Author Topic: Korat Weaving  (Read 3981 times)


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Korat Weaving
« on: November 21, 2009, 08:36:56 PM »

 In the Northeast, women find strength, merit and status through textile production.

Pichaya Svasti

The Northeast of Thailand, also known as Isaan, has long been famed for its jasmine rice and handwoven silk. With their strong yet soft hands, Isaan women not only make beautiful silk fabrics from delicate threads but also weave purpose and hope into their lives.

"Weaving is a socialisation process for Isaan women," textile expert Suriya Smutkupt said. "Weaving for Isan women is a way of life from birth till death. Isaan girls are capable of weaving once their feet can touch the pedals of the looms."

Since 1980, northern-born Mr Suriya who once taught in the Northeast, has tried to answer an important question: "Why do rural Isaan women weave?"

In other words, how important is weaving to rural Isaan women socially and culturally?

To unlock this secret, Mr Suriya and two fellow researchers, Pattana Kitiarsa and Nanthiya Phuttha, conducted a study into the historic, economic and other dimensions of Northeastern textile production.

The answers lie in their paper, "Ways of Isan Weavers: Development of Textile Production and the Changing Roles of Women in Contemporary Isan Villages" (1994). The study was conducted in Ban Kood Ta Klai, in the Khao Wong district of Kalasin, Ban Tae in the Uthumphon Phisai district of Si Sa Ket and Ban Thong Chai (formerly Ban Ja Poh) in the Pak Thong Chai district of Nakhon Ratchasima.

What the study found was that Isan women weave for three major reasons. First, weaving is part of their way of life, their village culture, the socialisation process and a rite of passage. Second, Isan women can use weaving as a means to play a bigger economic, social, political and religious role. This reflects the equality of the status of men and women, and the nature of their supporting and complementary roles. Third, Isan women's social and economic role has increased. Many women earn extra income for their families by weaving silk.

"Isaan girls will begin by weaving simple cotton fabrics like pha khao ma," said Mr Suriya to explain weaving as a rite of passage. "When they become women, they will weave and present fabrics to their in-laws on their wedding day. When they become mothers, they will weave the best silk for use when their sons are ordained as monks. At later stages of life, when their eyesight is bad, they will weave fabrics for religious ceremonies and white fabrics for their own funerals," he said.

Mr Suriya started his field studies on Isan weaving in 1980 at Ban Tae, Si Sa Ket province. His first paper, "Traditional Weaving and Womanhood", discussed the idea that textiles and the weaving process are not just for the purpose of production. They are social and cultural procedures that are a complicated and important way to define life as well as women's social role.

Suriya Smutkupt and Pattana Kitiarsa's "Isan Textiles: An Anthropological Interpretation" (1989) and "Conservation of Local Textiles: Experiences from Isan's Anthropological Laboratories" (1991), as well as Pattana Kitiarsa's "Women in Phuthai Culture" (1988), clearly state that the major responsibility of Isan women is weaving.

This duty is the fruit of the socialisation process and a rite of passage that evolves so women can achieve "womanhood" as expected by their communities.

"In Isan, many people live in small traditional huts. These are built on stilts with a roomy area underneath called tai thoon ban, where looms are usually placed," Mr Suriya said.

He said textiles and weaving are also a major means for women to play a bigger role and achieve higher status in their communities.

Earlier studies by his team explain that mutual support among men and women, a major role in economic and family affairs for women and relatively equal status of the sexes are common in Northeastern villages. In other words, men and women complement each other as members of the family and the community.


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Re: Korat Weaving
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2009, 08:37:16 PM »
The research found there are three major things to indicate the status of Isan women is socially equal to men's.

First, in most Northeastern families, the youngest daughters will not leave the family home after they wed. They will stay with their parents and later inherit the house, farmland and cattle.

Second, after they marry, the man moves into his Isan wife's house and under the care of his in-laws, who provide guidance and counselling to the newlyweds for a successful and happy marriage.

Third, Isaan boys and girls are taught their social roles by their parents and relatives, making for a network of mutual social support.

For example, girls learn how to weave from their mother and her relatives while boys learn the art of basketry, making fishing and hunting gear, farming tools and sometimes pottery from their father and his relatives. This reflects the working relationship and cooperation between Isaan men and women.

"In the past, men would make looms for women," Mr Suriya said.

Despite a certain level of equality between men and women, Isaan women in the past lagged behind the males in several aspects. Few had the opportunity to go to school. None could become ordained - the greatest merit-making activity in a Buddhist's life.

To Isaan women, weaving is a means to make merit so as to have a better situation in the next life. Although women cannot be ordained, they can make great merit by weaving pha yao, sarongs, pha khao ma and yellow robes for their sons' ordination ceremonies.

In addition, it is tradition that mae yai or mae thuad (grandmothers) in Isan villages make cotton and silk threads, clothes and pillows for presentation to temples during the annual Buddhist ceremonies. Isan women also weave thoong phawes, or flags, for decorating temples during ceremonies for mahachart sermons, according to the paper.

"In the past, Isan women lacked learning opportunities but shared the same dream of weaving fabrics for wrapping religious scriptures. There is an old saying, 'Those wishing to go to heaven may unwrap lower garments in temples'," Mr Suriya said.

This saying is not a dirty joke. In fact, unwrapping lower garments does not mean undressing in temples. It means making merit by presenting temples with brand new handwoven textiles for wrapping religious scriptures.

Apart from being part of the way of life and raising women's status, weaving activities also reflect women's changing role and social responsibility in accordance with economic need.

Mr Suriya pointed out that women are one of the foundations of development in the Northeast.

Nowadays, women enjoy greater job opportunities. Many of them work for the Support Foundation - initiated by Her Majesty the Queen to promote local handicrafts in Thailand and train poor farmers to be artisans - and other employment promotion groups. Many others work in big cities or abroad but are still capable of weaving.

Many Northeastern women who leave their villages for jobs elsewhere when they are young will return to their hometowns to farm and weave after they are married.

As wives and mothers, they can share what they have learned in the outside world, including modern weaving and marketing techniques, Mr Suriya said.

"When it comes to textiles and women in the past and present, Isan women who either had to sell their bodies or worked as maids would return to a traditional way of weaving after retiring," Mr Suriya said.

Despite many social changes, a number of Northeastern women stay at home as their family's moral pillar.

Two or three in 10 women still weave. They have chosen to stay home and live simple yet happy lives. Although they wear modern outfits, they still weave in a traditional way.

"Weaving and textile production are still Isan women's work. Weaving is their source of pride and a way of life," Mr Suriya said.

Bangkok Post


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Re: Korat Weaving
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2009, 08:38:44 PM »
Venturing into the heart of Northeastern Thailand

Liz Price

THE village street consisted of about 10 houses and yet there was a hive of activity quietly taking place. Women were going about their daily chores, some were making handicrafts. Animals lazed around. The men were conspicuous by their absence. Maybe they were working in the fields although from what we had seen earlier, it seemed to be mostly women who were planting rice and attending to the corn. The men were sitting on the tractors watching!

This area of Khon Kaen is in the heart of Isaan country. Isaan is a general term for northeastern Thailand, from the Sanskrit name for the medieval kingdom Isana, which encompassed parts of Cambodia and northeastern Thailand. The area is less developed than the rest of Thailand and has comparatively few tourists. There are many archaeological sites scattered around the 18 provinces which form this region, which is also famous for its silk and cotton.

The best silk in Thailand is said to come from the northeast. There are several silk weaving towns and the finished products are cheaper than in other parts of Thailand. Many of the rural villages have cottage industries and we stopped at one to watch the weaving process.

One lady was spinning the cotton, teasing out the knotty strands and winding them neatly onto a large spool. Although the cotton is still grown locally, and silk still harvested from the silkworm cocoons, much of the materials used nowadays are bought from the town of Loei. Other ladies were weaving the yarn on looms. The white cotton thread was wound around the large framework of the loom, and coloured yarn was woven in according to the pattern. It was a laborious process requiring much patience and concentration. I was surprised to see one lady using green string to form the pattern of her material. This looked like the normal plastic string used so commonly in Asia and I imagined this would give a rough feel to the finished product.

There are actually two methods, one is the tie-dye, and the other is ikat in which the cotton is tie-dyed before the weaving. Many of the ladies wear the traditional skirts and blouses as part of their everyday attire. It reminded me of the Indonesian ikat. Most common is the geometric, diamond-grid pattern. Some women were laying out chillies to dry in the sun; others were attending to the livestock which were relaxing under the stilted houses. It was all very peaceful. The children were obviously at school as there were none to be seen.

One villager came out with some sticky rice wrapped in leaves for us to try. I enjoy trying the rice packets in Thailand as you never know what will be inside, sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is savoury, so it's a pot luck affair. We wandered down to the nearby river and it was quite busy with traffic, mostly of the non-vehicular kind.

White ducks were swimming, paddling quite hard in an effort not to get swept downstream. The river was swollen from rain, and the water was brown, so I wondered how the ducks stayed white; I imagined the muddy water would stain them!

Ladies were crossing the river with empty baskets on their way to the fields. A man came to the water's edge with a small herd of cows. At first the cows looked dubious about entering the water, they obviously knew it was deeper than usual, and were unsure of their footing.


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Re: Korat Weaving
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2009, 08:39:05 PM »
The lead one was persuaded into the swirling water and the rest followed suit. They looked quite comical swimming diagonally against the current. Next to entertain us was a tractor with a few workers aboard. The tractors in this part of Thailand consist of a wooden platform which forms the trailer body, and two to three metres long handles lead to the tractor with the engine. It reminded me of the long tailed boats so commonly seen in Thailand. We were in the heart of farming country.

By now it was time for lunch. The Isaan culture has good food, known for its pungency and choice of ingredients, the specialities being chicken and sausage. We stopped at a series of roadside stalls, which were all selling spicy chicken. The chicken pieces are flattened and stuck onto bamboo skewers and grilled by the roadside. One enterprising lady had some skewered pieces of chicken and was standing at the roadside waving her wares to entice passing motorists. It worked, because we stopped. The chicken looked no different from the chicken sold at street stalls all over Thailand, but the taste was good. We ate it with glutinous rice and chilli sauce as an accompaniment.

Later that day we tried the som-tam, a spicy salad made with grated papaya, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce and fresh chillies. As the combination of tastes hit the palate, it is a bit of a shock and makes the mouth tingle, but soon you realise how delicious it is. That afternoon we stopped at Tham Erawan, a famous cave off the Wang Saphung to Udon Thani road.

You can clearly see the cave from several kilometres away. A large seated Buddha sits in the entrance, which is high up the cliff face. Tham Erawan is one of the most famous caves in this area.

About 600 steps lead up to the cave. After much huffing and puffing I reached the entrance with the huge sitting Buddha which gazes out over the plains and across to the other limestone hills in the distance. The cave is huge, there were a few very large stalagmites, and the roof was some 40m above my head.

Luckily there was some electric lighting as I had stupidly left my torch in the car. It was worth the effort of the climb as the cave size was so impressive.

After we left the cave there was monsoon rain and we were treated to a spectacular sight of a double rainbow.

There were two rainbows, side by side. It was quite a spectacular end to our day in Isaan country.

The Brunei Times

P. Wright

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Re: Korat Weaving
« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2009, 12:57:26 AM »

Don't you have any of your own material or photos to post? Personalized posts might be more interesting than long year old texts copied from Paknam Web Thailand Forums or the Brunei Times.  And don't forget copyright.

Paknam Web Thailand Forums ( Copyright ©2000 - 2009, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
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Re: Korat Weaving
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2009, 01:20:36 AM »
I think you will find that paknam stole the first one from the Bangkok post the same as I did.

Offline Baby Farts

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Re: Korat Weaving
« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2009, 10:10:59 AM »
I don't mind.  The article is very interesting.