Surin’s Silk Worms, Natural Dyes and Giant Looms
Once a part of the Khmer Empire, Surin Province in Thailand’s north-eastern region has a fascinating history. A former province of Cambodia, it was officially annexed by Thailand in the 18th century, however, it’s large Khmer population still retains much of its original identity and culture.
Ban Thasawang village, located only a half-hour drive from Surin town, the province’s capital, is a delightful community that is well-known for its local silk-weaving skills passed down through generations of families with Khmer origins.
Especially suitable for FITs and small groups, this village demonstrates weaving skills that were once a popular sight throughout the region where families produced silk products on hand looms set up under their wooden stilt houses.
Today these local family silk-weaving enterprises have been recreated in Ban Thasawang village through a community project that was established in 1998 by the family-run Chansoma group. Comprising of some 24 community weavers, the group today produces high-quality silk fabrics, using classic Khmer designs and traditional techniques handed down from their Khmer ancestors.
The attention to detail is astonishing as special looms are used for each pattern, with each loom operated by four to eight group members working on two floors – depending on the complexity of the pattern!
The ancient designs are incredibly detailed and taken very seriously. Consequently each loom only produces about five centimeters of woven silk per day. This means, for example that a traditional Thai sarong might take up to three months to produce!
All materials – including the live silk worms and dyes – are nurtured and produced locally; except for the special gold thread that is imported from India and France, and woven into special pieces of cloth. The best thread from the inner part of the silkworm cocoons is used for weaving and dyed with natural colors: red from sticklac, yellow from jackfruit, green from Indian almond and blue from indigo.
Credit for the Chansoma weaving project goes to local teacher Weeratham Trakulngernthai, who approached the Thai government for support in the initiative and is responsible for the looms, the amazing designs produced, as well as the project’s management. The group nowadays is also part of the SACICT Craft Community and Ban Thasawang itself has become an OTOP (One Tambon One Product) village.
Due to the exceptional quality of the shawls, traditional wrap-around sarongs and brocades, collectors and even members of the Thai Royal Family buy much of their woven silk products from the Chansoma group.
The silk weavers have also been approached on several occasions to produce fabrics for special gatherings, including the 2003 APEC summit for which they produced the silk shirts worn by all country leaders attending the event.
For those joining Khiri Travel on a trip to Ban Thasawang village, this is a fascinating and intriguing opportunity to see ancient skills brought back to life, and to see the way the looms are operated – a complex, mind-boggling feat! The Chansoma group also has a shop selling its hand-woven designs and there are other shops and stalls in the village selling woven silk products at reasonable prices.