Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ock Pop Tok// East Meets West

   If you didn't notice by reading my previous post, I am newly obsessed with the silk making process and workings.

   Last week, I was able to visit a mulberry farm in Phonsavahn, Laos and learn all about it! This week, I got to join in the process while in Luang Prabang and learn how to weave silk- just like the Lao women, who start weaving at age 10!

   First, a tour of the beautiful facility where I would spend two full working days:

   After that, it was straight to work! First step: learning about the natural dyes. We each got to choose three colors to make and dye our own silk with!

   I went for Indigo- made from fermented indigo leaves, Monk Orange- made from annato seeds, and Chartreuse- made from lemon grass!

   After dipping and dyeing and washing and drying, we had a nice lunch, then we were on our way to spinning and weaving!

   Spinning: something that looks so simple, but takes a lot of getting used to! I had a hard time with this, but on day 2 (after convincing him to join me) Eliad was a pro his first time spinning silk!

   Weaving came a lot more natural for me and once I started, I never wanted to stop! I am not a weaving master like the ladies who have been weaving silk for 40+ years, but I am aspiring to be in the near future!!

   On Day 1, I was able to weave about 40 centimeters; 1/3 of the total length of the scarf- 120 centimeters:

   Day 2, after having some delicious Lao coffee with sweet milk, I went straight to work! Eliad went on to learn about dyeing silk as I did the day before, then after lunch we were weaving side by side.

My teacher, Papaing, overseeing. 
Eliad's final product (below): 50 centimeter placemat! He had more fun than expected and the ladies enjoyed laughing at him the whole day!

My final product (below): 120 centimeter scarf! I am still undecided if I will try and wear it or hang it on a wall.

   We both added silkworm cocoons to show our product was made 100% from silkworms, I think it adds a nice tribal feel to the scarf.

   In all, if you ever get the chance to take part in a silk weaving class, know that it comes highly recommended by me! Find out more @ Ock Pop Tok.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mulberry Bliss

   A few days ago, while in Phonsavahn, Laos, I discovered an organic Mulberry and Silk farm just outside of town. I felt obliged to see what it was all about since it is a world where fashion textiles and nature combine. I was not disappointed!

   In fact, I loved it so much, I am going to look for an organic farm everywhere else we go, on this trip and when I get back to the states, to visit and possibly work!

   We have been exploring nature quite a bit during our time in Laos; going to caves and waterfalls, but being on this beautiful, serene farm surrounded by acres and acres of mulberry trees (which you could pick the fruit from and eat on the spot) and colorful, exotic flower gardens, is the first time I have really felt "in touch" with nature.

   When I am trekking through the jungle I am just paranoid about leaches and dying, but here, I was able to (and forced to) relax and breath in the fresh air and floral scent that surrounded me and I never wanted to leave.

 The guide taught us the entire process of creating silk from harvesting the silkworm egg to the final woven product- a truly fascinating process! In the Rearing House, they have rows and rows of silkworms at every stage: egg, day 1-3, and cocoons.

   Below, you can see the Lao women spinning the silk after boiling the empty silkworm cocoons. They still spin and weave the silk daily by hand without the help of any large mass-production machines other than the one pictured below which is used only for very large export orders.

   They even make their own organic dye for the silk from all of the beautiful flowers on the farm!

   Most of the women who weave the silk are from three different ethnic groups in Laos: Black Tai, Red Tai, and Lao Phuan and on average, weave 1.5 meters of plain cloth per day. Intricately patterned pieces take about 10 days and specialty items can take over a month! It is an art form that requires a lot of patience!

"No matter if she weaves as long as the length of a water beetle's wing,
Or the size of a gnats eye,
If she cannot finish, he may choose to wear the unfinished yarn.
But people say when she puts her palm down,
A pattern is already made.
When she turns her palm over, a motif is completed.
Leaning on her elbow, a lotus pattern is produced.
That is what people say;
That is why our young man wishes to marry her."

Traditional courting song, taken from Legends in the Weaving, by Douangdeuane Bounyavong hanging in the weaving house.


^on our playlist: Michael Kiwanuka- I'm Getting Ready// Mahogany Sessions