Thailand and Laos 2017

Thailand and Laos – day twelve (Luang Prabang, Monday)

Each morning I’ve been up earlier than the rest of my family to watch the monks process back to the temple. There is something about the routine that I am drawn to. Up just before dawn, watch the monks silently walking past – many of them only around Stella’s age, I suspect – and then I return to sit and enjoy coffee as the dark vanishes and light takes over. As nice as it is to be in a comfortable bed, starting the day early is highly appealing to me. Especially when it is not starting it early to the sound of an alarm clock then a closely timed getting ready for work routine.

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Yesterday morning the alms ceremony started a little later than usual, so I was able to take phone photos in better light.

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Fresh spring rolls for breakfast – delicious! The family started the day with a visit to Big Brother Mouse again for more conversation. Some of the same people are there every day, so there are some continuing conversations. I also feel that it is a way that we can contribute to the community.

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Our plan for the afternoon was to take a trip to the Ock Pop Top Living Crafts Centre to do some classes.  It’s not far out of town, and we travelled by small tuk tuk.  Stella enjoys the differences between the types of transport – this was a small tuk tuk, just for local trips, in contrast to the large one that we’d taken up to the waterfall the other day.

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As with the Ock Pop Tok shops in town, the Crafts Centre is absolutely beautiful.  The grounds are beautifully manicured, the displays of a very high standard, and unsurprisingly textiles abounded.  The location was spectacular, with the centre set on the banks of the Mekong.  It’s incredibly peaceful yet activity abounds.

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Clare and I had decided to do a half day weaving class.  Each of us needed to choose colours for the background and for the central pattern – and there were two choices of pattern as well.  Clare chose pink with silvery white, and I chose orange with gold.  Both of us decided on the Naga pattern.

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The first step was to wind the silk from skeins on to bobbins.  We needed four bobbins full.  The winder and swift were very light and wound quickly and effectively.  I’m glad that I’d had some experience in winding wool from skeins into balls of yarn at home!

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Another class on offer was a bamboo weaving class.  In Laos bamboo weaving is used to make all types of utensils.  Bamboo weaving is predominately a male occupation, whereas fabric weaving is the province of women.

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The design in the weaving is formed by following a pattern attached to the warp threads.  The photo below shows you one of the patterns.  There is considerable skill involved in setting up the warp threads on the loom – the actually weaving part of moving the shuttle back and forth is the easy part in many ways!  So although Clare and I “wove” a placemat each, really the master weavers did all the work!

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Clare got the hang of moving the shuttle back and forth quite quickly.  Right pedal down, shuttle in from the right, left pedal down, beat.  Left pedal down, shuttle in from the left, right pedal down, beat.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  Then we got to the part where the pattern began.  We were working from the wrong side of the design.  Each time the master weavers assisting us would move warp threads up according the pattern design, we would insert the appropriate colour shuttle under instructions, and so on.

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In the meantime, Dan and Stella were doing a natural dyes class.

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Dan was tie-dying his t-shirt with deep blue indigo, in a fairly random pattern determined at whim.  Stella wanted to dye hers light green, so she collected fresh leaves from the garden and pounded them to make light green indigo.  She made the pattern with triangular metal shapes that were clamped together before immersing in dye.

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It didn’t take very long for Stella to finish the dyeing process and leave her t-shirt drying on a beam.  So then she was determined to weave, and I was forced to surrender my spot to my nine year old.  We’d just finished the pattern, so Stella finished off pretty much all of the solid orange.  Apparently Lao women start at about Stella’s age (or earlier if watching over mum’s shoulder) so I suppose that her aptitude wasn’t surprising!

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Actually, both girls were pretty good at it.  Clare helped the master weaver with raising and lowering the warp threads to make the pattern on her place mat.

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While Stella continued to weave I was able to tour around the Centre and examine the exquisite batik being carried out by Mae, a Hmong woman.  Wax is applied to hemp fabric in intricately detailed patterns, then the fabric dyed with indigo.  It can then be later embroidered over parts of the batik design, and pleated into tiny fan pleats to make traditional skirts.

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The weaving shuttle are smooth to hold and the bobbins turn freely in them as the shuttle is passed from side to side in the loom.

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There are a multitude of weaving methods used to produce a wide variety of patterns.  Watching the master weavers at work is really rather incredible.  The amount of time, experience and knowledge that goes into producing these hand spun, hand dyed, hand woven textiles is astounding.  I’ll be going back to Ock Pop Tok to buy a piece or two before we leave Luang Prabang.

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We received comprehensive information books about the crafts done at the Centre.  There is plenty of information on the Ock Pop Tok website as well.  There were others doing one, two or three day dyeing and weaving courses.  It’s a wonderful place for anyone interested in textiles (and those who hadn’t really thought about them much before, like my husband!)

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From the Ock Pop Tok website: Village Weaver Projects are a series of initiatives that create economic opportunities for artisans in rural locations. We help develop ranges of handicrafts that combine craftmanship and tradition with artistic creativity and market knowledge. Our team of weavers, dyers, designers and tailors transfer their skills to aid artisans make a better living from handicrafts. Currently this work takes place in 11 provinces. Combining a passion for these deep-rooted cultures and the handmade traditions with our business saavy we are able to create thriving village enterprises. In most cases we work with a government or NGO partner.

The benefits: 

  1. The majority of textile artisans are women for whom textile production is only one aspect of their daily life and income. Supporting the businesses of women has been found to have significant benefits to their families thus reducing poverty more effectively.
  2. There are limited income generation opportunities in rural areas, therefore the strengthening of textile production businesses provides rural people with the opportunity to choose to stay in their community to improve their income rather than being forced to leave and reducing the amount of money that stays in the village.
  3. Textile production is a “value added” product that provides a much better financial return than selling the raw fibre commodities. Keeping this value adding within the villages strengthens their industry and income.
  4. Textile production in Laos has strong cultural significance. Much of the technical and esoteric knowledge is passed from generation to generation within the village and often has a distinct character from group to group. This means that there is a strong geographical link to preserving the cultural integrity of Lao textiles.

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We had dinner at the Ock Pop Tok associated Silk Road Cafe back in town after our class.  My meal was delicious – that a Long Island Iced Tea and lemongrass stuffed with herbed chicken mince in that photo.  Then it was back to the villa for a relatively early night.

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Clare has been on the edge of a migraine for the past day (she occasionally gets these) so needed some rest and ibuprofen.  It seems to still be there this morning so fingers crossed that she improves soon.  One of her holiday achievements so far has been to successfully swallow medicine capsules rather than needing the liquid!

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6 thoughts on “Thailand and Laos – day twelve (Luang Prabang, Monday)

  1. What a fantastic centre! I travelled in Laos in early 2003, and I can tell that there have been a lot of changes in the intervening years for the better; I remember trying to find high quality silks and traditional textiles, but there was just so much machine made synthetic fabric & garments for the tourist trade, and these centres weren’t operating then (or may have been and I missed them – horrors!). I’d love to go back and spend days learning the weaving and dying techniques. Thanks for the armchair travel!

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