Looking to learn something new, Keith and I stumbled upon a one day silk dyeing and weaving class at the Ock Pop Tok Living Gallery in Luang Prabang, Laos. Our goal was to walk away with two presentable silk placements made with our own hands. The class began with a cup of tea and a tour of the Gallery’s garden and the plants that the staff uses to make natural dyes for their silks. Then the hard work began.
Our first job was to crush and boil the natural pigments. For orange silk, we used the seeds from the Annatto tree. Once the dyes were boiled, the raw, white silk threads were dipped and soaked in the liquid until it turned into the desired shade.
Next we learned how to reel the newly dyed silk threads onto the spools used in the looms’ shuttles. This was harder than it looks – the thread must be spun only in the center of the spool and you have to be careful not to catch and break the threads. We didn’t exactly master this phase of the class and eventually our instructors sent us to lunch while they finished the job.
After a delicious traditional Laos lunch, the weaving began. It was a little tricky at first, but once we found the zen-like rhythm of sliding the shuttle through the warp (the lengthwise threads stretched across the loom) and mastered the foot pedals, weaving the solid parts of the placements wasn’t too hard. Then came the pattern.
To add a pattern to our placements, we followed the blueprint for the motif which is held in the rows of the heddle, the series of white strings that pass vertically through the warp. Each row of the pattern is then transferred to the silk cloth by raising the warp strings. With the very kind and patient assistance of our instructors, we painstakingly wove our way through each patterned row.
Some four hours later, our placements were finally complete. While I think we did a pretty good job for our first weaving efforts, I don’t think professional weaver is a viable career alternative for when we return home. Besides, where would be put the looms?
Be sure to check out the rest of our photos from Laos.