family · Thailand 2014

Thailand day ten – Friday in Chiang Mai (part one)

Well, Friday was the day that many a sewist who is following along my adventures was waiting for – fabric shopping day!  We made sure that we partook in a sumptuous breakfast to ensure that we were all fuelled up for the day ahead.

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The wonderful Gaye arrived at my guest house at 9.00am, ready to take the whole family to check out the fruit, flower and fabric markets.  I was so pleased to finally meet Gaye in real life – and it turned out that she is a fellow Australian!  See, you don’t know everything about someone from reading their blog.  She has lived in Thailand for some time.  And it was wonderful to have a Thai speaker showing us around!

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We headed off to the markets in a sorng-taa-ou, the little red mini-bus/taxis that are very common on the streets of Chiang Mai.  You let them know where you want to go, but they will stop and pick up other passengers on the way if they want to go in the same direction.  They are a very cheap mode of transport.  There are still plenty of tuk tuks on the streets of Chiang Mai, and they act as a private service that takes you directly to your destination, but are more expensive than a sorng-taa-ou (around 100 baht for distances that we wanted to travel, versus 20 baht per person via sorng-taa-ou). Our first stop was at the fruit markets at Talat Warorot, Chiang Mai’s oldest marketplace. It was fun seeing which fruits we could identify and which we had absolutely no idea about. Do you know what all of these are?

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Just around the corner from the fruits were flowers. All sorts of flowers! Apparently many are brought down from where they are grown high in the mountains during the cool of the night, so that they are still fresh to sell in the morning. Gaye says that Thai people use flowers a lot in their everyday lives, both for offerings (especially the lotus flowers) and for decoration, and that they are affordable for the everyday person.

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And then it was around the corner to our locate fabric shop number one.

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This shop sells locally machine woven cottons. I loved that they were regional textiles, but also very useable for a Melbourne lifestyle. This is where I bought the first six fabrics from my previous blog post. I could have easily bought more, but knew that there were other fabric shops ahead – and knew that we have a luggage allowance that we want to stay below! The fabric varied considerably in weight and texture, as well as print. There were even a couple of unusual stretch fabrics in there. I found that the heat of Thailand was really influencing my choices – I couldn’t bear to buy anything that was too heavy or hot!

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From there we headed back toward the market proper, via a lovely little gift shop housed in this old building. Chiang Mai has been a very straightforward place to shop. Pretty much everything is fixed price, and the prices are extremely reasonable. No-one hassles you, everyone is helpful. It’s been a very relaxing place to be – even in its busyness!

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We found some shops that sold lovely ready made cotton and silk garments, many from hand-woven fabrics. These are still relatively expensive, at least as far as my budget is concerned. For example, these handwoven silk mudmee lengths of fabric, one yard wide and three yards long, cost 3500 baht apiece. That works out to around A$125. However, they are absolutely superb.

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Gaye and I had a wonderful time snoop shopping through the garments, checking out the details and the ways that panels, tucks, godets, yokes, seamlines and embroidery have been used to create truly unique and special garments. Many were rather Tilton-esque, we thought – and many aligned with what is often considered by sewists to be a Japanese aesthetic. We came to the conclusion that many were garments based on rectangles, with shaping introduced through the use of tucks, folds and seamlines rather than darts.

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Clare was thrilled to finally find a tie-dyed top that fitted her. One of the other great things about these markets was the colour and mixture of shape, pattern and texture almost everywhere you looked.

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By this stage the family was wilting. We needed food and drink, quickly! I looked across the road and realised that above the shop that I was admiring was a cafe. So over and up we went! Lunch was waffles for the kids, curry for Dan, and Pad Thai for Gaye and myself. It was a gorgeous little cafe, Nepalese in style, and it was a pleasure to spend a little time sitting there in the relative cool and considering what to do next.

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At this stage we took the route of the wise and sent Dan and Stella back to the guesthouse while Gaye, Clare and I entered the real fray of the market fabric shops. I think that the pictures really tell the story. Nothing is terribly well organised, bolts of fabric are closely packed together, there are no cutting counters – everything is cut by a helpful sales assistant who will be somewhere nearby with a one metre ruler and scissors – but boy, there are some gems at around a third of what you would pay in Australia. There are some rather dubious fabrics too – but isn’t that the case everywhere? I stuck mostly to cottons and linens, which are the most practical for my lifestyle.

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This woman was making self-covered buttons, in a variety of styles with a handy button press. She was very happy to demonstrate its use for us. The Thais don’t waste anything – she was using oddments to make the buttons, there are tailors around who do repairs as well as making garments from scratch, and many materials are recycled or used in different ways.

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And this is the cotton guipure lace that I adored but didn’t buy.  The colour is actually a sage/khaki, which was hard to photograph and would vary between  computer monitors.  I just could not figure out how I could use such a formal fabric in my everyday life. It was just divine, but I let it go. I’m still not sure if I will regret that or not.

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So, by this stage we’d been out for almost six hours. Phew! Into the tuk-tuk, and back to the guesthouse.

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I can’t really thank Gaye enough. As well as being a wonderful shopping companion and all-around friendly and generous person, she gave us many insights into the life of the Thai people and the way that the country works politically and socially. It was fascinating in many ways. Such a pleasure. And by the way, I wasn’t the only one who bought fabric….

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The next event for the day was Dan’s cooking class – but that is being saved for the next post! I wonder if I can get him to write it?

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12 thoughts on “Thailand day ten – Friday in Chiang Mai (part one)

  1. l am really enjoying your travel tales so much! Thanks for the fabric shop photos! Such a great insight into the fabric world of other cultures – and so nice to see a different side to Thailand. (Clare is such a trooper and go-getter. perfect little travel companion! I just love her big smile in the Tuk Tuk at the end of a long day!

  2. Oh Lara I loved this post so much! What a marvellous array to select from. As for that guipure lace, it’s all the rage in overshirts! I have two black ones – for summer and winter, and I wear them both!

    Your description of the after lunch part of your trip sounds like shopping in Cabbramatta – all fabric of questionable content, and salespeople with one metre rules and a pair of scissors cutting fabric vertically off the bolt!

  3. Im really envious, when I was in Chang Mai 6 years ago I had no idea there was so many Fabric shops. Thanks for sharing your holday, now I know to go back there!

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