. They all work for the government. This is not an isolated occurrence. The women we saw weaving must value the ability to bring income in. They are encouraged because of this. Do they weave all year round? Traditionally the time set aside to weaving was driven by the demands of agriculture. They fitted it in. That would probably still be the case in some villages. One could also suspect that where there is commitment to outside organisations that this may be changing. Maybe the weavers weave all year. This potential change may also be supported by change in agriculture production: different demands, mechanisation etc. Change is potentially universal. I did not confirm in any village whether this was the case and how or if time spent in weaving has changed. This is purely my supposition.

Nothing is surer: textile production is dynamic and never stays still. We cannot expect what the villagers to have been producing 20 years ago to still be what is woven now and into the future. Technology improves. Materials change. Weavers want to perhaps weave new textiles. Values change. Communities evolve. Consumers want textiles of a certain type, whether they are traditional or something new. The outside world intrudes. What does the future hold for weaving here? I guess time will tell.

Next month: Weaving, looms and all aspects relating to it in detail.