Can’t believe this is the last blog post of the South East Asia Textile Research trip I did last autumn.
Part of me feels like I was there yesterday and another part feels like it was years ago, mostly because so much has changed since I came back.
After Myanmar I went back to Vientiane, Laos. Even though there isn’t much to see there and the accommodation is TERRIBLE, I wanted to go back to learn how to set up the loom and create my own pattern. Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women is an amazing place with the friendliest artisans and staff. I was there in October and I did a natural dyeing course and ikat weaving class. You can read more about them and about Vientiane here.
This time I stayed for a week, doing an intense six day weaving class. I learnt how to set up a traditional Laos loom which took me a day and a half, and then I learnt how to copy a pattern, set it up on a loom and weave it. I made a small table runner, using naturally dyed silk.
Here are some photos of the process:
Here is the finished piece, my teacher Chap, Sengmany the manager of Houey Hong and another artisan weaver (unfortunately I don’t know how to spell her name):
I wanted to share with you the process so here are some videos and my notes:
Warp: yarns stretched lengthwise on the loom, in a Lao loom they run away from the weaver, up and over her head.
Weft: the yarn inserted side to side across the warp to create the cloth.
Setting up the warp was probably the most difficult part of the weaving process. To make the warp, weavers have to calculate how many threads the warp will contain. The comb determines the width of the finished textile. Each comb has a certain number of teeth. On the Lao loom, each tooth of the comb contains two threads. Usually a scarf contains 400 warp threads (so did mine).
Usually weavers make a warp 50 metres long, however since I was only weaving for a few days we made the warp 10 metres long. This doesn’t mean that a woven piece is 10 or 50 metres long, when you finish you can always cut your piece off and continue creating using the metres left.
To prepare the warp we spun the thread on large spools. These were then put on a frame, which in Lao is called a kong kun, that holds 10 spools. The weaver then walks back and forth, holding the frame, and wrapping the silk threads around the supporting columns of the frame (this took me 2 hours, for 10 metres). The warp is then plaited (so it doesn’t get tangled) and put in a bag. The silk yarns have to be threaded through the heddles and comb and tied to the loom.
After preparing the warp, its attached on the loom, threaded through the comb and tied. Then weaving starts.
I was learning how to set up a pattern for supplementary weft weaving. The pattern is created by inserting an extra thread between each row of plain weave. Each time the weaver does a row of plain weave she lifts the warps threads and adds the supplementary weft thread. However, every time she lifts the warp threads, it’s following a pattern that has been already created in what is called “supplementary heddle“.
To create the pattern we have to count the warp threads and see how the pattern will fit on the width of the warp. To create the pattern you try different combinations out, often with trial and error, until it all fits, the way you’ve imagined it on your loom. The pattern consists of different rows, and in each row different warp threads are lifted. After preparing the first line of the pattern, you “save” the threads that have been picked up on the supplementary heddle, using a stick or thread. It’s very challenging and requires both a creative and a mathematical mind, as well as time and patience.
In supplementary weft weaving, the template for the pattern is kept in the pattern heddle. That is a grid of vertical and horizontal threads (or sticks) that hangs behind the two fixed heddles used for plain weaving. Each vertical string is looped above and below the warp string and each horizontal string is a “blueprint” for a row of the pattern.
To transfer a row of this pattern to the weaving, the weaver must take the first horizontal pattern string and use it to divide the vertical strings connected to the warp. Once these are divided, the weaver lifts the group closer to her, which in turn lift the corresponding warp threads.
The result is that some warp threads are raised and others are not. Then, the beam is inserted into the shed (meaning between the raised and lowered threads). When the beam is turned up, the shed is held open for the weaver to weave in the coloured pattern weft thread for that row of pattern. The supplementary pattern is created row by row.
In Laos, the patterns in a supplementary woven textile are always symmetrical. The weavers create half of the pattern bringing the horizontal pattern strings down through the warp. Once all the strings have been placed below the warp, half the pattern has been woven. This means the point of symmetry has been reached and now it’s time to start bringing the strings back through the warp and up, thus weaving the mirror image of the pattern woven so far.
The pattern is never lost and can be used for multiple pieces if needed. My pattern had only eight rows so it wasn’t that hard, however there are patterns that are made up of over 1,000 rows.
This was definitely the most challenging workshop I did while in South East Asia. I am really glad I had the opportunity to go back to Houey Hong in Vientiane and see the lovely artisans there. They really helped me understand all steps of the weaving process and this class was how I decided that I want to continue weaving and learn more about it even while I am back in Europe.
After Vientiane, I went back to Bangkok for two nights. I was flying from Bangkok back to London. It was my second time here as well, however I decided to go for two days to see a friend, go to my favourite bakery and also visit the floating markets which I didn’t have time to do last time I was there. (To read more about Bangkok you can read this blog post)
I stayed in a really nice airbnb, the hosts were lovely and the apartment was close to my favourite Landhaus Bakery, in a nice area, close to the underground.
While I was in Bangkok this time, I didn’t have a plan of what I was going to do. I walked around the area I was staying at, I went to Landhaus for breakfast, I visited two malls to buy some stuff I needed for my flight back. One of them was the Central Embassy building, which is a mall that has the most amazing bookshop on the top floor. It’s a mix of a gallery, bookshop and coffeeshop. I loved it there and stayed for a whole afternoon. I also did a massage while I was in one of the two malls, to relax and get ready for the eighteen hour flight I had the next day. I also went for dinner with Krista, a friend I met in Vientiane in October and who I also saw in Chiang Mai at the lantern festival (more about this here). It was a relaxed two days, which was exactly what I needed before flying back to London and reality.
I also visited theCommons - an amazing place that works as a gathering ground. Even though it is in central Bangkok it feels like it’s not, and getting there you immediately feel close to nature. The aim of theCommons is to “promote wholesome living and a true sense of community”. There is a market where you can eat food from all over the world, from Japanese ramen, to tacos, to poke bowls and Napoli standard pizzas. Except from food there are shops, vintage stores, record stores, florists, hair saloons, the best coffee (roots at theCOMMON), cocktail bars, etc. There is also a Play Yard with playgrounds for both children and adults. The people that I saw here were a mix of all ages and of all cultures. Tourists, locals and people that have moved to Bangkok for work from all over the world. It’s a happy place, full of opportunities. Workshops, get togethers, parties and lectures — something is always happening here! I definitely recommend you visit.
For my last day in Bangkok (my flight was at night) I arranged to go for a floating market visit. I looked at the different airbnb experiences and found this one. Here are some photos of what I saw while on this boat tour:
Tob was the host of this experience. He and his wife own a canal boat and love to take it out on weekends for a local market run. There were another 6 people also taking the tour. Tob was really nice and friendly, telling us about his background but also about the markets, Thai culture, food and customs. We saw many different types of markets along the canals as well as how local people spend their weekend around these canals. We tried many different fruits that Tob recommended and also had lunch. Tob recommend different foods to try and everything was excellent. I really recommend doing something like this while you are in Bangkok. You see a different side of Bangkok this way and it’s very unique. The whole experience lasted four hours.
This photo is a collection of the fabrics I naturally dyed, hand-wove and embroidered while I was in Asia these three and a half months.
This trip was eye-opening for me and I will always remember it and everything I learnt. My trip lasted exactly 100 days, I took five buses, twenty one planes, I spent hours on scooters, cars, boats and motorbikes. I took part in twenty amazing textile workshops in weaving, natural dyeing, embroidery, batik, bamboo weaving, macrame, embellishment and spinning and I loved every moment of them. I visited seven countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.
I had the best time travelling, I met amazing people, and learnt so so so much. This trip was exactly what I needed, and it made me feel stronger and much surer of what I want to do and how to continue my adventure with textiles...
Even though I shared everything I learnt and saw while I was in Asia, I will continue writing my blog. This trip helped me realise what I want to do, which was to start my own textile studio in Athens, Greece. From now on I will be sharing my experiences from Athens. I will keep writing about textile history, textile processes and all the new things I’m learning in Greece. Hopefully, you will follow my journey and learn facts about textiles, processes and techniques but also how much love goes into making something!
More coming soon!