Textile trails and tales

Textile travels

When you have an interest in textiles and you’re lucky enough to travel, combining the two is the very best of holidays.

The joy of finding the fabric shop, embroidery supplies, yarns, and learning about local textile traditions and history is an important part of my holiday wherever I go, near or far. 

Sometimes this search takes me to out of the way places, down roads and alleys I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. It has also introduced me to people who share my love of textiles, promote and value women’s work and history.

This Christmas I travelled to parts of South East Asia.

Part 1: Laos

Luang Prabang is a beautiful little town, once the seat of the Laos Royal family.

It is set on the banks of the Mekong River with beautiful misty mountains on either side.

Once a French protectorate, which is evident in the many patisseries, the good coffee and beautiful architecture it is now the Democratic People’s Republic of Laos.

The streets are immaculately clean with people sweeping the pavement all through the day reflecting the locals pride in their town and its World Heritage status.

It’s an important place for Buddhist’s with golden robed monks and pilgrims a feature of daily life .

Daily alms

Early every morning hundreds of monks walk through the Main Street collecting alms.

Locals and visitors sit quietly on the side of the street donating what they can. Rice, bananas, vegetables and bottled water featured on the still dark morning we went to see this moving, silent ritual. 

A textile haven

One of the reason for coming to Luang Prabang was because it has a rich tradition of embroidery and weaving silk and cotton and also to visit the wonderfully named, Ock Pop Tock.

A 20 minutes drive in a tuck tuck out towards the airport then down a dusty road and we came to what looked like an oasis. Wonderfully lush gardens, tree houses, teak buildings set in beautiful tropical grounds.  The smell of delicious coffee greeted us as did washing lines hung with skeins of silk still wet from dying.

East meets West

Ock Pop Tock means East meets West and is the brainchild of Lao weaver Veo Douangdala and English photographer Jo Smith who met in 1999 when Jo was on assignment to photograph development projects in Northern Laos.

Veo comes from a family rich in weaving traditions and artisan roots and was already experimenting with unique patterns for the traditional skirt, called a sinhs.

The two women both wanted to preserve and promote Laos textiles and shared a strong commitment to the principles of Fair Trade and sustainability. Ock Pop Tock (OPT) was born and has grown into something quite remarkable.

Workshops

An important part of the OPT mission is to teach and share the skills and knowledge of traditional crafts.

The Living Arts Centre on the banks of the Mekong offers workshops from 1/2 to full days. 

Classes include:

  • Dyeing using natural dyes you pick from the garden and dye your own silk skeins
  • Weaving in silk and cotton
  • Batik
  • Bamboo weaving

Limited accommodation in this beautiful setting is also available so you can really immerse yourself in the OPT experience.

Have you packed your bags yet?  Luang Prabang has so much to offer textile tragics including a wonderful night market where women from local villages sell their textiles direct to passing customers at wholesale prices. No haggling, just cheaper and all done with pleasant good humour.

Getting out to villages to see various crafts being produced is also easy to arrange. Your hotel will recommend a driver ($20 for half day is usual) and most of the villages are within a half hour drive so it’s easy to do a village or two in a day.

I hope you enjoyed my tales from Laos and come back for my next installment this time from HoiAn in VietNam.

In the meantime, remember to take life one stitch at a time and happy stitching. Barbara

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