Bangkok Post reviews
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: March 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm
Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum in Chiang Mai maintains the legacy of a woman who loved to create cloth in the traditional way
The looms and spinning wheels are a bit battered and worn, betraying the use they have been put to over the years. But they have clearly been well loved, since they are functional and are still being used to produce fine fabrics today.
Among the handlooms, frames, spinning wheels, earthenware pots and other equipment that can be found at Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum in Chom Thong district of Chiang Mai are more than 10 local women producing naturally colour-dyed cotton yarn and fabrics of many designs. They dye, spin and weave the cotton by hand and in traditional fashion.
The weaving centre was established by Saeng-da Bunsiddhi, the 1986 National Artist for Folkcraft, who regarded cotton dyeing and weaving as a labour of love and tried her best to conserve the art. Saeng-da died in 1993 and the museum is her legacy.
"The uniqueness is that our products are hand-made cotton fabrics, woven with handlooms and dyed with natural herbal colours," Saowanee Bunsiddhi, Saeng-da's daughter, said. "Our cotton fabrics last for decades."
According to her, the museum was once a summer residence of Chao Kavilawong, a former ruler of Chiang Mai. Saeng-da bought the house from the ruler's son who was close to her husband. The house was turned into a museum with the support of former deputy education minister Rung Kaewdaeng.
A photo of the late 1986 National Artist for Folkcraft Saeng-da Bunsiddhi at Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum in Chiang Mai.
Saeng-da's works, including teen jok motifs and northern-style cotton flags, are on display, as are news clippings about her. Saeng-da's former bedroom is decorated with old pictures of her family.
"More people and students have visited this museum to observe the dyeing and weaving of cotton textiles," Saowanee said. "Visitors are excited when seeing us spin cotton by hand, thread after thread. In the past, every local woman must be able to weave clothes or she would have no chance to marry."
Saeng-da was born in 1919 in Chom Thong district. She never had any formal schooling. She learned the art of weaving from her grandmother, Liam, who was skilled in dyeing and weaving cotton fabrics in a traditional style and earned her living from dyeing textiles. She also gained some knowledge and experience from hilltribe people who lived in the neighbourhood.
During World War II, a shortage of textiles prompted her to weave khaki textiles called pha pluak mai (tree bark fabrics) and make uniforms for her military doctor husband Snr Sgt Maj Malai Bunsiddhi and his friends.
After her husband's death in 1960, Saeng-da began to collect weaving equipment and grow cotton plants. After obtaining five handlooms, she encouraged local women to weave cotton fabric for sale and set up a housewives' union.
The sales eventually grew. High demand, especially from Japanese customers, prompted Saeng-da to invest in growing cotton plants and encourage her neighbours to do the same. She also bought cotton from nearby farmers.
Saeng-da was determined to increase incomes and job opportunities for her neighbours, preserve traditional dyeing and weaving techniques and promote handicraft production. She also initiated the extension of the width of cotton textiles to meet the international standard, and taught people how to weave.
"In 1985, my mother was named a folkcraft artist. In 1986, she was declared National Artist and became better known among people," Saowanee said.
The centre now has a wide variety of products, from fabrics, shawls and handbags to napkins. When Saeng-da was alive, the centre sold only fabrics for dressmaking.
"We need two weavers to produce each piece of fabric. The process is complicated. We start by beating 100% cotton [called fai in Thai] until it becomes big like ceiba or java cotton [called noon in Thai]. Whether or not it will be beautiful depends on the cotton beating method. Then we roll the cotton into hot dog-shaped bars," she said.
The native cotton yarn which is naturally grey in colour is traditionally produced from indigenous cotton plants. The yarn is spun with simple folk equipment and dyed with plant pigments obtained from natural products like tree bark, roots, leaves and berries. The green and yellow colours are extracted from bael fruit, or matoom in Thai, while the black, grey and brown colours are the products of ebony trees and alkaline.
"After that, cotton will be dyed with natural colours. For example, the black colour is extracted from ebony wood, or maklua in Thai. An advantage of using natural pigments is that the colour changes to different darker or lighter shades every time the cotton is dyed. The core of sappan wood, or fang in Thai, provides a blood-like colour while Kurz wood, or peka in Thai, gives the green colour similar to jasmine trees' branches," Saowanee said.
All the designs and colours used at the centre were developed by Saeng-da herself. Originals are well maintained and used as samples by the weavers.
There are currently just over 10 weavers working for the centre, which is also known as Ban Rai Pai Ngarm. All are highly skilled weavers as the higher minimum wage rate has meant the centre is employing fewer assistants. In the past, there were more than 40 employees.
Each weaver can produce about 2m of each cotton textile or scarf per day. Khampia Papana, a 65-year-old weaver, has worked there for more than 30 years.
"The art of weaving has been passed on to me by my grandparents," she said.
"In the past, every woman must be able to weave because they must weave clothes for personal use."
She said young women no longer pay attention to weaving. In the past, the empty space under Saeng-da's stilted wooden house was once full of weavers, but they inevitably aged.
Before Saeng-da died of cancer at the age of 74 in 1993, she expressed concerns about cotton weaving and asked her daughter Saowanee to promise to carry on the legacy.
"The weaving has been passed on to younger generations. My daughter and granddaughter are also good weavers. My university student granddaughter Porsa knew how to spin and weave cotton when she was just a Prathom 4 student," Saowanee said proudly.
Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum under the Saeng-Da Bunsiddhi Foundation is open daily during office hours. Admission is free. Call 053-361-231.