Weaving a future for tradition

Historic silk production thrives in small Chaiya shop

On a small street in Phum Reang community in Surat Thani stands a silk shop among other concrete shophouses. At first glance, Wanma Mai Thai shop looks like a typical textile store where you can find selections of silk garments for women and men as well as various fine designs of silk cloth.

Locals preparing silk threads for making yarn.

When you walk inside to the back of the shop, however, you realise that this is not only a shophouse, but a silk-weaving centre where visitors are welcome to learn how locals dye silk yarn and weave silk cloth.

"Our cloth has unique designs, especially those patterns of small flowers threaded from colourful silk mixed with golden or sometimes silver yarn," said Wanma Nuimim, 65, who has weaved silk for more than five decades. She is the fourth generation of a weaving family which tries to preserve the traditional techniques by using a handloom.

"The handloom allows us to create the finest patterns such as the design of dok phikun [bullet wood flower] or kradum thong [little yellow star flower]," she said, adding that one of her proudest moments was when her work won the top award at the National Silk Weaving contest in 1994.

Yarn is spun into spools.

"I am so proud of the award because it shows that our Southern-style silk cloth is one of the best. My work beat those famous silks from the Northeast and the North," she said. The history of the silk-weaving craft in Phum Reang can be traced back two centuries when migrants, mostly Muslims, from Songkhla and Pattani brought their unique weaving skills with them.

The cloth was initially made for use within families and later became popular among those who love Thai silk, which led to the booming of the silk-weaving business in the Phum Reang area.

"We used to have 125 handlooms working day and night because we had a lot of orders," said Wanma. However, the number of handlooms has dramatically fallen over the past couple of decades and only 25 remain today.

Sadly, only her weaving centre still survives. The rapid growth of industrially-woven fabric, the higher cost of silk yarn and the decline in the number of weavers all contributed to the demise of the local silk industry.

"It is hard to find those who love weaving today. Weaving needs passion and patience to create a fine design. The job does not attract a new generation who prefer office jobs," she said, adding that all she could do to help preserve the old heritage is to be a guest teacher for college and university students. She is also the chairperson of the Phum Reang silk-weaving group and also opens her weaving centre to anyone who wants to have a closer look at the weaving process.

If you visit her shop, you will find various products made from silk including handbags and purses, beside dresses, shirts, skirts and ties.

"We do not advertise our products, but people keep coming and become our regular customers. As long as we produce good quality fabrics and offer them at reasonable prices, I believe we can survive," she said.

Spools prepared for a handloom.

Vivid silk yarn hung out to dry.

A stock of silk threads.

A weaver working in the backyard of Wanma Mai Thai shop.

TRAVEL INFO

- Wanma Mai Tai shop is located in Phum Reang market in tambon Phum Reang, Chaiya district. The shop is open daily from 8am-5pm. If you want to see silk weaving, you may call in advance on 077-454-787. There is no entrance fee.

- From Chaiya town, take Highway 4011 to Phum Reang community. If you come by bus, take the Chaiya- Phum Reang bus from Chaiya market and get off at Phum Reang market.

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