THAILAND'S JEWEL TEXTILE
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
Silk has been known to the world for 1,000 years. The ancient Silk Road linked China with the West, and carried goods and ideas between the great civilizations of Rome and China.
Today silk is rapidly gaining popularity worldwide due to its luster, beautiful texture, and durable quality.
BOLTS OF SHINING SILK
Sericulture and silk weaving have been closely associated with Thai people for centuries. Based on folk wisdom, instructions on how to raise silkworms and the techniques and patterns of the weaving itself have been passed on from generation to generation. Traditionally, sericulture has been a secondary occupation among farm households, whose first concern is rice cultivation.
This cottage industry is highly labor intensive and provides a vast number of jobs and supplemental income for those who would normally be unemployable. A large labor reserve of the disadvantaged, women, the elderly and children all benefit through their participation in the production of this magnificent textile.
The raising of silkworms is fascinating and complex. Tiny worms are hand fed shredded mulberry leaves exclusively, and all droppings are removed. Silkworms, or luk nang, have five growth stages. Sometimes a whole village is involved in the feeding cycles, the cleaning and the protection of these cocoons, which takes a total of 26-28 days before the silk nests are finally available to render silk thread.
The breeding of silk worms is not easy either. They can die at any time, for no apparent reason, before the nests are matured. Sometimes the entire lot is gone because of contamination.
The yarn drawing process must be completed within seven days after the nests are matured, or the caterpillars in the nests will emerge as butterflies. Silkworm nests must be dried in the intense heat of the sun to ensure the caterpillars are dead. Then these nests are submerged into boiling water. Once they surface, it is time to draw the silk threads with a stick, to transfer them to a basket and more nests are added to the boiling water. The yarn is then spun, and afterwards, bleached.
In the olden days, liquid from roasted banana leaves was used to bleach the silk. After bleaching in the liquid for an hour or two, it is then dried in the sun. Then the silk is dyed and spooled onto the harness. It is at this point where one must persevere. Tying silk yarn that finally amounts to tens of thousands of silk threads truly calls for great patience.
When weaving a plain color with no design, eight yards a day is expected. However, many weaves are of intricate patterns, and a day's worth may be only an inch or two of production.
SPOOLING SILK ON LOOM
Jim Thompson, famous in Thailand, is largely given credit for reviving the sagging Thai silk trade in the middle of the last century. He was responsible for replacing the traditional vegetable dyes with high quality, color fast Swiss dyes, virtually eliminating the occurrence of unpredictable colors or the fading so common with the vegetable dyes. He introduced commercial looms utilizing a foot pedal operated shuttle which significantly raised daily production output. He built up an industry using a network of Muslim weavers in Bangkok, and soon attracted international attention via Vogue Magazine. In 1951, Thai silk was featured in the Broadway production of The King and I, and mesmerized the public at large with the stunning beauty of Thai silk.
WEAVING SINGLE COLOR SILK
Jim Thompson standardized the industry, introduced strict guidelines for production, and formulated an inspection process of silk cocoons that is still being used today. He also expanded the non traditional uses of Thai silk, such as producing heavy silks for upholstery, which broadened Thai silks' popularity.
Silk making brings a sense of pride and accomplishment to everyone who plays a part in the production process. Given the combination of so many elements and such rich history, a beautiful piece of silk fabric is considered the fruit of perseverance and culture.
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About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
For more information about financial independence and travel, visit our book store
Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.