Christina writes: On the main street of Luang Prabang, just near the primary school, is a textile shop Ock PopTok. The space is full of the most beautiful scarves and home furnishings made in the local villages. Unlike the imported Chinese textiles that abound in the local night market these pieces are works of art. As soon as I discovered that there was a Living Craft centre that teaches traditional dying and weaving, I knew what I would be doing on our next free day.
The philosophy behind OckPopTok is empowering women through their traditional skills, as well as promoting the beauty of Laotian textiles. The Living Crafts Centre, only a few minutes out of town by Tuk Tuk, is set in gorgeous grounds. Here the women work dying silk using natural dyes derived from the trees and bushes in the garden. They then weave the silk on traditional looms into beautiful works of art.
A full day of dying and weaving, including lunch and transport, cost $70 AUD. It was just me and two lovely Canadian women so we received lots of individual attention. We were welcomed into the cafe at the centre and greeted with tea before we started the lessons. First things first, a lesson on silk making and a run through of the natural dyes used at the centre.
|Multi-coloured silk, all using natural dyes from the garden|
|Indigo leaves and Annatto tree pods|
|Annatto pods - all ground up|
|Indigo dye ready to go|
|The dye kitchen|
|Fruits of our labour|
After a delightful lunch - it was over to the looms. I can now honestly say, after spending three hours and weaving only half a metre of silk fabric, I hold these women that hand weave on a daily basis in high regard. This is back breaking, repetitive work, yet there is also a meditative rhythm to this craft. The loom is threaded with the warp threads, and it was my job to weave the shuttle containing spools of silk, while operating bamboo pedals treadle style, to create the weft.
|Loom with a view - I don't think I looked up once.|
Each time you throw the shuttle left to right and right to left you pull down the batten. Too hard and you can distort the fabric, too soft and the weave is loose. It is a delicate balance that I did not achieve with any regularity on this particular day. My completed piece looks home-made. I don't think OckPopTot will be sending me a job offer anytime soon.