October 2015

November 4, 2015

Firstly as usual, student work and then there’s more on the Laos project.

This month I travelled to Go Create, halfway between Walcha and Uralla in the New England region of NSW. It is a stunning destination. They are offering a wide range of predominantly textile related classes. www.gocreatenewengland.com

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The six students explored weaving with recycled materials. Two were absolute new weavers, two had limited experience and two were more experienced. By the end of the first day, you couldn’t tell the difference in technique between the beginners and more experienced. I was delighted! I was also delighted by how enthusiastically they embraced using a wide range of materials, exploring methods of incorporating them into the woven structure. Three sessions explored specific techniques with the last allowing for individual exploration. The following shows the group and what was accomplished. This is followed by an image of individual students’ work. It was a great weekend.

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In the studio: Fleur finishes her scarf. This project was of her own design, using an aspect of the sampling from her first project.

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And she begins her third project. Fleur has acquired some silk to weave a scarf and wanted to do some warp painting. It’s also her first attempt at dyeing. She’s on an exciting journey.

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Now for the continuing Laos loom experiment.

Last month I got to the point of having the pattern stored. It is a relatively simple matter to transfer the stored design to weave the supplementary weft pattern.

Here’s a brief movie of a traditional weaver (Laos and Thailand) How to use a vertical storage system using bamboo memory rods. www.youtube.com/vNxPTl0sWVM

The process that I used: Remove the pattern stick from its support.

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Lower it closer to the warp. Swish it front to back till there’s a cleared gap.

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I put an extra stick in which is not as flexible to move the heddles at the front well forward, though traditionally this isn’t done. That extra stick is also insurance so that I can move the pattern stick to its next position: either above or below the warp and know that I’ll not have picked up or lost any of the stored design: in this case it is moved to below the warp line.

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With the pattern heddles moved well towards the front, it is a simple process to raise the selected heddles by pulling on them so that the sword can be inserted.

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When turned on its side the pattern row is ready to weave. This image shows the sword turned on its side behind the plain weave shafts and beater with the pattern shuttle in the shed.

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There are two pattern rows woven for each lift with plain weave between. You do not need to take the sword out. If it is pushed back, having the sword in has no effect on compromising the shed for the plain weave.

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I have used this basic process to also weave the brocade or discontinuous weft pattern. A pattern weft is required for each motif.

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When I saw the ladies in Laos weaving I enquired if they only used one foot. No one used two. Now I know why. It is much easier to control these free hanging treadles if a heel and toe action is used. The one foot controls the position of the treadles. They don’t move as much as the foot is always connected to both, all be it in a very minor way when not using one of them. It is all very motion efficient.

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As each pattern area is woven, the pattern sticks are moved above and below the warp line. When they are below, there’s no need for any support.

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Another pattern area is woven.

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The weaving is completed.

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Now to separate the scarf while making sure I retain the stored pattern. I may want to reuse this at a later date and with the Laos system, this is possible. I want to keep the vertical storage system threaded and able to be reused but without the stored pattern. Firstly, I reinsert the lease sticks as I want to be able to rethread this warp later for plain weave and using a more western set of shafts and further experimentation. These are moved to behind the vertical storage system and can be moved to the front when I’m ready.

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Then, I transfer the vertically stored pattern to the horizontal. In essence I use a similar method to when I was weaving, however keeping in the sticks in the warp. They are positioned as close to the plain weave shafts as possible.

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Once all the pattern sticks have been transferred, I carefully cut the warp between the storage system and the series of sticks, knotting on both sides.

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Once the knots have been undone, the entire collection of stored pattern, shafts, reed and woven scarf can be removed from the loom.

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Now to separate the stored pattern and scarf. Once the scarf is cut off, the warp in front of the reed is secured. I can now put the stored pattern to one side to be used at a later date if required.

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Finally I have completed the project. Some detail:

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This image shows my scarf with the original source of inspiration.

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Now that I have completed the project there are some points I want to explore. This loom has many similarities to a western drawloom in that both have two sets of heddles. One is to weave the plain weave base fabric, the other to select the supplementary pattern. One of the questions I have is: How do they compare and is there any difference in efficiency? This image shows the two sets of heddles on a drawloom. On the left are the shafts which will be used for plain weave. On the left are those for the supplementary weft pattern.

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For this project I have used the same warp though it has been threaded at a more open sett (density of the warp threads) to allow for the same warp and weft yarn to be used this time. I have also decided to keep to the original basic design although on a narrower width. The design for the pattern stripes is based on this scarf that uses the basic motif in an all over design and with some different stripe patterns.

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I have also decided to simplify the border and transition. The original requires about 40 pattern shafts. This simplified version, just 14 . Here’s the draft. For optimal weaving to provide distance between the plain weave and pattern shafts, I have chosen to start threading the pattern shafts on shaft 3.

Drawloom pattern

This is the process that I used to weave the pattern: The loom is threaded so that each thread that works in the same way will be on the same shaft. To weave a pattern row the warp threads on each shaft that makes up the pattern are selected. So for the first pattern row (the one at the top), I need to pull shafts 4, 5, 8, 11 and 13. This process needs to be done after every plain weave row. It is very labour intensive with multiple shafts being pulled for each pattern row every time one is required. There’s no stored design option here.

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The scarf nearly finished. All I have to do is weave 12 cm of plain weave.

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How did they compare?

Setting up to weave: On the drawloom, the warp was beamed and then threaded through firstly the pattern shafts and then the front plain weave shafts. I much preferred the other loom where I just knotted and tied on and then beamed the warp (after of course experimenting with the traditional method of handling a warp).

Using the pattern shafts to store the pattern: On the Laos loom, it was extremely slow to pick up and store the pattern on the sticks. Initially I did wonder about have the equivalent of these sticks on each pattern shaft on the drawloom. That would have meant that I could just pull one cord and the appropriate row be selected. However, the number of long eyed heddles would have been huge as each pattern repeat would have required 105 long short eyed heddles. There are 7 repeats. I just didn’t have them. So instead, I threaded it in a point threading on 12 shafts.

Using the pattern shafts to weave the pattern: See the descriptions above. On the drawloom, I had to select several pull cords to achieve the right combination for the pattern whereas there was just one bamboo stick for the Laos pattern row. Where the pattern was repeated a number of times, the Laos loom was the most efficient; it just needed the sword to be turned on its side after each plain weave row. The pattern sword stayed in place. The drawloom required a number of cords to be pulled each time. Because the Laos system was new, I got up for each pattern change. The ladies who do this normally just change from the seated position. If I didn’t do this, they would probably take about the same length of time. The pulling of the cords probably allows for a greater incidence of mistake as the Laos pattern is preselected.

Storing the pattern for another time: On the Laos loom, the pattern, plain weave and reed has been stored and can be reused to duplicate the next project. It would be possible to change the sett by rethreading. I’ll have to set up the drawloom from the beginning for another project.

As the drawloom has a number of pattern shafts there is more loom waste than on the Laos loom in its current format with all the pattern ‘shafts’ stored vertically.

By the way, I’m finding the Laos loom much lighter to weave plain weave than the countermarched action of the drawloom in spite of treadles that are not fixed.

Here’s a look at what I have just completed. The woven scarf with the original.

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My working collection: two original scarves with two that I’ve woven.

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There’s an exciting development in the studio. I have decided that I’m enjoying weaving “in the garden” very much but I do not enjoy being exposed to the wind and rain. I am now in the process of achieving the best of both worlds with the patio being weatherproofed.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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A Hmong mother uses a traditional baby carrier.

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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..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Annatto seeds dye orange. The seed case is shown.

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The seeds from the case.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

The familiar blue indigo:

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Gold embroidery on velvet.

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

Other Textiles

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

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

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.