I mentioned once or twice before that I love textiles. Visiting Laos opened my eyes to the history and amount of work behind each piece.
Many Lao and tribal women learn to weave from their mothers at a young age. Typically, the men in the house hold (fathers, brothers, uncles) build looms for their wives, sisters, or nieces. Textiles are traditionally woven from silk, cotton, or silk-cotton blends and boast elaborate, beautiful traditional patterns with each artist’s own voice interwoven. Many weaving styles and techniques (supplementary wefts, mutmee/ikat, tapestry, etc.) make each piece unique and bring the artist’s creativity and voice forward, which is one reason I love textiles.
While in Luang Prabang, Mitch and I visited Ock Pop Tok (East Meets West), a social enterprise whose goal is to “empower women through their traditional skills and to promote Laotian textiles and crafts across the globe.” You can read more about their ethics and mission here. We had an interesting tour of the Craft Centre, learning about textile production from raising silk worms to weaving beautiful pieces on traditional looms. I wanted to spend half a day learning to dye or weave, but we were a bit short on time.
I left Ock Pop Tock so impressed with the amount of talent concentrated in this organization, from the artisans to the two founding women.
And because I can never have enough textile immersion, while in Vientiane, I spent an entire day at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Center, just fifteen minutes outside of Vientiane. I received a tour and got to spend an entire day weaving, learning about, and supporting an organization that provides employment and training to Lao women from disadvantaged backgrounds. The women can learn dyeing and weaving techniques in addition to sewing and small business administration skills. What a great mission.
I sat with my trainer, Put, for about an hour, while she showed me how to do some simple weaving on a traditional loom. Let me tell you: weaving is hard work that requires intense concentration, dexterity, and creativity. Put told me it can take up to a week to just set the loom up with the appropriate material and set-up for the pattern and type of weave the artist wishes to achieve!
The next day, my bum and back were pretty sore. After six hours of weaving while sick while sitting on a slab of wood all day, I have even more appreciation for the creativity and labor that is required to create these beautiful works of art.