About 120 kilometres north of the city of Luang Prabang, a village called Ban Tabu sits in the Nabak District of Luang Prabang Province. This village is home to the Tai Dam, a small ethnic group known for producing and weaving fine silks. We source the majority of the silk that is used by the master weavers at our Living Crafts Centre from this village.
In October 2017, our team visited Ban Tabu and witnessed the Tai Dam women reeling the silk from the cocoons by hand, a magical and labour intensive process. In most countries, silk is reeled by machine, but in Laos, most silk is hand-reeled. The process of hand-reeling silk begins with placing about 30 cocoons in boiling water. The women use a stick to stir the water, and as the cocoons move around, their filaments come loose and attach to one another. As the women take out the stick, a silk thread comes out of the water and is pulled through a bamboo frame that sits on to of the pot. It then passes through a small hole in the bamboo frame and where is it carefully wrapped and stored in bamboo baskets.
We are always looking for ways to deepen our partnerships with the villages that we work with and last week, we facilitated a great opportunity for the village of Ban Tabu. After much discussion with Ban Tabu, together we engaged in an opportunity to improve silk production in the village both in terms of quality of the yarn and speed of production.
We did a lot of research and eventually found Surindra Rajabhat University in Thailand. Surindra Rajabhat University is a public university located in the town of Surin. Located along the Thailand-Cambodia border, Surin is also known for producing fine silks. The University won a national award for designing yarn production machines, and through a grant, we acquired two of these machines: one for silk reeling and the other for twisting the silk into yarn, for the village of Ban Tabu!
Tuesday, June 26 was a full day of getting to know each other and the two machines. In the morning, representatives from the University, including the University’s Vice President and two faculty members from the Department of Electrical Technology and two from the Department of Production Technology, arrived at Ock Pop Tok. We gave them a tour of the Living Crafts Centre. As we discussed the process of silk production and natural dyes, we also talked about similarities and differences between Thai and Laotian weaving and designs!
In the afternoon, the village of Ban Tabu arrived and also toured our Living Crafts Centre.
Later in the afternoon, we exchanged gifts with each other and signed an MOU, or memorandum of understanding, between Ock Pop Tok and Surindra Rajabhat University to formalize the agreement.
Three students from the University also travelled from Surin to Luang Prabang and trained the village how to use the machines. The women were great students and enjoyed seeing the machines at work! The silk reeling machine will help to alleviate some manual labour and produce silk yarns with a more consistent and high quality. It also runs on solar power, which is more environmentally friendly than using an open fire to boil the silk. The twist machine twists silk yarns together with an even tension and speed. This will help the village produce a higher quality silk yarn. We’re already excited to see how this will play out in new products!
This exchange of silk production knowledge between the University, the village of Ban Tabu, and Ock Pop Tok is extremely energizing and truly showcases how cultural exchange can be done through textiles.