Thailand’s finest fruit of the loom (photoblog)

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Weaver at a traditional old loom creating a typical Baan Khampung silk sarong  © Arno Maierbrugger
Weaver at a traditional old loom creating a typical Baan Khampun silk sarong © Arno Maierbrugger

Whoever is into arts and crafts from Thailand knows that the country has a lot to offer in this space. Among them are the highly exclusive silk fabrics produced by a small, but nevertheless quite famous weaving shop in Thailand’s northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani, capital of province of the same name.

Baan Khampun, as the place is called (meaning “Lotus House”), is widely known as Ubon Ratchathani’s silk specialist that makes exquisite fabrics in small numbers using self-designed patterns and styles not found elsewhere. The place, surrounded by beautiful gardens, also serves as a home workshop and textile museum featuring a rare collection of silk and other native fabrics of Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region, to preserve the precious products of traditional folk art and other antique items such as Buddha images from various historical periods.

Meechai Taesujariya, together with his mother Khampun Srisai owner of the Baan Khampun in Ubon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger
Meechai Taesujariya, together with his mother Khampun Srisai owner of the Baan Khampun in Ubon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger

The owners of Baan Khampun, Mrs. Khampun Srisai, the head of a wealthy family of Sino-Chinese ancestry involved in the silk trade, and her son Meechai Taesujariya, are running the place which only opens to the public once a year only, during the famous Candle Festival held in Ubon Ratchathani after the full moon in  July.

Mrs. Srisai created the famous pha kap bua pattern adopted as the province’s official silk design, inspired by the lotus plant which fits well with the province’s name, translated as “land of the lotus”. Pha kap bua is known for its high quality and distinctive patterns and colours which can be white, pink, pale green, light green. light gold and dark brown.

The production of this kind of silk is a difficult and complicated process. It can take a handloom weaver up to three month to complete a silk skirt, or sarong, at a length of two yards, or about 1.83 meters. That way, Baan Khampun’s silk sarongs can command prices between $2,500 and $6,700, depending on their exclusivity, design and artistry. Only some 20 pieces a year are produced in the shop altogether, says Meechai, who does most of the design and also builds traditional looms from rosewood.

“Our customers are mainly from Ubon Ratchathani, some from Bangkok and a few from other parts of Thailand,” says Meechai, “and they dress up with the silk for festive ceremonies such as weddings.”

Raw material comes from silkworm farms in the Isaan region, and the old-style looms have been created by in Thai, Laos and Khmer tradition.

As for the design, apart from the “basic” pha kab bua there are two other patterns, pha kab bua chok and pha kab bua kam. Pha kab bua chok adds a supplementary star-shaped pattern to the design which is unique for the Ubon Ratchathani region and easily recognisable. Pha kab bua kam, or “golden brocade”, is a very sophisticated pattern in golden or silver embroidery and the most exclusive product.

The weavers are locals, mostly women from farming families, who work through the long process of weaving a Baan Khampun silk sarong outside the harvesting season and earn about 20,000 baht (about $600) for a piece. Given that one kilogramme of raw silk costs between 2,000 and 2,500 baht ($60 to $75), the yields for the family are quite attractive.

Baan Khampun with its meticulous gardens © Arno Maierbrugger
Baan Khampun and its meticulously manicured gardens © Arno Maierbrugger

However, for one part, the Khampun family uses the proceeds of the silk fabric sales to keep their place tidy. The beautiful old mansion, located along the highway leading from Ubon Ratchathani to Srisaket,with its old-style Thai wooden structures, is a particular rarity in the northeastern Isaan region, together with its meticulously manicured gardens, and highly deserves preservation.

But a sizeable part of the income is also used for training locals in weaving techniques and to operate a small private handicraft school, in addition to the private folk museum the family is running. Money collected from visitors during the Candle Festival is being donated to provide scholarship and food for needy students as well as to the further preservation of a local cultural heritage museum in Ubon Ratchathani’s temple of Wat Sri Ubon Rattanaram. The Khampun family, which points out to get no support from the provincial or federal government whatsoever to preserve Thai traditional silk handicraft, now also looks into the possibility to open a small museum in Ubon Ratchathani on their own.

Old mansion: Baan Khampun, Obon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger
Proud mansion: Baan Khampun, Obon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger
Baan Khampun'S lotus pond © Arno Maierbrugger
Baan Khampun’s idyllic lotus pond © Arno Maierbrugger
Farmer women act as part-time weavers in the off-harvest season © Arno Maierbrugger
Peasant women act as part-time weavers in the off-harvest season © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional weaving tools © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional weaving tools © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning the silk by hand is a tedious process © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning the silk by hand is a tedious process © Arno Maierbrugger
Completely handmade silk fabrics at about 2 yards are the result © Arno Maierbrugger
Handmade silk sarongs are about two yards in length © Arno Maierbrugger
Creating a silk sarong takes about three month of hand weaving © Arno Maierbrugger
Weaving a silk sarong on the old loom takes about three months © Arno Maierbrugger
Colours of Isaan: Weaving a purple sarong © Arno Maierbrugger
Colours of Isaan: Weaving a purple sarong © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning silk with patience © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning silk with patience © Arno Maierbrugger
Finest white silk © Arno Maierbrugger
Finest white silk © Arno Maierbrugger
Ready for processing © Arno Maierbrugger
Ready for processing © Arno Maierbrugger
When finished, this white sarong will be used as a wedding gown © Arno Maierbrugger
When finished, the sarong made from this fine white silk will be used as a wedding gown © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional Isaan music can be listened to throughout the working day © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional Isaan music can be listened to throughout the working day © Arno Maierbrugger

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Weaver at a traditional old loom creating a typical Baan Khampun silk sarong © Arno Maierbrugger

Whoever is into arts and crafts from Thailand knows that the country has a lot to offer in this space. Among them are the highly exclusive silk fabrics produced by a small, but nevertheless quite famous weaving shop in Thailand’s northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani, capital of province of the same name.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Weaver at a traditional old loom creating a typical Baan Khampung silk sarong  © Arno Maierbrugger
Weaver at a traditional old loom creating a typical Baan Khampun silk sarong © Arno Maierbrugger

Whoever is into arts and crafts from Thailand knows that the country has a lot to offer in this space. Among them are the highly exclusive silk fabrics produced by a small, but nevertheless quite famous weaving shop in Thailand’s northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani, capital of province of the same name.

Baan Khampun, as the place is called (meaning “Lotus House”), is widely known as Ubon Ratchathani’s silk specialist that makes exquisite fabrics in small numbers using self-designed patterns and styles not found elsewhere. The place, surrounded by beautiful gardens, also serves as a home workshop and textile museum featuring a rare collection of silk and other native fabrics of Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region, to preserve the precious products of traditional folk art and other antique items such as Buddha images from various historical periods.

Meechai Taesujariya, together with his mother Khampun Srisai owner of the Baan Khampun in Ubon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger
Meechai Taesujariya, together with his mother Khampun Srisai owner of the Baan Khampun in Ubon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger

The owners of Baan Khampun, Mrs. Khampun Srisai, the head of a wealthy family of Sino-Chinese ancestry involved in the silk trade, and her son Meechai Taesujariya, are running the place which only opens to the public once a year only, during the famous Candle Festival held in Ubon Ratchathani after the full moon in  July.

Mrs. Srisai created the famous pha kap bua pattern adopted as the province’s official silk design, inspired by the lotus plant which fits well with the province’s name, translated as “land of the lotus”. Pha kap bua is known for its high quality and distinctive patterns and colours which can be white, pink, pale green, light green. light gold and dark brown.

The production of this kind of silk is a difficult and complicated process. It can take a handloom weaver up to three month to complete a silk skirt, or sarong, at a length of two yards, or about 1.83 meters. That way, Baan Khampun’s silk sarongs can command prices between $2,500 and $6,700, depending on their exclusivity, design and artistry. Only some 20 pieces a year are produced in the shop altogether, says Meechai, who does most of the design and also builds traditional looms from rosewood.

“Our customers are mainly from Ubon Ratchathani, some from Bangkok and a few from other parts of Thailand,” says Meechai, “and they dress up with the silk for festive ceremonies such as weddings.”

Raw material comes from silkworm farms in the Isaan region, and the old-style looms have been created by in Thai, Laos and Khmer tradition.

As for the design, apart from the “basic” pha kab bua there are two other patterns, pha kab bua chok and pha kab bua kam. Pha kab bua chok adds a supplementary star-shaped pattern to the design which is unique for the Ubon Ratchathani region and easily recognisable. Pha kab bua kam, or “golden brocade”, is a very sophisticated pattern in golden or silver embroidery and the most exclusive product.

The weavers are locals, mostly women from farming families, who work through the long process of weaving a Baan Khampun silk sarong outside the harvesting season and earn about 20,000 baht (about $600) for a piece. Given that one kilogramme of raw silk costs between 2,000 and 2,500 baht ($60 to $75), the yields for the family are quite attractive.

Baan Khampun with its meticulous gardens © Arno Maierbrugger
Baan Khampun and its meticulously manicured gardens © Arno Maierbrugger

However, for one part, the Khampun family uses the proceeds of the silk fabric sales to keep their place tidy. The beautiful old mansion, located along the highway leading from Ubon Ratchathani to Srisaket,with its old-style Thai wooden structures, is a particular rarity in the northeastern Isaan region, together with its meticulously manicured gardens, and highly deserves preservation.

But a sizeable part of the income is also used for training locals in weaving techniques and to operate a small private handicraft school, in addition to the private folk museum the family is running. Money collected from visitors during the Candle Festival is being donated to provide scholarship and food for needy students as well as to the further preservation of a local cultural heritage museum in Ubon Ratchathani’s temple of Wat Sri Ubon Rattanaram. The Khampun family, which points out to get no support from the provincial or federal government whatsoever to preserve Thai traditional silk handicraft, now also looks into the possibility to open a small museum in Ubon Ratchathani on their own.

Old mansion: Baan Khampun, Obon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger
Proud mansion: Baan Khampun, Obon Ratchathani © Arno Maierbrugger
Baan Khampun'S lotus pond © Arno Maierbrugger
Baan Khampun’s idyllic lotus pond © Arno Maierbrugger
Farmer women act as part-time weavers in the off-harvest season © Arno Maierbrugger
Peasant women act as part-time weavers in the off-harvest season © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional weaving tools © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional weaving tools © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning the silk by hand is a tedious process © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning the silk by hand is a tedious process © Arno Maierbrugger
Completely handmade silk fabrics at about 2 yards are the result © Arno Maierbrugger
Handmade silk sarongs are about two yards in length © Arno Maierbrugger
Creating a silk sarong takes about three month of hand weaving © Arno Maierbrugger
Weaving a silk sarong on the old loom takes about three months © Arno Maierbrugger
Colours of Isaan: Weaving a purple sarong © Arno Maierbrugger
Colours of Isaan: Weaving a purple sarong © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning silk with patience © Arno Maierbrugger
Yarning silk with patience © Arno Maierbrugger
Finest white silk © Arno Maierbrugger
Finest white silk © Arno Maierbrugger
Ready for processing © Arno Maierbrugger
Ready for processing © Arno Maierbrugger
When finished, this white sarong will be used as a wedding gown © Arno Maierbrugger
When finished, the sarong made from this fine white silk will be used as a wedding gown © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional Isaan music can be listened to throughout the working day © Arno Maierbrugger
Traditional Isaan music can be listened to throughout the working day © Arno Maierbrugger

 

 

 

 

 

 

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