Luang Prabang -Xang Khong village – Ock Pop Tok
The basic process of weaving fabrics, is the interlacing of horizontal threads over vertical ones. An interesting method that I have marveled at in the north of Laos – Luang Prabang.
I arrived in Luang Prabang on a Friday. Quite tired after these two long journeys on the Mekong river. Found a place to stay and met other travellers. My first impression of this place – it’s cute here and totally relaxed. The locals are easygoing and friendly, the environment is mellow. Walking around in the heat, resting in some places for a drink and listening to temple ‘beats’.
Couple of young buddhist monks, gathered in a separate building on the temple area and played religious music with a quite modern rhythm. They switched instruments between them and played constantly for about half an hour. Then they stopped playing and got back to ‘normal’.
THREADS OF TRADITION
Luang Prabang is also one of the weaving centers in Laos. You will find woven clothes, shawls, bags, wall hangings and other decoration objects everywhere in the shops and night markets. On my first day here I’ve already noticed the ‘Laotian’ style, most women wear the traditional skirt – Sinh.
The characteristic of Sinh is its tube form and the woven or embroidered patterns on the bottom of the garment. This is how you can identify from where they are. Typical patterns are ‘diamond’ or ‘naga’.
( photo found on wikipedia)
NAGA (water snake) – Buddhists respect nagas as protectors, their patterns on textiles would protect people who are wearing them from bad lucks or bad spirits.
DIAMOND – Diamond patterns representing ‘wisdom’. Combined with golden threads they can show the position of the woman in the society.
Nowadays Laotien ladies wear the Sinh with a Western-style shirt or for more formal occasions they pair them with a traditional blouse. The designs distinguish various ethnic groups.
Traditionally, sinh garments were made out of silk or a blend of silk and cotton. In the past they tailored them on their loom, but today it became a mass-produced product and you can find them on nightmarkets for little money.
These traditionelle skills are transmitted from generation to generation. About 3km from Luang Prabang is the weaving village called Xang Khong. It took me a longer bike ride that I thought because I got lost somewhere but eventually I found the village. It’s really basic, huts, rough stony paths, dogs, kids and in the backyards looms made out of wood and paper-making constructions.
The weavers selling their products in shops along the main road. I had a look here and there and had a crush on one of the skirts. It’s made and worn by one of the weaving ladies and it has its vintage look (even some small holes) in a grey, rose. The yarn is tie-dyed into patterns, this means it’s only one thread that has different colored parts and throughout the weaving process you can see the actually pattern. I couldn’t resist – 120 000 kip.
They use mulberry for paper making. Boiling them with ash, like this it becomes this light beige color. Then you have to pound the wood.
Afterwards it has to rest in the water before you can use it for paper making.
Drying, dipping, making the paper. In the end folding and cutting to create lamps out of it which you can find in their shops.
It was really interesting and I forgot about time. It was soon 5pm, so I left the village, said ‘Cabjailalai’ to everyone – the paper making woman who explained me everything, the woman who I sold me her skirt and the three little girls on the street where I bought a handmade braided bracelet – still wearing it !
Because while I was exploring the weaving village this nice lady (on the bottom photo) customized my skirt, which I bought me on the night market in town.
How everything began ?
On my first days here I walked around in Luang Prabang, fascinated by this ‘fashion’ that I bumped into Mee, she is working in a shop at the corner. I explained her that I like her skirt, a dark green one. She told me about her tailor, the woman that customizes all her skirts. Because this is something I didn’t know, you buy the fabric, kind of a tube. Once you have your ‘tube’ you actually go to a tailor and she will fix the buttons and tucks for about 80 000 kip. This is what I did – she measured my waistline and decided the skirt length by a cup of fresh water and a relaxing sit on the floor. I can pick it up around 5pm the same day, this were her words and I took my way to the village.
On my way back ‘home’ I stopped at her place. She wasn’t ready so she served me cold water and some bananas. Small talk with hands and a little bit of english. But we just needed to smile to understand each other. The big moment – trying the skirt. I haven’t the ‘normal’ laos size but my Sinh fits perfectly ! I’m happy, leaving her place with my new skirt and 3 bananas. Love it !
OCK POP TOK
All this wasn’t enough, I wanted to experience the weaving on my own. So I’ve visited Ock Pop Tok – the Living Crafts Centre. Meaning East meets West, was started in 2000 by a Laotian weaver and an English photographer. Since 2005 it’s a weaving and dyeing studio, craft school, and exhibition space. On site there is also a café, shop and small guesthouse. Their philosophy was and continues to be, to empower women through creating opportunities for their traditional skills, and promote Laotian textiles across the globe. That’s why you can find here wonderful woven silk scarves, wall hangings and clothing.
About 20 women working here and they get paid by piece not by working hours. Some pieces take about one month to finish. They are using patterns, which one of the ‘master weaver’ created, only a couple of them can do this. In the age of 9 years they learn about it. A tradition that is passed from grandmother to daughter to grandchild. Man’s don’t weave but they normally built the loom – a wood construction about 2m high and 2,50 large.
I tried it and I’ve to say I like it a lot but it’s hard work, coordination of feets, hands and don’t forget the right order for the pattern. And you really don’t want to lose a thread … Three hours of weaving and I made only 30cm of the pattern.
I’ve spend two days here and besides using the loom I had the opportunity to help a lady creating her wax painting indigo, called Hmong batik class. It is an introduction to Hmong culture where each student will create a wax resist, Hmong style design on hand loomed hemp. This was fun and they have beautiful patterns.
For more information and classes check out the website – www.ockpoptok.com
All good times come to an end so I was heading the south of Laos after 8 days in Luang Prabang, great place and people ! See you next time …