Building Partnerships through Silk

Building Partnerships through Silk

Bernie Rosenbloom

Ock Pop Tok took silk reeling and twisting to the next level at Ban Tabu Village by partnering with a Thai university that invented award-winning yarn production machines.  

Ban Tabu is located about 120 km north of Luang Prabang, and is home to ethnic Tai Dam, known for producing and weaving fine silks. Ock Pop Tok sources the majority of their silk from the village, and places it in the hands of the master weavers at the Living Crafts Centre in the UNESCO city.

In October 2017, the Ock Pop Tok team visited Ban Tabu, and witnessed the Tai Dam women reeling silk from cocoons by hand, a magical yet labour intensive process.

In most countries, silk is reeled by machine, but in Laos, most silk is hand-reeled. The process of hand-reeling begins by placing about 30 cocoons in boiling water. The women stir the water with a stick, and as the cocoons move around, their filaments come loose and attach to one another.

As the women take out the sticks, a silk thread comes out of the water and is pulled through a bamboo frame that sits on top of the pot. It then passes through a small hole in the bamboo frame and where is it carefully wrapped and stored in bamboo baskets.

Ock Pop Tok is continually seeking ways to deepen partnerships with their source villages, and in late June, they presented an opportunity for villagers to improve the quality and speed of their silk production.

Ock Pop Tok did plenty of research and uncovered something at Surindra Rajabhat University in Surin, Thailand, at the Cambodian border. Surin is also known for producing fine silks, and the university won a national award for designing yarn production machines.  

Through a grant, Ock Pop Tok acquired two of these machines - one for silk reeling and the other for twisting the silk into yarn - for the village of Ban Tabu.

On Tuesday, June 26, representatives from the university arrived at Ock Pop Tok to meet the team, explain the machines, and take a tour of the Living Crafts Centre. They discussed silk production and natural dyes, and talked about the similarities and differences between Thai and Lao weaving and designs.

Villagers from Ban Tabu arrived in the afternoon, and also toured the Living Crafts Centre. Later that day Ock Pop Tok signed a memorandum of understanding with the university to formalize the agreement to purchase the machines.

Three students from the university trained the villagers how to use the machines. The women were great students and enjoyed seeing the technology at work.

The silk reeling machine will help to alleviate some manual labour and produce silk yarns with a more consistent and high quality. It also runs on solar power, which is more environmentally friendly than using an open fire to boil the silk.

The twist machine twists silk yarns together with an even tension and speed. This will help the village produce a higher quality silk yarn. Ock Pop Tok is excited to see how this will play out in new products.

This exchange of silk production knowledge between the university, Ban Tabu, and Ock Pop Tok truly showcases how cultural exchange can be done through textiles.

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