Silk Fabric in the Raw ...

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Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
October 8th 2016
Published: August 24th 2020
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We had a free day today to do whatever we wanted to do. Yesterday afternoon, Libby had mentioned to Katy that she would like to go to the silk and hand-made paper factory and the handicraft village. Anita said she would like to go too, so I tacked on to the party as well. The cost for the tour was $USD40 so, between the 5 of us, it equated to $USD8 each.

Rick, Dave and Joe had thoughts of going to play golf but, when Kathy made enquiries, the cost was prohibitive at somewhere between $USD120-$USD140 for 18 holes – a ridiculous price so, all bets were off.

In the finish, Dave and Ted also came along with us girls, whilst (Mr) Kit took us around once again. Rick and Joe ended up walking up some mountain or other to the monastery up there and were then going to join Katy at the wharf to go to a nearby village, where she was going to go to visit a friend.

Firstly, we went by tuk-tuk to the silk factory, where we learnt all about the life-cycle of a silkworm, what they eat - their staple

diet being leaves from the mulberry tree - before crystalising into a cocoon, which is the raw silk product.

The growth process of the silkworm goes through 4 different stages: Egg; Worm (Caterpillar); Pupa & Moth.

The worm egg is very small, and white. Depending on the type of silkworm, this egg-laying process can take as long as 4-10 months, depending on the climate. However, in warmer climates, some types only take about 10-12 days, before the worm hatches. Once this occurs, the growth period of the silkworm takes about 3-4 weeks, during which time, the worm or caterpillar, feeds entirely on mulberry leaves, as no other leaves are suitable for them.

After this 3-4 week period, the caterpillar becomes “ripe”, and turns from white, to yellow and, will start to spin its cocoon by wrapping the silky threads around itself. During this time, it doesn’t eat.

As the caterpillar encases itself into the cocoon, it will live in the cocoon for about a week. When the cocoon becomes hard, it is then ready for spinning.

It is during this cocooning period that the caterpillar pupates and turns into the moth, and will vacate the cocoon, providing the life cycle process is allowed to complete itself. The moth will emerge from the cocoon to lay her eggs, and the whole process begins all over again. Once she has laid her eggs, the moth will then die in 2-3 days.

The cocoon goes through a process of boiling the raw product to soften the thread. With each successive boiling, the silk becomes softer.

Each cocoon is then pulled apart in fine threads, joining the thread of each one to make longer lengths, dyed by natural vegetable colours – leaves, bark, flowers etc. then finally spun into spools of thread. Each cocoon can produce as much as 1500 metres of very fine silk thread. For something so fine, the thread is very strong.

We were able to watch the women spinning and then weaving the silk fabric into scarves, table runners and other items – mostly patterned lengths of different widths that you could use for whatever use you want – table runners, lengths to place across the end of your bed, wall hangings, etc.

We were able to take photos and, at the end, wandered into the attached “shop” where

we all bought – scarves, mostly – either for ourselves or gifts to take home for family or friends. I bought several in various colours - one for my sister-in-law, one each for my two girls at home as well as two, for myself. The scarves are a blend of Lao silk and cotton and, are very soft.

Of course, bargaining is a way of life in most Asian countries and, this was no different so, I walked away, very happy with my purchases and also in the knowledge that I hadn’t lost my touch with this skill. Like anything, it always pays to do your homework beforehand, and know what is considered a fair price for both you, and your vendor.

Last of all, if you feel you aren’t getting a good deal – you always need to be prepared to walk away. They will follow you if they are prepared to sell you the item and usually for the price you negotiated (if it was reasonable) or, close to. It all depends on how you play the game. 😊 Of course, if it’s something that you really want, and just have to have, you

need to decide beforehand, on just how much you are prepared to pay for it.

Next door was the hand-made paper shop where we saw a lady making a large sheet of paper, embedded with leaves, flowers, etc. The basis of the paper is bark from a tree which is boiled for long periods to soften it, then it is beaten to break it up into a pulp mixed with water until it becomes like a slurry, then placed onto a large frame with a sieve-like bottom.

The frame is kept submerged in shallow water to keep the “pulp” moist whilst she then arranges the leaves, etc, over the surface and, once she has the desired pattern right, then gently pats the slurry with her fingers to “mix” the slurry and the decorative items together so that the flowers, etc aren’t left just sitting on the sieve-like bottom of the frame.

When she has the design as she wants it, then she carefully lifts the frame off the base and lets the excess water drain away over the next few minutes then the frame is sat out in the sun to dry – about

an hour.

The finished article is beautifully-decorated hand-made paper with a rustic, rough finish to it that can be used for all kinds of things, which they also had for sale – book covers, photo frames, fans, Tree of Life wall-hangings, etc.

Whilst here, we also watched one of the artisans making sand pictures. Firstly, he would hand-draw the design onto the background canvas and then, carefully, begin to fill in the picture with very fine sand of a greyish/fawny colour.

To enable the sand to stick to the background, he would use PVA glue to fill in the design – in this case, a leaf and stalk, one, or two, at a time, as he was making a large picture of The Tree of Life. He would then carefully sprinkle the fine sand onto the glue, whilst also blowing the excess sand away, leaving only the leaf and stalk completely covered.

It was terribly painstaking work but, it was fascinating to stand and watch his creation gradually coming together. Talk about this creation needing lots of patience. Our artist had many pictures, of all sizes, for sale, some framed and others

left for you to do so later. Once they were dry, you could buy the unframed ones, then roll them up for easy transportation.

I bought granddaughter, Erin, a lovely fan, a couple of bookmarks for other family members, as well as a vertical trio photo frame, two small bedside lanterns with images of monks in their saffron robes on them (very Lao 😊 ) Last of all, and something that I just couldn’t resist, a new lampshade for a spare bedroom at home, that has an Asian theme, so that I could replace the current round, red, rice-paper one. 😊 All of these items made from hand-made paper, such as we had seen being created a short while ago.

After this, it was back into the tuk-tuk to go and visit another village and the handicraft centre. This was like a co-op where a number of different families come each day to display their handcrafts. Some of the families are from surrounding hill tribe villages.

Here again, the items were mostly “runner”-type lengths of silk/cotton or pure silk fabric for you to use as you wished, as they could have several different uses,

depending on your needs.

We spent about ¾ of an hour there, I suppose, before heading back to the hotel. Each of us had purchased something, with me buying a beautiful, 2-metre length about 15” wide, which I will use as a wall-hanging when we get back home.

Back “home” again at the hotel by 11-45am, we ran into Jim who had just come in after a wander around town this morning who asked what we were doing. Earlier, the rest of us had decided to go and have lunch once we had returned to the hotel and to all meet back in the lobby at 12-30pm.

We had decided to go back to the Joma Bakery Café where we had had lunch yesterday, as the food there was rather good and western-style which made a welcome change, now and again, after all the Asian food that we had been having in recent days.

After lunch, we all had various things that we wanted to do so, headed off to do those. For me, I still had some shopping to do for daughter, Jen, back home, as she had asked me to see if I could get her a new “Kip purse” (the little embroidered zippered purses that abound in Laos) as hers had seen better days and needed to be replaced. As a travel agent, she travels a lot, and just finds her little “Kip purse”, so handy. As there was a small market just down the road, thought we would go and have a look there on the way back to the hotel.

We wandered through the market for a bit, with no success in finding Jen’s “kip” purse but, I did find another pair of, what I call my harem pants – with elephants … again! 😊 – for KIP40 (about $7) – a red and black pattern design, this time so, I was happy. I live in these pants back home during the summer, as they are loose-fitting, cool and comfortable and, being back in Asia again, had given me the chance to stock up. 😊

By now, it was around 2-30pm and, deciding we’d had enough, as it was very hot, decided we would get a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, after we’d negotiated the driver down from KIP50 to KIP20, for the two of us. Silly me had cleaned out my purse this morning and had taken out the hotel card, as well as the hotel brochure so, it was a bit touch-and-go as to whether our driver actually knew where to take us and, after some indecision and receiving a phone call as we went along (for help possibly), found we had headed off in the wrong direction. 😊

A U-turn was executed and, within about 10 minutes, he had us back at our hotel where we spent the rest of our time, having a quiet afternoon, relaxing in the air-con and having a couple of drinks – Ted watching sport on TV and me doing my journal – this was after polishing off the pomelo that I had bought yesterday afternoon at the falls. A pomelo is a citrus fruit that looks similar to a grapefruit but, is much sweeter and, to eat it, you peel off the thick skin, then break the fruit off into quarters, like a mandarin. We also watched a movie with Colin Firth – “What a Girl Wants”, which was quite a good comedy.

Tomorrow we would be leaving Luang Prabang to travel to Vang Vieng and, because it was going to be a long day, with a very early start, we decided on an early dinner and an equally early night. A few of us wanted to head back to the night market after dinner, as we still had a bit of last-minute shopping to do. For me, I was still searching for Jen’s “kip purse” so, hopefully, I would find it there … 😊

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