In Laos, weaving is a traditional handicraft practiced by many women. Before being able to start weaving, a whole process is required to turn cotton into thread and yarn.
If today, most women buy the cotton threads, it is still common to see women prepare their own in remote or cotton villages. Specifically, in Northern Laos, Akha women weave their own clothes, from planting cotton to decorating the fabric.
- After it is planted in May and harvested between October and November, cotton is dried in the sun.
- Then, this young woman is removing the seeds from the cotton fibres using a hand-made and hand-operated wooden gin. This 2000-year old technique is carried out on a gin which technology has remained unchanged for the past five centuries.
- Later, she will put the cotton inside a large horizontal bamboo-woven basket, and she will use a bow to beat it up in order to get rid of impurities such as dirt or twigs that could still be in the cotton fibres. This will also fluff it up and it will look like cotton candy by the end of this step of the process.
- The cotton ball will be rolled into straw-like shapes to make it easy to spin.
- These will be spun using a large wheel to make yarn.
- The spun cotton will then be wound onto a wooden frame to create a skein that is then soaked in water.
- This thread can be bleached in the sun or dyed, and this is another whole process in itself! This young Akha woman will dye her cotton fabric dark blue, using indigo leaves according to the Akha traditions.
- The thread is wound into bobbins and spoils for weaving.
- Then the loom is set up and the weaving can start… And this is a whole different know-how!
The industrial revolution has drastically changed the way clothes are made in most countries. In Laos the tradition is also threatened and community-based centres work hard to preserve this know-how, or to revive ancient techniques.
Marcella & Claire
- To get a deeper look into the weaving traditions in Laos and the preservation work that is being carried out, refer to these articles: Dyeing to weave your way through Vientiane, Laos!, Traditional Hmong Batik, Laos and How to bamboo weave your way through Luang Prabang, Laos.
- To learn more about the Akha people, Meet the Akha tribes of Northern Laos and visit the excellent TAEC (Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre) museum in Luang Prabang.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!