The only downside, for me, of traveling to up-country Thailand, is that I end up with so many pictures I have trouble figuring out how to organise them!
I spent last weekend in Northeast Thailand (Isaan): Ubon Ratchathani, Sisaket and Surin. I was with a group of women from all parts of the world who were traveling, as members of The Thai Textile Society, in search of silks. Surin, in particular, has been producing beautifully hand-woven fine silk fabrics for over two thousand years. I was predominantly in search of images, although I confess that I also returned home with more than a few pieces of silk and cotton!
Silk production is a major cottage industry in this area, and is a source of community pride as well as income. Every stage of the production, from the growing and harvesting of the silk worms (sericulture), to the treating and dying of the threads, and finally the designing and weaving of the patterns, follows centuries-old traditions. For the sake of some sort of coherence, I decided to start at the beginning with the sericulture itself, and move on to the design, weaving and finished products next week.
Silk production is an incredibly labour intensive and costly job: about 3,000 cocoons and a lot of time are needed for just one meter of woven fabric.
While this process is undeniably rough on the silk worms, there is, at least, no waste. Rejected shells are made into artificial flowers and other ornaments, the filaments become fabrics and the worms themselves become food.
After a lengthy treatment process, the silk filaments are ready for dying. Although commercial chemical dyes are sometimes used, most of the producers in Surin prefer the traditional, natural dyes from their own gardens.
As I said earlier, it is a long and involved process just to produce these fine silk filaments, which are not yet the beautifully coloured and textured fabrics they are destined to become!
Until next week, happy travels.