A Dragon Quilt for My Beloved Boy

Prologue

I took my first quilting class while pregnant with my first child. Her baby quilt was finished before she was even born. Shortly after she turned one, I made a beautiful album summarizing her first year of life. Then, when she was about four years old and all into princesses, I sewed her a flowing magenta princess cape.

Her little sister got her own cape (but in blue) at the same time. She was barely two years old, and wanted everything her big sister had. Caring for two toddlers didn’t leave me with much free time, however, so my second daughter only got her baby quilt when she was about two and a half and much too big for it. I didn’t get to make her baby album until after she turned three, when my parents came for a visit (giving me some free time). 

My third child turned five without getting any of the above-mentioned markers of motherly love. By then he understood what getting the short end of the stick meant, and so he pestered me about it continuously. “When will I get my own cape?” (although he fit into his sisters’ old ones); “when am I going to get an album?;” and “what about MY quilt?”

I suspect he might have overheard me confessing my guilt to whomever was willing to listen, and that his words reflected my own bad conscious. But there is was, nonetheless.

So I finally sewed him his own cape–a knight’s cape, complete with sword and shield. I pieced a baby-quilt background, and took an applique class to learn how to applique the vehicles I wanted to put on it. But I never got to the actual appliqueing… Several months into his kindergarten year, I spent my free mornings combing through his numerous baby pictures, carefully selecting the best ones. For over a month I lovingly printed them, glued them, wrote nice captions beneath them. I kept thinking of how happy he will be to finally have his own baby album.

Then, on his sixth birthday, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the wrapped album in his hands, holding my breath to see his reaction. He tore the wrapping, glanced at it, and … burst into tears. This was not the birthday gift he wanted. He much preferred a set of Legos…

Needless to say, I never finished that quilt. It still lies buried, to this day, somewhere deep in my Unfinished Project piles… My son doesn’t even like vehicles any more, and yet that quilt has been sitting silent between us, all those years…

Fire-spitting Dragons

A few weeks ago my son, now in fifth grade, came by to show me a drawing he made:

I loved the composition, the lively colors he chose, the meticulous details. I immediately sent a proud picture of it to my mom and siblings.

And then I kept thinking about it, and thinking some more…

Finally, I enlarged his drawing, and printed it on four sheets of paper:

I taped them all together to form a bigger version of his creation:

My sewing room is pretty low-tech, but sometimes necessity is the mother of all inventions…  I put the enlarged print against the window, and traced the outline of the drawing’s different parts with a pencil:

Now I had all the elements separated:

I cut each piece out:

Then, I selected a fabric for the background. I had several light-blue swatches that seemed perfect, but they were all too small. There were less options among my bigger pieces, but I finally found something suitable. I went on to choose additional fabrics from my scrap boxes in colors matching his work (they do come handy, those scraps!):

Putting the paper outlines on top of the fabrics, I carefully cut the pieces out:

I laid them all on the background fabric, then pinned them down:

Two of the clouds proved problematic: the cloud behind the wings, and that behind the head. Somehow, they just didn’t look right when translated into fabric. So I exercised some artistic freedom and moved them elsewhere…

I zigzagged all around the pieces, using black thread to mimic the drawing’s outline:

Then came the exciting part… When my son was a baby, I once took a free-motion quilting class. That was very long ago. I wasn’t good at it then, and I haven’t practiced since. In fact, I haven’t even used my free-motion foot in all those years, and barely remembered where I put it. But now I had to fish it out and use it to draw the scales. So I did.

It was nerve-wracking. I was so tense, that my arms started shaking after a while. But I kept at it. I put scales on the tail, on the body, on the head. Even on the legs. But I decided to leave the wings unscaled, diverting from the original drawing, because the fabric I used already looked scale-like. I was pretty happy with the result, and quite proud of myself, too! This is how it looked from the back:

I decided to add a border, since the blue alone looked too pale against the wall. My son loves red, and red matched the fire. So I added a red frame. I sandwiched the quilt, using a checkered fabric for the backing:

Then I started quilting. I used wavy horizontal lines to quilt the background since they gave it a bit of movement, and also somewhat mimicked the lines of the folder paper my son originally used. Finally, there it was: a dragon quilt for my beloved son!

At first, I though I’ll wait until my son’s birthday to give it to him. Turned out I was too excited for that… So I decided to give it right away instead, as an early birthday gift. I could hardly wait for my son to come home from school. When he finally did, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the quilt, back-side up, in his hands. My heart was pounding hard. I didn’t know what to expect. I held my breath…

My child opened his eyes and read the dedication I wrote on the back. Then he turned the quilt over. His eyes expanded in wonder. “How did you do it??” he asked once, and then again. “How did you do it?”

For a split second I felt like a magician, with textile art as my magic. How did I do it indeed?

My son ran to his room and brought his original drawing. He put the two side by side, drawing and quilt, and looked them both over. 

My work passed the test. He absolutely loved it!

And me? I loved being a magician, if only for a little while…

Quilt debt paid.

 

A Creative Challenge for a Jury-Duty Week

I was recently called for jury duty. The postcard I received told me to check my status on a Friday evening. On Friday, the website said to check again on Monday morning. And so it went. For an entire week I was on call, checking my status every few hours. I couldn’t make any plans, and didn’t want to start working on anything big. So I looked around my sewing room and noticed my scraps.

Out of principal, I use only upcycled textiles. I’m passionate about  zero-waste and reducing textile waste, which means I tend to keep every little scrap. I store all of my rectangular scraps in plastic bins. But I also have some very small and oddly-shaped scraps, which I’ve been collecting into two large zip-lock bags. That week I decided to use the latter.

I gave myself a creative challenge: I decided to create small, 5″ square fabric studies. Each were to use my tiniest scraps, pretty much as they were. I could cut them to fit, but I wasn’t allowed to alter their shape. My idea was to try to make interesting compositions out of existing shapes.

I started by sorting the scraps into color piles:

Then I chose a purple and blue color palette, and worked on creating the first composition. Since composition and color were what this piece was about, I took my time moving fabric scraps around to find just the right balance. Once I was happy with how it looked, I machine stitched the patches in place. I proceeded to add some hand stitching with embroidery floss. I love the look of hand stitches. To me, they add character and life to a piece of art. At that point I decided to add some yellow to give the piece more spark:

I expected this work to be a quick sew. Surprisingly, it actually took a few hours start to finish. But I was quite happy with the result:

The next day I chose a blue, red and orange palette, and created another piece:

In my work, I try to let the fabrics speak for themselves. I see fraying, loose threads and imperfections as a part of the work, something that adds interest and character: 

On the third day, I settled on some narrow strips, about 0.5″ wide, in purple, magenta and olive. The evening was cold, and so it was very relaxing to stitch this piece in front of the fire!

This is how it turned out:

On the fourth day I was intent to start a fourth piece, but the scraps had other intentions. As I was about to plan a new composition, they forced me into designing a zippered pouch instead… That was the beginning on a zip-bag extravaganza (albeit one that followed my original creative challenge) that continued long after my jury duty ended. Alas, this is a story for another post…

Quiltspiration: 2019 Pacific International Quilt Festival

The 2019 Pacific International Quilt Festival is open this weekend in the Santa Clara Convention Center. Yesterday I went to see it, for the second year in a row. Knowing what to expect this time, I was a little less overwhelmed than I was last year, but my back was still complaining towards the end of my visit…

So many beautiful quilts, from all around the world… Visiting a quilt show is truly inspiring! I came home wanting to run to my sewing room and lock myself in, but with the million half-started projects I already have, that’s probably not the best idea… So instead, I thought I’d share my favorite picks with you. Choosing wasn’t easy, with all the gorgeous works all around, and of course my picks are very subjective. But here are some of the quilts I personally liked best.

Animal Quilts

Technicolor Dream Parrot by Roxanne Nelson from Canada is a color extravaganza:

Roxanne loves the bright colors of the Red Lored Amazon Parrot, and really let them shine in this quilt! She was inspired by the collage quilts of Susan Carlson, but applied some of her own layering techniques, too.

The Elephant in the Room by California artist Sandra Mollon is also a collage masterpiece:

I enjoyed the combination of monochrome and color:

If we’re talking elephants, I also liked Indigo Elephants by Andrea Schwenk from Germany:

Andrea dyed the fabrics herself from indigo she grew in her garden. I loved how she incorporated doilies into the quilt to give some poetic texture:

Missouri quilter Joann Webb’s Espalier is a monumental king-size quilt that couldn’t quite fit into my lens:

It was impressive in its detail, and also because of the fact that it was pieced, appliqued and quilted entirely by hand!

Man-made Landscape Quilts

This show had a few man-made landscape quilts that caught my eye. This is Country Road, by Japanese artist Masumi Kako:

From Germany, Petra Van Den Daele sent Reflecting About Life:

Her quilt aims to show how light and darkness intermingle:

Colorado quilter Pat Sprague’s Bisbee is made after photographs of Bisbee, Arizona:

California artist Kath McCormick’s quilt Puzzled Houses/The Loss of Affordable Housing (quilted by Cindy Jo Willey) has a whimsical look that appealed to me, even though it represents the very serious housing problem now facing parts of California:

Natural Landscape Quilts

When I saw Ruth Powers’ quilt Beneficial Burn II, I immediately thought about the devastating wildfires we had in California last year. Then I realized that Ruth is from Kansas, and her quilt is about the beneficial fires that make grasslands healthier:

Korean artist Eunhee Lee’s Looking at the Horizon, has a similar color scheme, but represents the beauty of the morning glow on the horizon:

Alicia Merrett from the United Kingdom sent in Estuary in Blue. Almost abstract, this quilt represents the unusual ecosystem of the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary in South Devon:

Abstract Quilts

It might not surprise you to hear that some of my favorite quilts in the show were abstract.

I liked the colors and composition of Not Quite Lemon Bars or Red Velvet Ladders by California artist Darlene Talukder:

Rise Up Singing by Sue Fox is made of necktie silk, and has an appealing sheen and interesting stitch-created flow:

To See and to Hug by Israeli artist Niza Hoffman has a lot of interesting detail to look at:

12 Shades of ? by Australian  quilter Pat Forster has a different, more structured aesthetics, yet a lot of interest:

Uta Lenk’s Shapes 29 from Germany has a strong color combination with interesting textural details:

Another Time and Place, a quilt about the feminine aspects of numbers by Robbi Eklow from Nebraska, appealed to me in it symmetry and color combination. Probably also because of the fact that it is meant to be a meditation quilt:

New York’s Marcia DeCamp’s Sunset by the Sea has some of my favorite colors:

And also some simple-yet-fun quilting:

Last but not least, my absolute show favorite quilt arrived all the way from Germany. Bricks’n Gears by Claudia Pfeil has fun colors, a complex composition and meticulous quilting. It actually won a ribbon for best long-arm quilting:

If you look closely, you might be able to see the tiny shiny beads that Claudia glued inside the pattern to give the quilt a bit of extra spark:

Bay Area folks: the 2019 Pacific International Quilt Festival is open until Sunday. Head on over if you have the time, and let me know which quilts jumped out at YOU!

 

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Calendar Quilt Series: My Autumn Mini Quilts

Earlier this week I finished the September mini quilt. This quilt sealed not only the sub-group of my autumn mini quilts, which I started last year, but also the entire twelve-months Calendar Quilt Series. Finishing this quilt was a bitter-sweet moment. I was happy to complete this year-long project, and was also proud of myself for sticking with it despite life’s hurdles. But, on the other hand, I was also sad to see it over–as you might know, this past year was personally challenging. At times, the Calendar Quilts were the only creative thing I was able to do, and they were a much-needed outlet. Now that they are complete, I feel a little lost…

My Autumn Mini Quilts: Influenced by the Colors and Flavors of Fall

“Change,” My September Quilt

There is a large maple tree right outside my sewing room window. It keeps me company while I work, alone and in silence. The changes it foregoes throughout the year remind me of what season it is, and helps shape my moods and my work. A few years ago it prompted me to make one of my earliest art quilts, “Falling Leaves.” It keeps inspiring on an ongoing basis.

The tree was bright and green throughout spring and summer. Now, with the nights turning cold, it is starting to change. Patches of red and yellow are creeping into the green, hinting at the change in the air, and of future changes to come.

I fashioned my September quilt after this tree, and called it “Change.” Life in general changes in September, together with the temperature: the summer ends, school begins, routines change course…

“Fall,” My October Quilt

Fall is probably my favorite season. I love the cooler days, the cozy cocooning, the warm colors all around. I love turning trees, pumpkin patches and squash soups. Autumn is also the only season when I can shut myself in my sewing room mostly uninterrupted.

No wonder I started this series with October, and called that quilt “Fall.”

“Spices,” My November Quilt

Many years ago I came to the US as a graduate student. Over my first Thanksgiving here, when most of my colleagues went home, I stayed in a mostly-empty dorm on campus. My graduate adviser, one of the kindest professors I have ever met, invited me and a few of the other foreign grad student to celebrate Thanksgiving at his house. I didn’t know much about Thanksgiving then, but it immediately became associated in my mind with a warm home, nice company and FOOD. Since then, Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays. It’s a time to pause, be grateful for everything we usually take for granted, enjoy the company of family and friends, and yes, feast on on lots of comforting food!

My family loves Thanksgiving and the traditions we built around it. We love the special group of friends that comes year after year, the festive table set up, sitting together around the fireplace. The kids also love the food. And every year, come Thanksgiving, I’m thinking of my professor and remembering his long-ago kindness.

My November quilt is therefore composed of the colors and flavors of Thanksgiving foods. I called it “Spices.” I hope it also conveys the warmth of a cozy house on a cold day, of good friends spending time together, and of grateful people gathering around a fireplace.

Sadly, I completed this quilt a few short weeks before my graduate adviser passed away, a few short months before my own father did the same…

Twelve quilts, one short year, yet a completely different world, my life transformed. I think “Change” is an appropriate name for the last quilt in this series, for more reasons than one.

Calendar Quilt Series: My Summer Mini Quilts

Last October I embarked on a self-imposed challenge: to make one small art quilt for each month of the year. A while back I wrote about my spring quilts and what inspired them. Last week I completed the last of my summer mini quilts, and can now show you the inspiration behind those as well.

My Summer Mini Quilts: Influenced by Summer Activities and Nature

“Flavors,” My June Quilt

June proved to be a real inspirational challenge. As hard as I wracked my brain, I just couldn’t come up with any special characteristic for that time of the year. Then, one afternoon on the first week of the summer vacation, my kids asked to go downtown to get some ice cream.

Inside the ice cream store, which we frequent often, my eye kept going to the unusual dark purple/maroon patch of the blackberry/wine ice cream (top right below):

You don’t often think dark, deep colors when you think ice cream, and this just happens to be one of my favorite colors. I also loved how the vivid colors of the different ice creams clashed with the cold sheen of the metal frames surrounding them…

Each of my kids picked their favorite flavors, and I ended up choosing the wine ice cream, just because I liked its color.

Although my ice cream didn’t taste quite as good as it looked, it did give me my quilt inspiration! I called it “Flavors.”

“Breeze,” My July Mini Quilt

July was a hot month, and our schedule was respectively full of water activities. The inspiration for July was therefore pretty obvious:

This month’s quilt if full of the blues and turquoises of water and sky, as well as the yellows of sand and sun. I called it “Breeze.”

“Parched,” My August Mini Quilt

Whereas California springs begin with a whirl of fresh greens and the vivid colors of flowers, its summer end with a dry, golden landscape. Every year by August the weeds in my garden dry up and wither. The hills all around likewise turn into rolling waves of gold:

The landscape itself presented the design for my August quilt, which is all about the dried-up lushness of spring. I think “Parched” describes it exactly, don’t you think?

So, which of my summer mini quilts do you like best?

Kyoto Textile-Lover’s Tour

During our family trip to Japan I managed to carve out one day for a solo Kyoto Textile-Lover’s Tour. I combed through our guidebooks and the internet, and came up with an itinerary that seemed promising. Then I ditched my family and went exploring. As it turned out, some of my destinations ended up being great fun, while others … less so.

The Kyoto Shibori Museum

My first stop was the Shibori Museum, which happened to be within walking distance from my hotel. This small but pleasant museum has two floors. The bottom floor has a small shop selling books about shibori as well as hand-dyed fabrics and finished artwork. It also has space dedicated to classes.

The second floor features a detailed exhibition explaining different dyeing techniques, mostly from Japan but also from other countries. There is an English brochure, and the display has English signs making the dyeing process clear.

When I visited the museum, I was the only guest there. The staff was very helpful, and I got to have a private, English-speaking tour guide who took me through the exhibition and answered all my questions. Then I had my own, private shibori lesson, resulting in a beautiful silk scarf (that the director of the museum himself helped me unravel!):

Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed my visit and highly recommend this museum! To learn more check the museum’s website.

The Nishijin Textile Center

After I finished my scarf, I headed over to the Nishijin Textile Center. Nishijin was Kyoto’s traditional weaving district. When I learned it had a Textile Center, I couldn’t be more excited! My excitement died down when I got there, however. Although informative, the Center felt like a big tourist trap. Tourists arrived by the bus-loads, and were swarming throughout the displays and shop. Coming from the amazing-yet-deserted Shibori Museum, I was very surprised to see so many people at a textile center…

The ground floor of the Center had an old-fashioned display, with fading posters explaining the Nishijin weaving process. 

The second floor was mostly a huge shop. It had beautiful fabrics for sale, as well as traditional Japanese clothes.

There was a weaving demonstration:

A wall display explaining the different kinds of fabrics:

And some other small displays:

The Center also offered an array of classes in different textile arts (such as weaving, or making your own hat or purse). Had I not just taken a class at the shibori museum, I would have surly done so here. 

The Center also featured a fashion show, showcasing different styles of kimonos:

To plan your trip to the Center (and maybe take a class there), check out their website.

Aizenkobo Workshop

From the Textile Center I walked a few blocks to the Aizenkobo workshop.This family workshop (or atelier), is located in a traditional wooden house on a small alley. It specializes in indigo dyeing, and the making of Japanese and Western-style clothing. The front room of the house is a shop selling functional (but rather old fashioned) pieces. 

When I got there, the place was very quiet and I was the only visitor. Eventually an elderly man came out to greet me. He showed me to the work area at the back of the house. In very broken English he explained that his son, the artist, wasn’t there. I understood that the family wasn’t making the indigo dye themselves, but rather bought it from other parts of Japan. Their expertise was the dyeing itself. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand much, and my host didn’t want me to take any pictures. Sadly, the visit ended up feeling rather awkward. 

If you wish to visit the workshop but can’t speak Japanese, I suggest coming with an interpreter (or possibly the artist himself speaks some English?). You can also check their website for more information.

Orinasu-kan

A rather long walk in scorching heat then lead me to Orinasu-kan. Established in 1989, this small museum is dedicated to preserving Kyoto’s traditional dyeing and weaving culture. It is housed in a beautiful (but dark) old building that was once an obi (kimono belt) shop.

When I entered the museum, I realized that, once again, I was the only patron. A grumpy receptionist who spoke no English reluctantly greeted me. He then got really upset with me when I didn’t understand where he wanted me to put my shoe-less feet…

The ground-floor display was interesting, but with sparse English explanations. It had some beautiful Noh costumes, as well as fabric-pattern books.

The small upstairs gallery had some coarser woven fabrics:

The receptionist asked me something about a tour, and I said yes. He then showed me into a darkish side room, gave me some tea, and left me there alone for half an hour. I must admit that I was a bit nervous at that point, not sure what was going on. I regretted not bringing my family along (though I knew my kids would not have enjoyed any of it).

Eventually, the receptionist told me to go back up to the second-floor gallery. Once there, a door I haven’t even noticed opened in the far wall. A man came out and motioned for me to follow. I did, although I wasn’t at all sure if that was the right (or safe) thing to do. The man told me not to take any pictures. Then he showed me into a room-full of weaving looms. The room was very hot, humid and crowded with looms. There were only two weavers present, however, each working on a different type of fabric. Seeing how they wove the intricate designs was interesting.

If you want to visit this museum, I suggest to take someone along, to make it less awkward. I couldn’t find a website for the museum, but you can read more about it here. And do expect to be yelled at as you attempt to take your shoes off…

Nomura Tailor House

By the time I was done with the Orinasu-kan Museum I was rather exhausted, but there was still one destination on my list: the Nomura Tailor House, a large fabric store. I took a bus and then walked some more. When I got there, melting and thirsty, I found this:

I almost burst into tears. Luckily, the second branch in this chain was only a couple of blocks away, and I made it there safely.

My family joined me as I was shopping, and we all went to a cafe. There, I cooled down with a well-earned iced matcha latte.

 

Doll-maker Aya Furuta and a Missed Craft Show in Matsumoto, Japan

On the second day of our family trip to Japan, we toured Matsumoto. We spent a fun day exploring the famous castle and the nearby Matsumoto City Museum

In the afternoon we strolled down the alleys of the old part of town, looking for a restaurant. We passed by a big building with open doors.

I kept walking, but my husband, to my great horror, went in to explore. Soon, he chased me down the road and told me I must go in. It felt a bit awkward, but I did. Inside I found people packing what turned out to be the exact kind of textile craft show I was hoping to see in Japan.

It turned out that the show was a once-a-year event showcasing local textile artists. It was open for two days, and just closed shortly before we arrived. The artists were in the midst of packing the artwork, but they were kind enough to let me walk around and drool over everything that remained visible.

I saw gorgeous dyed and printed fabrics for doors, windows or for the wall, as well as some interesting woven art involving twigs:

 There were beautiful room dividers and impressive textile fish:

I caught a glimpse of some table cloths and cushions:

And possibly some scarves, that the artists were putting away…

And then I saw some of the most beautiful dolls I’ve ever seen:

The artist who made them was there, too. 

In the 1970’s, Aya Furuta traveled extensively in South East Asia. At that time, Japan experienced an economic boom that quickened the pace of life. The life in the countries Aya visited, on the other hand, remained slower and more sane. Aya felt drawn to to that slower pace. During her travels, she collected a vast assortment of antique, traditional handmade textiles. She appreciated the great care that went into weaving and embroidering them. Later, she started making dolls using these textiles. She has been a doll maker for over thirty years.

Dressing her dolls with her collected South-Asian textiles fills Aya Furuta with pleasure. She feels that the textiles connect her to the prayers and joys of the people who created them. The dolls are her way to preserve the spirit of a different kind of life, to point to a slower way of living that modern people have forgotten.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to purchase one of Aya Furuta’s dolls, but I gladly bought her inspiring doll catalog.

I was hoping (expecting?) to find other, similar textile craft shows in other places in Japan, but to my great disappointment this never happened. Despite my lingering sense of missed opportunity, I feel very fortunate to have meet Aya Futura and her dolls!

 

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Khmer Ikat and the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles

Last December, my family stopped over in Cambodia to see Angknor Wat. Discovering Artisans Angkor and learning about traditional Khmer crafts was an unexpected bonus. But my luck didn’t end with that. The hotel we stayed at was on the outskirts of Siem Reap, and every time we rode a tuk tuk back we passed by this sign:

As you can imagine, the words “Traditional Textiles” ignited my curiosity. I just couldn’t bare the thought of leaving Siem Reap without checking this place out! And so, after a full day of touring the temples followed by a visit to Artisans Angkor, I dragged my exhausted family to one more place before ending the day with a well-deserved dinner. 

We walked into the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) to find an unremarkable yard surrounding a traditional house on stilts. In the large area under the stilts, straw mats covered the concrete floor. Rows of looms and other devices filled the space. A few women worked sitting on the floor:

I felt a bit like an intruder, not sure whether we were allowed to be there or not. But then someone pointed to the “store” sign. We climbed up to the second floor to check it out. There, we met a very friendly Japanese woman speaking fluent English, who was generous enough to tell us more about the Institute and take us around. 

History

IKTT was established in 1996 by Kikuo Morimoto. Morimoto was a master kimono painter from Kyoto, specializing in natural dyes. He fell in love with Khmer silk while visiting Cambodia in the early 1990’s. With help from UNESCO, in 1995 he was able to tour remote villages in the still-war-revenged country, searching for weavers who were skilled in traditional weaving. He soon realized that war and modernity threatened the continuation of the art. Young people were no longer interested in learning weaving skills that would not allow them to support their families. Once the old generation died off, Morimoto realized, the art of traditional Khmer weaving will die with them.

And so, he established IKTT, and gathered the few old women who still knew the traditional craft into one village. He brought silk worms, set workshops, attracted young weavers and even bought land on which to revive the natural forest (the source for traditional dyes). It took many years, but now the Institute owns 23 hectares of revived forest; supports a self-sustaining textile village that is the home of 160 people; and runs the main office and shop in Siem Reap, which I visited. IKTT currently employs around 250 people.

Khmer Silk

Khmer silk is made out of yellow cocoons created by the silk worms native to Cambodia. These cocoons are smaller than the white cocoons used for Chinese and Japanese silk, and they produce much shorter threads: about 300 meters (984 feet) per cocoon vs. 1,400 meters (4593 feet) per white cocoon. However, the silk they produce is of higher quality.

Artisans cook the cocoons in banana ash. This removes the proteins and allows extraction of thread. They spin the thread by hand, creating an unevenly-thick thread that later creates a textured cloth:

After they spin it, they prepare it for dyeing.

Natural Dyes

Traditional Khmer dyes, like traditional Peruvian dyes, are extracted from the natural world: plants and insects collected from the forests. There are five main colors: yellow, red, green, blue and black.

Of course, despite the similar look of the Peruvian and Khmer natural dyes, each culture relies on the plants and insects that are available to it. Whereas Peruvian purple, for example, is extracted from purple corn, Khmer purple comes for the Lac insect. Sadly, this insect became extinct in Cambodia, and is now imported:

Artisans wrap the dyed thread on a wheel to dry, and then roll it into bobbins:

Weaving

Plain or Plated Cloth

The simplest Khmer silk cloth is plain, with the warp and weft threads being the same color:

Shot silk has two different colors: one for the warp and one for the weft. While visiting IKTT I saw two such examples, one with black warp and yellow weft threads resulting in darkish-yellow color:

And the other with red warp and yellow weft, creating an almost golden color:

IKTT artisans create plaid by using different colors in the warp, mimicked by a similar pattern of different colors of the weft:

Khmer Ikat

The most amazing Khmer silks, however, are those with Ikat patterns. These are the most complex and time-consuming to make. Khmer Ikat is a weft Ikat woven on a multi-shaft loom. This means that artisans have to weave each weft thread exactly in its right place to create the design. This type of weaving creates an uneven twill weave, meaning that the weft threads are more visible on the front of the fabric. 

Ikat silk is born when weavers divide threads into small bundles. They stretch these bundles on a frame that is the width of the final textile:

They then tie banana fibers on each bundle, at the place where they DON’T want the dye to take hold. That means that they need to know the final pattern BEFORE they even begin dyeing:

Now the threads are ready for the first dye. Artisans dip the tied thread bundles into dye pots. Once dyed, they stretch them again, remove the original ties, and put more ties to cover the parts which they don’t want the second dye to cover. This is painstaking work that takes many, many hours:

Artisans repeat the process for the third and any subsequent dye, until the threads reach their final color.

Amazingly, the patterns are not written anywhere. The motifs and designs are passed down through the generations, with each artist re-creating them from memory. Thus, every complete textile is unique to the person who created it.

Weavers weave the dyed threads into a fabric. The threads you see in the pictures above, for example, look like this on the final textile:

The traditional Khmer textiles were skirt wraps: Sampot Hol for women, and Sampot Hol Kaban for men. The most complex Khmer Ikat was the Pidan, a traditional wall hanging for religious ceremonies. In the latter, the pattern has no repetition at all!

Many of the textiles created by IKTT artisans take over three months to create!

The Shop

The second-floor shop offers the finished silks for sale. Don’t expect to find bargains here. IKTT silks are of the highest-quality. Their prices rightfully reflect that. Keep in mind that for your money, you will get a unique piece of art, support an entire community, and help preserve a traditional Khmer art.

Many tourists visit Artisans Angkor, but IKTT is a hidden gem. It truly is a must stop for any textile lover.

For more information on the Institute visit its website.

 

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