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Luang Prabang Textiles

Luang Prabang TextilesLuang Prabang, first world heritage site in Laos has to be the favorite destination for westerners visiting Laos for many wonderful reasons, and one of them is the easy access to seeing some incredible weaving going on. If you take a slow boat up to the Pak Ou Caves, one of the options is to stop at a “weaving village” where we discovered this girl weaving along a path between the Mekong River and the several weaving galleries that make up the “weaving village.” The village of Xieng Lek is only 5 km north of Luang Prabang and can be reached by tuk tuk in a 10 minute drive from downtown and in this section we feature textiles from the Lao Textile and Natural Dyes Gallery in this village.

In this photo the Lue girl is holding up a sin she has woven in the Lue style with tapestry weave. “In tapestry or “Kor” (the Lao name for this technique), colored yarns of the weft are inserted into the warp in small sections making patterns or images. This flatweave has a discontinuous weft, which generally does not extend from selvedge to selvedge and the warp is a hidden structure that does not play a role in the surface design.

Exquisite textiles woven with a variety of techniques, complex patterns and a great diversity of motifs reflect the extraordinary ethnic diversity of Laos and the tapestry technique is associated with the Tai Lue, one of the largest of the ethnic minorities, who live in northwest Laos.

From an ancient origin in southeast China, ancestors of the Tai moved south and west. Their descendants now live in Vietnam, China, Laos, Thailand, Burma and India. The Tai share similar cultural characteristics, including wet rice cultivation and living in houses on stilts. The majority practice Theravada Buddhism into which they incorporate earlier animistic spirit beliefs. Among the 27 or more Tai groups in Laos, belonging to one of four main ethnolinguistic families, several, including the Lue and the dominant ethnic Lao, are renowned for their weaving skills.

The ancestral home of the Tai Lue is Sipsong Panna, established in the twelfth century and now in Yunnan, southwest China. Successive migrations and forced resettlements dispersed them to northwest Laos, eastern Burma, and northern Thailand. Some remain in northwest Vietnam. In Laos their heartland is Muang Sing in Luang Nam Tha Province; they also live in adjacent provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Bokeo and Xayaboury.

In all sinhs, [like the girl is weaving in the photo] the body is often the most decorative part and may be woven with one or more techniques such as plain weave, continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft (khit and chok), supplementary warp (muk), weft ikat (matmii), tapestry (ko) and twisted multiple yarn.

In Laos, tapestry technique is found only in Lue sinhs from the northwest provinces of Luang Nam Tha, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Bokeo. The basic pattern consists of uneven stripes in plain weave into which one or more bands of tapestry are incorporated. There may be additional bands of supplementary weft and simple weft ikat. Rarely, the whole body may be woven in tapestry technique.

Prior to the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975 a woman’s ethnic group, village, class and marital status could be deduced from her sinh. Motifs reflected earlier cultures, Buddhist or animist beliefs, legends and cultural practices. Tapestry, itself an identifier, is woven in simpler motifs. The most common is called ‘falling water’ or ‘lightning’ because of its zigzag appearance. Others include stylized flowers, birds and geometric designs.

Tapestry technique, freed from constraints of traditional usage, is today also hand-woven in commercial workshops into a range of textiles, including scarves and wall hangings, for a discerning Lao and Western market.”

The preceding information came from the gallery description for LAO TAPESTRY: WEAVING DREAMS AND ASPIRATIONS, The Australian National University School of Art Foyer Gallery, curated by Valerie Kirk, Tapestry Weaver and Head of Textiles, ANU, School of Art.

While we don’t feature tapestry weave in the textiles from Luang Prabang here at Laos Essential Artistry, we thought it was important to highlight Lue weaving since Lue weavers used to be the royal court weavers and still dominate the weaving in Luang Prabang. And sorry, the beautiful sinh fabric the young woman wove and which we bought was sold a long time ago!

There are several very nice galleries in the village of Xieng Lek and initially we are offering textiles we have purchased from the Lao Textile and Natural Dyes Gallery.

Luang Prabang Textiles