Learning to Weave

Sarah and Michelle – Laos Project Summer Students 2014

One great opportunity that the VWB program provides us is the ability to really learn about, and immerse ourselves in a culture. While on the Laos project, we have made it a point to try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. One such activity was the weaving and dyeing class that Michelle and I took at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women. It’s about a 30-minute drive outside of Vientiane and gives participants the chance to experience and learn the skills required to create the beautiful fabrics of the Lao textile industry.  Houey Hong is dedicated to providing disadvantaged women with the skills necessary to master natural dyeing, traditional weaving, tailoring, and even business administration.  We took a full-day course over the weekend and learned just how much work goes into producing the beautiful sinhs we wear.

 

One of the weavers at Houey Hong working on a very intricate pattern.
One of the weavers at Houey Hong working on a very intricate pattern.
Some of the natural ingredients used to dye the fabric. Left to right: indigo for blue, marigold for green, and resin for red
Some of the natural ingredients used to dye the fabric. Left to right: indigo for blue, marigold for green, and resin for red

The morning was spent learning about all the different natural dyes used. For example, to get green colored silk, Marigold is crushed and heated over an open fire. Picture sitting by an open fire in 40°C, continuously stirring silk thread to make sure they don’t burn, while ensuring you immerse it long enough to get just the right depth of colour.  Next, the silk is dried and wound into spools to use on the large wooden looms to weave the silk or cotton into fabrics of different sizes and patterns.

Michelle preparing her scarf for the dyeing process.
Ready to dye!
Ready to dye!
Sarah using indigo to dye her scarf blue.
Sarah using indigo to dye her scarf blue.
Our finished dyed scarves! Sarah's on the left and Michelle's on the right.
Our finished dyed scarves! Sarah’s on the left and Michelle’s on the right.

 

We then spent a good part of the morning and the entire afternoon learning to use the loom and managed to weave some ‘scarves’. I say ‘scarves’ with some hesitancy because they are about the length of my forearm. An entire days work, and all I have to show for it is a glorified placemat. It really gave me an appreciation as to the time and care that goes into making each and every piece of hand-woven fabric. Weeks and sometimes even months are spent weaving each piece of fabric, depending on the intricacy of the pattern. Although it was hard work (the hottest day we’ve experience so far in Laos, and without an A/C unit in sight), it was an absolutely incredible experience.

Michelle weaving her scarf
Michelle weaving her scarf
Sarah's scarf
Sarah’s scarf