Back in February, I went back to Laos for the first Immersive weaving and natural dyeing school. We invited previous students to the weaving house and farm that was set up back in 2004 to support young Lao artisans through traditional textiles.
For eight whole days the students were given an experience to learn from and live amongst extraordinary yet ordinary folk. To learn traditional natural dye methods that have been practiced for centuries using locally sourced materials and learn some weaving techniques using simple floor looms.
While we in the western world are working towards more sustainable living, life in many villages in Laos ( and other parts of the world) hasn’t changed much, it is where ecology and economy are not separated, they are one.
Local villagers who are genuine craftsman using their skilled hands to create simple tools and objects for every day living. Every single person has a particular skill that can be traded for something else in the village.
We learnt to crochet from fisherman, basket weaving for sticky rice holders with women under a tamarind tree, making charcoal and mud bricks all from locally sourced materials.
It was an incredible week of learning and sharing, Barbara who was a guniea pig in this ‘pilot test’ writes about her experience with us in Laos. It is the first blog post in a long time and you can read her words and see more pictures of what we go got up to.
Our next class is set for October later this year but since the Corona virus outbreak, it may be postponed but hopefully the class for January 2021 will go ahead.
I asked Barbara to write about her experience and this is what she shares in her own words:
My first visit to Laos in February 2020
As I prepared for my trip to Vientiane in January I was consumed by what-if’s and doubts. Previous travel in Malaysia in 1998 and to Bangkok in 2011 ended in medical emergencies that encouraged me to think that I don’t travel well in Asia. Motivated by curiosity and determination to see my friend in her birth country, and to learn Lao weaving and botanical dyeing from a master, I accept an invitation to go to work with Samorn and Khaisy in Laos. I stocked up on remedies and meds, checked my vaccinations and took myself by the hand and boarded the plane.
Arriving in Luang Prabang it was love at first site. The old capital has a big river, trees, red dirt, temples, gardens and low rise. My first experience of the capital, Vientiane, is that it’s bigger, louder and busier than Luang Prabang, with a few high rise buildings a few French colonial villas still standing.
I stayed at Hotel Khamvongsa, a delightful and elegant hotel, close to the Mekong river and opposite the peaceful Inpeng Temple. Breakfast at the hotel is a delight every day.
Bespoke is a way of life in Laos because most things are still hand made in country. It’s a place where people will greet you with a smile and help you with anything you need; where traffic just goes around and no ones gets in a rage. It’s also a place where home cooked meals are treasured and market food is like ‘home cooked’ in front of you. The food everywhere is super fresh, tastes like real food and regenerates the the spirit. On one of our forays into the hinterland to source natural dyes and mordant materials, Khaisy bought a chicken from a basket maker we stopped to buy from. Two days later I had the best chicken soup, mountain grown greens and sticky rice for lunch. I was with Khaisy when she purchased both the chicken and the greens that had been brought to market by Hill Tribe people. Somehow the food had the taste of where it had come from and I was nourished by the care and attention of the farmers and the cook.
My week in Laos has given me a new appreciation of how much we have lost in the modern world and how much there is to re-learn about sustainability in the west.
Through Khaisy’s and Samorn’s careful planning I felt as though I had joined a local village; that I had the care and protection of a family. Every day I was surrounded by amazing silk of every possible colour. I was praised for trying, coached and guided to make art. Make no mistake, if you join one of these workshops you will not become a master weaver, but you will leave with a broader mind, an understanding of Lao botanicals and their dye properties, a full belly, a silk weaving you made yourself, a brimming heart and an appreciation for the incredible skills of the Lou textile artists and weavers.
The evidence is in - I’m ok at travelling in Asia.
Barbara Wheeler Instagram: @every_thread_counts_