May 2017: Textiles of Siem Reap, Cambodia

June 9, 2017

This is the final post on my textile tour to Laos and Cambodia in January/February 2017.

Siem Reap is the place to stay when you go to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is both a significant tourist destination, an engineering marvel from the Khmer Empire and an extremely significant Buddhist temple complex.

For those who go to Angkor Wat (and there are busloads!) keep your eye out for pattern.

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However the reason I was there was of course to check out some textiles. I had heard of some places where textiles could be found and that there was lotus fibre produced in the area. I also discovered others while I was there. For those places off the known tourist trail, I would recommend that you take with you the address and the phone number of your destination to give to a tuk tuk driver. Our driver was very obliging and willing to find out where these places were, often with a group discussion with a group of drivers. However we did also end up in interesting places.

A new and little known gem of a museum is the MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum. I was fortunate to meet with Prof (Mrs) Charu Smita Gupta who is the director of this museum and has been involved in its development since the beginning. This is an extremely well set out museum with 4 exhibition spaces. The museum represents textiles from countries on the two major river systems: the Mekong: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar as well as India on the Ganges. Exhibited are historical pieces as well as contemporary ones. www.mgcattmuseum.com

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Prof Charu Smita Gupta with Libby, Truda and I in the entrance at MGC. Photography is not allowed in the galleries.

Artisans of Angkor is on the tourist map. It is also a destination for school groups and that was very pleasing to see. On site in Siem Reap are some working studios as well as the gallery. The work in the gallery is exquisite and well presented. The working studios included carving on wood and stone, metal working including silver plating, lacquer work, jewellery, gold leaf and painting. There was a very sad static display of a loom to represent weaving. The threads were broken and the loom looked as if it couldn’t even work- not a very good advertisement for weaving or for weaving as representative of this place.

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Students watching stone carvers at work.

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The loom at Artisans of Anchor- not a very attractive example of weaving.

However if one has time I would recommend a visit to their offsite complex where the process from spinning through to weaving is very well represented. It certainly wasn’t clear at the facility in Siem Reap that this would be the case. There is very beautiful work produced here.

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Silk being reeled from the cocoons.

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Ikat being tied.

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An example of weft ikat being woven.

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The space housing many looms. It was extremely noisy.

The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) has a retail space and an area under the shop where the women gather and produce the woven textile. In the main, they are using natural dyes and producing traditional textiles. www.iktt.org

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A section of the gallery

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Documentation of the natural dyes that are used.

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Fabrics being woven with natural dyed yarn.

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Complex weft ikats were also being tied and woven.

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Here the ikat is being rebound after the first dye bath.

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An example of ikat after several dyebaths.

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Ikat on the loom.

I had heard about Lotus textiles before I had come to Cambodia and had spoken to Carol Cassidy about the yarn so some serious research came into play. There are many lotus farms. We even stopped and walked on boardwalks through the lotus.

We did eventually find the Lotus Farm by Samatoa, the organisation the spins and weaves textiles from the fibre. www.lotusfarm.org

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All stages of the process is well documented.

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We saw how the fibre is actually produced. After harvesting the lotus stems are cleaned.

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The fibre is extracted by breaking the stem and pulling out the fibre. Several fibres are then twisted together to make the yarn. Many hands are required to extract a small amount of yarn.

As each length is twisted it is collected in a basket. This yarn is then taken and skeined.

There were looms here but we didn’t see any weaving being done.

Closer to Siem Reap was the headquarters of Samatoa.

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Here it was obvious that negotiations were undertaken for commissions in lotus cloth. We saw some examples of it being used in combinations with other yarns and test samples of woven fabrics.

The lotus yarn is extremely expensive so combining it with other yarns makes sense. I must admit that the yarn itself is not necessarily inspiring (it has no lustre) however it is extremely valuable because of the limited quantities produced. It is marketed as a sacred fibre. Originally it was used to weave Buddhist monks’ robes. Samatoa also produces handwoven silk cloth.

The following are some additional observations that I found interesting.

I found the contrast between the speed used in weaving plain weave cloth and the slower approach to weaving ikats of interest. This was extremely evident at Artisans of Angkor.

What is also of interest is the variation of the treadles to what we would normally use.It appeared that these treadles were standard in this area. You can see them in the movie. Here’s another examples at Samatoa and IKTT.

Note the use of two hanging devices either side of the loom that hold the shafts up while they are needed for weaving. Complex twills can be woven using this system. It require two shafts that are treadled in combination with extra pattern shafts. The two treadled shafts are behind the ones that will be picked up. The operation of this system can also be seen in the movie.

This is the final instalment of the textile tour to Laos and Cambodia. Meanwhile in the studio much has been happening. The next blog will attempt to catch up on that.

 

 

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