We don’t know exactly when silk fabric was introduced and involved with the human’s life.  Of course, it was not the very first material that human used for covering their bodies.  It might be an accidental discovery by the Chinese over 3,000 years ago when they noticed some worms produced magnificent fibers like ‘silk’. Nowadays, it is not only a delicate textile but also boasted as a piece of art for its production technique, pattern and design.

Silk Yarns in the reels

Silk Yarns in the reels

In Thailand, the archaeological remains show that the first silk fibers dated back over 3,000 years. They were discovered in Baan Chiang village, a small village in Udon Thani in the northeast region of Thailand. It is, thus, no surprise that most beautiful silk products are from the northeastern provinces such as Ubonratchathani, Udonthani, Korat, etc. Even though silk and cotton are produced nationwide, the most popular ones are from the northeast, the northern and southern regions. The weaving techniques vary in regions and the pattern on the fabric were passed on from generation to generation.  

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The production process starts from feeding the fat and lazy silkworms with delicious mulberry leaves, (at least it might be delicious for the worms!), and wait until those worms build their cocoons to the required size. The next process is getting the silk fibers out of the cocoon. The cocoons are then put into the hot water to boil the fibers out and, of course, the worms die.  The next step is to spool the fibers into the reel to make yarns of raw silk thread.   Not finished yet!  The raw silk yarns will be cleaned and then dyed in different colors, some with chemical colors and some with natural colors from plants, roots of plants or some fruits,  The next step is to create a textile from these silk threads.

'Jok' a typical technique for I-sarn weaving style

‘Jok’ a typical technique for I-sarn weaving style

Generally, the patterns on the fabric have  been developed and passed on within the family. Each region has its own unique designs. By the way, I am talking about ‘hand weaving’ not the machine work.  There are several techniques in creating the pattern. One of them that amazes me is the pattern called ‘Jok’.  This technique is just simply ‘pick’ some main threads up and insert the crossing thread in between to create the design. They need to do this from line to line and only a skillful weaver can do it.  I talked to a weaver in the northeast and found out that one piece of hand woven cloth with one meter long took about one month to finish with this kind of technique.

Creating a pattern design with tie-dye technique

Creating a pattern design with tie-dye technique

The other technique is known as ‘Mud Mee’, which is a tie-dyed technique to create the pattern. With the design in mind, the weaver will tie the silk yarns with short strings to create the pattern. Then, dye the yarns repeatedly till all yarns have the color. Only the spots that are tied will still have the original color of the thread.  Then bring them to the loom for weaving. These two techniques are generally used for hand weaving Thai silk. Even though we use the machine to make patterns, some silk experts can tell the difference between the hand-woven fabric and the machine ones.

The Reels to keep the silk yarns

The Reels to keep the silk yarns

The beauty of Thai Silk is in the exhibition in various museums. The most elegant and sophisticated designs are showed at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textile, near the entrance of the Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok. The museum is open daily from 9 am – 4.30 pm.  The admission fee is THB 150 for an adult.

Exhibition at Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in the Grand Palace compound

Exhibition at Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in the Grand Palace compound