The first year I volunteered with the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, I helped a group of women from a weaving cooperative in Laos set up their booth. Yesterday, I spent the day at their site, studying the dying of silk and weaving a project. It was a perfect day.
The cooperative is located in Luong Probang, Laos on the Mekong River. I was picked up in a tuktuk with 3 students from Iceland . We had tea in the reception area, watching the weavers arrive and set up their looms for the day.
A delightful man, Piu, gave us detailed information about silk worms, the process of making silk and the materials used to produce the natural dyes. We then each chose 3 colors and went to the next area to produce the dye to color our silk skeins. I had to cut up sappan sticks teak bark with a large machete. The others collected mulberry leaves and lemon grass stalks and another removed and chopped up the seeds from annatto trees. It was 10:30 and a perfect day.
The natural materials were then put in pots to boil and ashes were added to some of the colors. We each took our skeins of silk and put them in the different pots to dye. When the official dye man hung our skeins in the sun (Mr. Magic Hands) we were amazed that we had done that work.
Piu then took us to a table and brought out a large basket with beautiful skeins of silk. He then showed us a woven piece about 18 x 14″ with an intricate design in the middle which we would be making (?) and to choose 2 colors.
We then went to another area with looms and spinning wheels which was where we would be working. We were introduced to our individual instructors who did not speak English. My instructor, Jen, showed me how to spin my spools of thread. In the meantime, the instructors set up our projects and wove the initial rows to get us started. We were then shown how to weave and became more familiar with the process.
We broke soon after for lunch. We were at a table overlooking the river and served tofu veggie soup, river fish, and mint chicken salad with rice. It was a great meal.
Then it was time to take on the weaving. One of the students was a star and everything connected for her. She became very involved with all of the steps in producing the intricate design. I was the worst in the group. I needed to think through each step, broke threads and my piece was uneven. My teacher took it in stride and calmly walked me through it. In the middle of the design, I realized she was doing all of the steps and worked to take a more active role. Finally, it was all working.
The teachers did the finishing for us and we all had fantastic pieces. Mr Magic Hands delivered our dried silk skeins. What a day! I gave my teacher a major hug and thank you. It was an amazing experience. We left with a very deep appreciation of the expertise of the master weavers who had taken the time to work with us.