In October, I visited my sister & brother-in-law at their new home in Battambang, Cambodia. Of course, after saying our hellos and settling in to a glass of cold Angkor beer at the local, my first question: where can we check out some Cambodian textiles? SHOW ME THE YARN!
A couple of days later, we headed to Siem Reap, and stayed in a villa just outside of town. With a private pool, fridge full of beer, and a playlist of 90s & 2000s alt-rock, we were all set! And the next day we went on a textile adventure :D
First stop: Samatoa Lotus Farm.
The farm workshop was super cute, set in a traditional Khmer-style house overlooking a lake full of lotus plants. Lotus yarn is made from the stem of the plant, and makes a very fine, soft yarn. And like all great things, quality takes time - it takes a whole day to spin just over 100g of this stuff!
If you ever get the chance to use lotus yarn, I say just do it! It's a bit on the expensive side. By a bit, I mean twice the price of silver per gram. I'll be saving my pennies to buy a skein on my next trip. It is truly a lovely fibre, and very special when you see the work that goes into growing, harvesting and spinning it.
Next stop: Angkor Silk Farm.
We spent AGES here. After a pit-stop at the cafe for an iced coffee, we were introduced to our farm tour guide. He gave us these super important VISITOR passes, just in case someone didn't notice we were barang (that's Khmer for "whitey". Basically, spot the tourist!) :P
The silk farm grows its own mulberry trees to feed the worms - they keep the trees short so it's easy to pick the leaves.
Next we stopped by the silkworm houses, to see how the worms are grown. They are certainly well fed!
When the worms are nice and plump, they are moved from the feeding trays and into an area where they can spin a cocoon. These worms are a little bit special - they produce a golden silk cocoon. Check out that colour!
Some cocoons are kept for breeding the next generation of silkworms, but for most of the worms, their time has come to an end. The cocoons are placed outside in the sun for three days.
And then the cocoons are ready for spinning! The cocoons are placed in hot, soapy water. The trick is to find the ends of the silk thread and to start reeling the outer layer, or raw silk.
You can see a few lumps and bumps in the silk on the skein winder. These are picked out in the next stage, when the raw silk is handspun.
Once the outer layer of raw silk has been spun, the fine silk remains. This is the expensive silk, and is reeled separately to the raw silk.
The silk is then hand dyed. You can see here some hand-painted warps, ready for the loom! These painted warps are made in the ikat method, where a pattern is created using resists, and will be seen in the finished cloth.
Then it's time for warping! It takes a lot of time, patience and dedication to warp looms this size with fine, reeled silk. The women working here are truly talented!
And then it's weaving time! Each of the weavers have their own unique patterns which are passed down from generation to generation. It is so amazing to see all this talent at work!
And here's a look at a finished piece of silk cloth. The pattern is so intricate! The showroom was amazing too - I picked up a silk purse and a plain silk scarf to take home with me.
It was really special seeing the end-to-end silk production process. I learnt a lot from my visit, and hope you did to!