Weaving wonders

Weaving wonders

At 'Craft Hybrid', Rattachat Phonsaen presents an innovative way to repair broken objects using traditional techniques

Weaving wonders
Rattachat Phonsaen at his show 'Craft Hybrid'.

While wandering Bangkok's pavements, Rattachat Phonsaen, founder of design company Pitak Style, often came across discarded items like chairs, tables and vendor carts. Inspired by his passion for handicraft items, Rattachat conceived the idea of repairing these broken objects using traditional basketry methods.

For a year, Rattachat had been contemplating ways to repair broken items using weaving techniques. One day, while at his home in Buri Ram, he came across a broken white plastic chair. He decided to use his skills to fix it.

The broken backrest of the chair was replaced with a beautiful wicker weave. To strengthen the backrest, Rattachat used wooden sticks to support each side of the plastic chair by tightly weaving them to the original plastic legs. He then employed a weaving technique called lai dok pikun which is typically used in crafting sticky rice steaming baskets to create the backrest.

"Whenever I see broken items, I wonder if it's possible to repair them and make them unique using handicraft techniques. I have never seen any furniture that combines weaving techniques with plastic before. The entire process was a series of trial-and-error experiments that I conducted myself," said Rattachat.

His idea resulted in a new and unique piece of furniture, unlike anything seen before. The fusion of traditional weaving and modern plastic resulted in a surprisingly beautiful piece of handicraft.

Following successful repair of the chair, Rattachat discovered that Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) was accepting applications for the Open Space project, which showcased intriguing creations. Inspired by this opportunity, he submitted a proposal. Once his proposal was accepted, he repaired more items to display at his solo exhibition "Craft Hybrid".

His second repaired item was a broken table with a missing top. He replaced the table top with a flat woven piece inspired by the threshing basket technique. The top was securely attached to its thick base using intricate weaving methods. The final product was a table that boasted both strength and beauty.

The third piece was a red plastic chair with cracks which he repaired with the technique used for binding the edge of a basket used for steaming sticky rice. It is a technique that he intended to demonstrate to viewers.

'Craft Hybrid' presents a fusion of traditional weaving and modern objects.

Next, he presented a broken traffic cone covered with a cone-shaped wickerwork featuring a hexagonal pattern, commonly used in round bamboo baskets. Rattachat revealed that he intentionally broke the traffic cone and covered it with woven work. He wanted the traffic cone to create the vibe of the roads where he found inspiration for his hybrid creations.

"I want people to see weaving in a new aspect, not limited to traditional form. This allows people to realise that weaving can be used in various ways. We can apply weaving techniques to modern objects that are damaged and transform them into functional pieces," Rattachat explained .

Rattachat earned his bachelor's degree in product design from the School of Fine and Applied Arts at Bangkok University. When he was a sophomore student, he attended a seminar where he met Korakot Aromdee, a renowned designer who incorporates Thai traditional handicraft techniques into modern design. Korakot's ideas inspired him to develop an interest in woven work in his hometown of Baan Muang Noi.

"I saw my grandparents weave bamboo to make sticky rice steaming baskets when I was young. At the time, I was not interested in it. That changed after Korakot said that we can use anything around us to design a product. I was impressed by how he incorporated his hometown's woven work and kite-making techniques into his designs. It was a surprise to learn that designers can add value to local woven crafts that had been overlooked," said Rattachat.

People in Baan Muang Noi are craftsmen known for making rice steaming baskets with unique weaving styles. They even create their own tools to aid in the process.

A cracked plastic chair repaired using the same technique to bind the edge of a basket used for steaming sticky rice.

"I've seen some of these tools since I was young, but I didn't realise back then that they display local wisdom," he explained. "One such tool is a sheet of galvanised metal with holes punched in it. A craftsman inserts the wicker strands through the hole, ensuring that they all come out the same size.

"I also learned that each rice steaming basket features three main patterns. The first pattern is on its cover, making it strong and sturdy. The second pattern is woven into the external body, which keeps the rice warm, but at the same time, releases steam from the basket to prevent the rice from becoming soggy and mushy. The final pattern is woven into the internal body of the basket which prevents air from getting inside."

Before graduating, Rattachat wrote a thesis that explored techniques of weaving rice steaming baskets to design products. In 2016, he submitted his thesis idea to the competition Startup Thailand by GSB and won first runner-up, receiving an award of 500,000 baht. This prize money allowed him to establish his company, Pitak Style, which focuses on decorative design items that incorporate local woven work. With his unique designs, Pitak Style attracted clients both locally and internationally. However, Rattachat discovered that his passion lies in art and design, rather than business management. Thus, he put his business on hold and pursued other creative jobs.

Rattachat later earned his master's from the Faculty of Decorative Arts at Silpakorn University. He now works as a lecturer at the School of Communication Arts, Bangkok University. This position allows him to interact with the young generation and gives him time to develop his hybrid creations. Rattachat enjoys working on these hybrid items and plans to improve them for his own satisfaction rather than selling them.

Rattachat's hybrid traffic cone.

"The improvement focuses on making the woven work neater, enhancing the colour palette for a more visually appealing look, and achieving colour consistency throughout the pieces. However, I acknowledge the challenges of using natural dyes. Unlike plastic items, achieving vivid colours are difficult, and resistance to fading is another hurdle."

Although Rattachat is interested in woven work, he finds it difficult to incorporate it into modern design due to a lack of skilled craftsmen. In Baan Muang Noi, there are only five craftsmen remaining and the youngest is 65 years old. Young people are not interested in woven work because it does not provide enough money to live on. It takes a whole week to make a single rice steaming basket, which earns only 200 baht. The remaining craftsmen who still make baskets are elderly. They spend their free time after rice cultivation crafting them.

"I hope the tradition of making sticky rice steaming baskets will be preserved," Rattachat concluded. "It represents local wisdom and cultural heritage that should be maintained. If possible, designers should incorporate them into modern design, so this tradition can continue throughout the ages."

"Craft Hybrid" runs at TCDC, 1160 Charoen Krung Road, until April 7. Admission is free. For information, visit facebook.com/tcdc.thailand.

A table top is attached using intricate weaving methods. Suwitcha Chaiyong

A sticky rice steaming basket with unique patterns created by craftsmen in Baan Muang Noi, Buri Ram. Rattachat Phonsaen

Pitak Style products. Rattachat Phonsaen

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