Weaving Communities ~ Isaan (อีสาน) ~ Part 2

Close-up woman with a camera, with colourful silks over her arm

Colours, Layers and Textures: Shopping for Surin Silks ~ Ban Khwao Sinarin

Isn’t the English language wonderful?  In the title “Weaving Communities” you probably read ‘weaving’ as an adjective – that is, communities that exist about or for weaving.  But, weaving is more usually a verb: the art of forming something, (a fabric or a fabric item; a basket, a story, a rug, a community…) into a pattern by interlacing long threads passing in one direction with others at a right angle.

Close-up of silk threads on a large loom

"Interlacing Threads at Right-Angles"

As I mentioned last week, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of villages in Surin; villages where both meanings are true. These are communities of weavers who produce beautiful textiles, and it is the act of producing these textiles that binds the community members together and allows the communities to grow and flourish while staying grounded in traditional values and practices.

Traditionally, women and girls produced silks and cottons for their household to use and to present to the local temple.  In the old days, bells were attached to the moving parts of looms, so that local bachelors knew that ‘a modest, hardworking, diligent girl’ who might make a good wife, was hard at work. Every village in Surin has at least one loom, and although weaving usually only takes place in the free time when the rice harvest is in, most villages these days manage to produce silk for sale, to supplement their meagre cash-crop income.

Some communities, however, have taken the traditionally sought-after Surin silks to a whole new level.  The first place we visited, Thasawang Silk Village, has been developed into an atelier of world standard by Ajarn Weeratham Trakulngernthai.  A. Weeratham studied Arts before returning to the village to expand the silk production there to such an extent that he was chosen to design and produce the gift-silks for the international leaders visiting Thailand for APEC, 2003. He also produces much of the silk used by the Thai royal family.

This community of artists is involved in every aspect of silk-making. One purpose-build open-air building houses two-story looms operated by three or four workers.

Elderly Thai Woman at the Head of a two-story silk loom

Experience at the Head of the Two-Story Loom

Thai woman at the head of a two-story silk loom

Concentration ~ Tying off Threads

Young Thai women at the sides of a two-story silk loom

Young Women at the Sides

Young woman

Young Woman in the Weave

One woman at the side, one women underneath, a two-story silk loom

Women at the Loom: Sitting at the Side and Standing Underneath

Colourful weft threads on a silk loom

Silk Thread: Weft ~ Warp ~ Weave

Unfinished weave of red, white and multi-coloured silk

Fine Weaving in Process

Golden Brocade Silk on a loom

Golden Brocade Silk

Five two-story looms at rest

Lunch Time! The Two-Story Looms at Rest...

Small scissors and tweezers on an unfinished gold embroidery

Precious Gold Embroidery

Thai male (Ajarn Weeratham Trakulngernthai) explaining traditional silk patterns

Ajarn Weeratham Explaining Traditional Silk Patterns

Silk sales take place in expensive up-market shops, street stalls and in the downstairs open areas of village houses; anywhere that the community has a bit extra to sell and the buyers are ready.

Young Thai woman smiling

Village Silk Seller, Thasawang

Young Thai girl with pigtails, wearing a yellow shirt

Young Girl at the Silk Markets

Colourful Silk Elephants on Keyrings

Silk Remnants are put to Colourful Use

Portrait of a toothless elderly Thai woman with short white hair

Beetle-Nut Granny

A pile of colourfully woven cotton cloths

Cotton Pha Thung (ผ้าถุง): Belt, Sarong, Head-dress, Baby Sling...

Glass window of a silk shop reflecting passing traffic

Silk Layers ~ Shop Front, Surin

Women examining lengths of silk

Examining the Silks ~ Under the House ~ Ban Chok

Thai woman with length of silk

Showing Off the Wares ~ Ban Chok

Intricate, multicoloured silk design

One of 700 Surin Silk Patterns

Surin boasts 700 traditional silk designs, many which were of Khmer origins.  They involve complex weaving or dying processes, or both.  Many villages produce “Mut Mee” or tie-dyed silk. The warp threads are wound onto a frame of the correct size, banana fibre is carefully tied around sections of thread according to a specific pattern, and then the whole frame is dipped in dye.  When the dye is dry, the fibre is carefully cut away and the undyed spots are dabbed with other colours.

Thai women tying thread around silk for tie-dying

Mut Mee at Ban Khwao Sinarin

Smiling Thai woman with tied silk threads on a frame

Producing Mut Mee Silk

Hands with a razor, cutting tie die threads away from dyed silk.

Careful Mut-Mee Hands

Elderly Thai woman Reeling red Silk

Reeling the Silk

What impressed me, even more than the silks, however, was the way silk production, as a community cottage industry, drew the neighbourhoods together. Because it is such a labour-intensive and important industry, there is meaningful work for everyone, and the loom or looms become the village centre. At Ban Khwao Sinarin, when it was getting too dark for the carful attention that preparing and weaving Mut-Mee silks require, the traditional instruments came out and the singing and dancing started.  The undisputed star of this impromptu “show” was the master-weaver’s eight-year-old daughter.  One of my Thai companions said: “I am so glad that this is still happening in my country!” I completely understood her emotional pride.

Young girl in Thai dress dancing

Traditional Dancer ~ Khwao Sinarin

Smiling baby and elderly woman; both with few teeth

Toothless Smiles!

Young boy with smiling mum

Khwao Sinarin Family

Man and young girl in traditional Thai dance:

Dad and Daughter in the Dance

It was truly an enchanting experience, and a reminder of the true value of locally produced, hand-crafted products.  ‘Till next time…

  • Gabe - December 10, 2010 - 11:50 am


  • Guava - December 10, 2010 - 11:49 pm

    Wonderful set of photos and really interesting text.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - December 11, 2010 - 4:50 am

      Thanks, Gabe and Guava!
      It’s always nice to know someone is out there. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - December 13, 2010 - 4:50 am

    what an amazing life(&)style these people lead and a reminder of the people who make this amazing silk…just lovelyReplyCancel

  • dietmut - January 26, 2011 - 7:50 pm

    really interested site and images. I wish you a nice week with
    beautiful things, DietmutReplyCancel

    • Ursula - January 27, 2011 - 1:12 am

      Hi Dietmut!
      I’m so glad you stopped by. I hope you will pop in regularly. Have a good week yourself! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Northeast Thailand Hotels - April 18, 2011 - 7:36 pm

    Cool, a really interesting post!…

    [..] Today I was reading this fantastic blog post and I wanted to link to it. [..]…ReplyCancel

  • Andy Varga - April 6, 2012 - 7:10 am

    Hi Ursula – thanks for your fascinating blog about Surin produced silk – and great photos. I’d love to visit those villages and find out more about silk production. Could you put me in touch with someone who could organise a visit for me? Best wishes and keep up the good work!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - April 6, 2012 - 11:33 am

      Hi Andy,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.
      My visit was with the Thai Textile Society. They organised it through a Thai travel agency: Ubon Jinda Travel (+66 86 777 2118). Our guide, Pradit Deerorb (+66 83 364 1182) loves textiles and speaks good English. I can’t find email addresses for any of them, and as our visit was a long time ago, my information might be out of date.
      But the places we visited are well known to any Surin agent (and are geo-tagged on my Flickr site) so any licensed agent in the area should be able to help you.
      I hope this helps! Cheers.ReplyCancel

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