One of the things that I wanted to see on this visit to Thailand was the silk factories. In northern Thailand the silk makers tend to be clustered around the village of San Kamphaeng, on Route 1006, past the traditional umbrella makers of Bo Sang village.
Every taxi, tuk-tuk and songthaew driver in Chiang Mai will offer to take you to Bo Sang and San Kamphaeng. If you are a farang (foreigner) walking down the street, every idle tuk-tuk driver will bombard you with offers to take you to the craft villages. It’s an easy fare for them, and generally they will take you to the places where they get a kick-back if you buy something. Make no mistake, these workrooms are set up for tourists, and the exit is through the gift shop. Still, it’s an interesting trip to see the actual spinning of silk thread and the thread then woven into cloth.
My friend Claudia was in Chiang Mai the same time I was, and we made arrangements to go to San Kamphaeng together. We met by the Nakornping Bridge, and we were soon approached by a songthaew driver asking us where we wanted to go. We
Yes, the worms alive, and eating their fill of mulberry leaves.
settled on a price and were off.
The first step in making silk is making sure your silkworms are fat and happy. To that end, the worms are placed in trays of shredded mulberry leaves to eat to their heart’s content. When the worm turns yellow, it is moved to another bamboo tray to spin its cocoon.
When the cocoons are ready, they are dumped into a pot of simmering water to separate the strands of silk. The pupae inside the cocoons die as part of this end process, but the pupa is high in protein and sometimes eaten. In fact, silkworms have been proposed as food for astronauts on long missions. Really. I'm not making this up. http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2009/01/13-02.htm
The strands coming from the cocoons are then spun into thread. Raw silk thread is a yellowish white color; most of it is dyed before being woven into cloth. The weavers I saw were all using wooden hand looms, though I’m sure that most silk used for garments is woven on mechanical looms in large factories. The weavers produced some beautiful, intricate patterns. A skilled weaver could produce 10 centimeters of patterned fabric a day.
we hit one of the umbrella makers in the village of Bo Sang. These umbrellas are made by hand from all natural materials. The ribs are made from bamboo, which is then covered with a very thick paper made from the bark of the saa (paper mulberry) tree.
For centuries saa paper has been used for Buddhist manuscripts. Gathering the bark for the paper is very labor intensive, and is done primarily by the hill tribe people of northern Thailand. The government encourages this through its Royal Development Projects Program in part because harvesting saa bark gives farmers an alternative to the slash-and-burn methods of cultivating opium poppies. (Yep, we’re not that far from the “Golden Triangle” area of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.)
After the umbrellas are made and dried, they are then painted, often very beautifully. The artists will offer to paint a fan that you have bought, your hat, your shirt, or anything else, for a small fee. And exit, please, through the gift shop.
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