Suitcase and World: Weaving on Inle Lake.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weaving on Inle Lake.

From the Jumping Cat Monastery, we headed by boat to our next destination. The first part of our boat ride took us back past the floating gardens that we had seen earlier in the morning.   We then entered into an area that I would describe as a more *urban* area, if you will.  It was as if we had left the countryside and were arriving into a small village.  Lots of larger structures, all on stilts.  I think most were homes but there were stores and restaurants as well.  It made me wonder what the school looks like.

Our destination was the lake village of Inn Paw Khone, which is known in the region for its weaving workshops.  Each village on the lake has its artisanal specialties.

I don't know how many workshops there are but there were plenty of posted signs advertising one weaving center after another.   Our captain moored our boat at the dock, under a sign that read, "Ko Than Hlaing Silk & Lotus Weaving".  I absolutely adore textiles and even though I have been to more weaving places than I can remember, I never tire of visiting them.  Myanmar produces beautiful textiles - you most often seen them in the traditonal longyis worn by local women and men.

The weaving center is housed in a cluster of buildings and wood plank walkway takes you past all of them.

The building we were heading to was located at the very end of the walkway.  As I made my way towards it, I paused to take in the clickety clacking sounds of the looms.

Outside the entrance, strands and skeins of silk had been set out.  Perhaps for sale.  I was particularly intrigued by the red and white colored threads.  These would be warp threads for weaving ikat which is the method of weaving where there the pattern is already set in the warp threads before being set up on the loom.  The weft thread is then plain color that allows the warp pattern to show through.

We took our shoes off and entered inside the workshop - it was a hub of activity inside.  I thought I knew a good bit about weaving but I had no clue about a lot of what the workers were doing.   Take the woman below. She was unwinding silk threads from the spools and winding it around the rods.  My initial reaction was that she was setting up the warp threads for the loom. Watching her at work, it was obvious she's skilled at doing this but I could not figure out exactly what she was doing or how she kept track of what she was doing.  I think this is a far more difficult job than she makes it look. 

As you can see in the photo below, the warp thread is wound around a wooden cylinder.  Once she's done, I wondered how they would then transfer the threads to the cylinder.  We would get part of the answer in a short while.

In a corner of the room, several people were at work winding the strands of warp thread around the cylinder. you connect the dots from what the woman was doing with wind the thread around the rods to getting on this big wheel?  I never figured out the answer to that question.

There were quite a few weavers working the looms.   They are all so experienced that they don't need a printed pattern to guide them.

Watch this woman skillfully operate the foot pedals to manipulate the warp threads.  The pedals, known in the weaving world as *treadles* open and close the sheds (the temporary separations in the warp) by raising and lowering the harnesses.  See?  I have learned something about weaving after all my visits to such workshops.

Polo took us over to see a demonstration of how the lotus thread is produced.  I had never heard of lotus weaving but the plant is abundant in the lake so it makes sense for the enterprising Intha to have figured out how to make use of it beyond admiring the flower, eating the roots and using the leaves as a food wrapper.

The story of how the practice of lotus weaving supposedly dates back about 100 years to a woman named Paw Sar Ou who wanted to give a special robe to the head Abbot at the Buddhist temple she visited. She discovered that she could cut the stem of a lotus plant and that when she pulled the halves gently apart, threads appeared. Paw Sar Ou was able to collect enough of these threads to spin them into longer fibers and then be able to weave cloth from them on her loom. From this fabric, she created a special robe to give to her Abbot as an offering.  I don't know of any other culture that does lotus weaving so this is unique to Myanmar.  Sadly, I was not standing a good position to take photos.

In any case, a woman showed us how they use a paring knife to cut into the leaf stalk and pull it apart to extract the fiber.

The fine strands are then twisted into a thicker strand.

Next, experienced this case, two men, take the strands and spin them into thread.

The lotus fiber that we saw at this workshop is not dyed so you can appreciate the nature off white color.  Also, lotus thread does not have the tensile strength of silk so the thread is not as fine in texture.  As a result, the fabric that is produced is beautifully nubbly.  It's also not as soft as silk; it has a more rustic look and feel that is wonderful.

Our visit to the center ran into lunch hour.  One by one, the women gathered for their meal.  It was time for us to leave.

We headed back down to the first floor where the weaving center's sales shop is located.  There, they had everything from clothes to scarves and ties for sale.  I love nothing more than running my hand across handmade textiles and to admire their beauty with my eyes.  But having since retired from work, I no longer make such purchases.  On the other hand, Ayşe was happily shopping for scarves, something for herself and one each for her mother and her aunt who would soon be visiting her in DC.  With all there was to choose from, it was so hard for her to decide what to buy.  She took forever but I was in no rush so while she shopped, I walked around the place some more.

Soon, it was time for us to go.  Our next destination was the village foundry where we got to take a quick look at how they produce many of the metal items that are used by locals and sold as souvenirs to tourists.  Everything is made by hand and with very crude instruments - nothing mechanized. 

Of course, they sold what they make and  my eyes fell on the opium weights which I have long thought are just plain cute to look at.  Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of the ones that were for sale at the foundry.

Antique opium weights. ( Image from JustAnswer)
They are called opium weights because that's what they were once used to weigh.  Apparently, in some parts of the country, they are still used to balance a scale for everyday purchases.  The Burmese opium weights are most commonly based on the hintha (a mythical chicken-like bird) or the chinthe (a mythical lion-like beast) though they come in many figural forms - most commonly ducks but also chickens, foo lions, and elephants.

The most elaborate designs come from the Shan State which is where we are at the moment so this would be the place to buy them but after thinking it over carefully, I opted to not get them as I would want to get an entire set of weights and not just one. No need to add more weight to my luggage.  No one else was interested in buying anything so off we went. 

It's a shame really that we left empty handed.  If you buy anything here, it carries with it not only the heart and soul of the people who made it but also any blood, sweat and tears that were shed!  You couldn't have a more priceless souvenir!