Saturday, 13 February 2016

Weaving ikat in Luang Prabang

During my trip I discovered a local weaving industry called Ock Pop Tok ("east meets west") in Luang Prabang.  It is a fair trade business providing livelihood for village weavers, and also has a lovely cafe that fed us local style food during our course, a shop which sells products made by the weavers there, and four boutique hotel rooms.  The location is amazing, with balconies over the Mekong river.  Impossibly, they told me that in the rainy season the water is only a few meters below your feet.  Can you imagine?

Looking west-ish from the Ock Pop Tok balcony.  Doesn't that fisherman look stranded?

Looking eastish, in the afternoon.  The shore seems really far away and it's impossible to imagine the water nearly lapping our feet.


I read about it in Lonely Planet, and immediately reckoned I should take a one-day class. It was hard to stay in one town too much in Asia, since it was my first trip.  I couldn't always settle in the present - if HERE is so amazing, then what will I see NEXT???  I had definitely not anticipated the variety of textiles, the hilltribe weaving and embroidery, and the access to the weaving and information.  By the time I got to Laos, I already had too much fabric to carry around with me!

So, class list.  In one day you could learn about dyeing and then weave a placemat.  In two days, you could weave a kit scarf using Lao designs.  And in three days, you could actually learn and do a full ikat scarf by yourself from nothing!  I had to revise my travel plans to fit three days in for this course.  Obviously it was the most thrilling option, and there was no looking back.

When you look forward to something, and it's a one-time affair, is it possible not to be disappointed?  I got sick on the way to Luang Prabang, and it just made everything even more intense and poignant, because I had three days of weaving to recover before moving on.  From sewing, I think I have become a craft pessimist - I know that my first attempt at anything is going to be crappy and so I don't try as hard the first time around.  But when the first time is also the only time, then I feel stressed to do the impossible - perfection!

The staff were truly amazing, and the project of first wrapping your silk into skeins, then tying it up, then dyeing it, and finally weaving, was so well done that now I definitely understand the theory of ikat and I could do it myself (on a bigger scale?) or teach others how to do it.  My teacher didn't speak any English so I learned a few words of Lao and she laughed at me, fixed my mistakes, and did half the work for me in the evening (all that wrapping skeins and bobbins of silk, agh!)

That foreshadowing of catastrophe was based on two things - the skeins for dye colours were aged and had faded - they actually redid them during my first day of weaving, which was sort of painful since I got to watch the beautiful colours drying and wish I'd chosen those myself.  I chose colours I wasn't sure about because they were all very pastel colours and I couldn't imagine how much darker my dye results would be. And the weft threads were black, which wasn't pointed out to me, but which makes a huge impact on the result.  If I had understood these facts, I would have chosen dark, rich colours, or asked about making olive green.  So I was weaving out of colours that I really didn't like. 
The sunbleached samples of doom.  The items below are all from the garden, and are the materials that you use to dye the silk.  We went and dug up all our dye!  (I didn't take an after picture of the new dyes because I was bitter.)


Weaving commences!

The ikat is in the yellow, and is visible up close.


The other thing is just that weaving takes time, like knitting.  I'm really glad I wove a scarf.  I was convinced not to run out and buy a loom!  Weaving is pretty boring work!

I ended up sending my scarf to a friend of mine who is a PhD in historical textiles.  I thought she might like the colours more than I did and I knew she would appreciate the work (and she says she loves it!) 

As for Ock Pop Tok and Luang Prabang, I loved these places enough to suspect another Asia trip will happen someday, and I'll be back!  Maybe to weave another scarf? 

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