Friday, January 03, 2020

My Weaving experience at the Ock Pop Tok Center

After a wonderful lunch overlooking the Mekong River with fellow workshop participants, I began my 1/2 day weaving experience. The warp on the floor loom was already set up with 400 black dyed silk threads. Likewise, the supplementary heddle was already in place. This is the "program" that helps establish the patterns seen in the weaving.
Silk colored through natural dyes
Natural materials for dyes

To start, I chose the color that I wanted for my main weaving and for the design. Both the dusty rose dye and the cream color were created from the fresh leaves and bark of the teak tree; the light color was only briefly dipped. The skeins of silk were then wound onto spools, a process that also separates the silk and makes them smoother. Due to limited time, I only did a couple spools.
My weaving in process. The Naga design is at the bottom.
Most of the weaving was a simple tabby weave (over-under-over-under). I quickly got in the groove of which bamboo foot pedal my right foot should be on, scooting the shuttle through the opening, and the correct even pressure needed on the beater. For the design, I chose the naga - a mythical protective water serpent that I had seen in many local Buddhist temples.

The magic behind achieving the Naga continuous supplementary weft (kit) design comes from the supplementary heddle. Once a row of the design was woven, that string on the supplementary heddle was moved upward. Had my weaving called for a repetition of the Naga design, the supplementary heddle was already set up for this. In this complex part, the instructor was directly involved. Thankfully, she was also there when one warp string accidentally broke; she patiently attached some extra black thread to make the warp thread tight again. 
The loom with the supplementary heddle pictured on the left.
  Due to time constraints, the instructor removed the weaving from the loom after weaving several rows of thread. Multiple strands of the black warp threads were moistened, grouped and then two groups twisted together. The end was then knotted.
My finished weaving
I am pleased with my finished piece. I'd love to go back and try the more complex discontinuous supplementary weft (chok)  weaving. That is a 3-day course though. At any rate, the experience gives me a greater appreciation for the time and skill it takes to create such beautiful textiles. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Hmong Batik Experience in Luang Prabang, Laos

During my Christmas vacation, I participated in a half-day workshop on Hmong batik. The instructor was Mae Thao Zu Zong. This petite 66-yr old from the Striped Hmong (Hmong Lai) group is the remaining Hmong batik artist in Luang Prabang.
Mae Thao, Hmong batik artist
With a photo of her in the background, Mae Thao demonstrated how to hold the tjanting tool and make straight lines with the hot beeswax first on a small piece of woven flax. The locally harvested wax was tinted slightly with indigo to make it easier to see on the cloth. While she confidently formed straight lines in rapid succession, I found holding and controlling the tool (the metal part is near the heel of your hand) with the correct amount of wax (and at the correct temperature) a bit awkward. The weave was rather coarse, which sometimes made my movements a bit jerky.
Backstrap loom with hemp fibers
Thankfully, the less-than-perfect grid lines were camouflaged when additional details and symbols were added. Symbols included natural items such as cucumber seeds, pumpkin seeds, animal teeth, and ferns. For the curves of the center design, the tjanting tool was held more like a traditional drawing tool. 

Mae Thao demonstrates how to do the spirals
Instructor and student
Once I was finished with the wax part, I asked Mae Thao to pose with me. I stepped down so there wouldn't be quite the height difference in the photo. Because I wanted my piece to be dyed indigo, I had to leave it at the center. The following morning it would be dunked in a vat of indigo dye and the wax removed. Because it was only dipped once, it didn't get the deep blue color seen on many Hmong works that may be dipped up to 20 times.
My completed batik

Sunday, December 29, 2019

COPE Center in Laos

COPE Center, Vientiane
This morning I walked to the COPE Center in Vientiane, Laos. The visitor center is part of a larger complex that is focused on the continuing victims of a war that ended nearly 50 years ago.
Sculpture made from cluster bomb materials
Walking past buildings dedicated to supporting those disabled by unexploded ordnances (UXO's) such as a special gymnasium and wheelchair fitting, signs pointed me to the visitor center. In front of the building was a sculpture made from different components of cluster bombs. Next to the entrance, a cluster bomb casing was repurposed as a planter.

Inside, one of the video displays played this (above) video. Posters listed some staggering statistics of the horrible bombings that occurred in Laos from 1964-1973.
A few statistics:

  • Over 270 million "bombies" (small bombs contained within large cluster bombs) were dropped over Laos during this time period.
  • 580,000 bombing missions were conducted
  • Between 10-30% of all "bombies" (over 80 million) failed to detonate and are still dangerous
  • From 1996-2009, nearly 1,100,000 unexploded "bombies" were destroyed by UXO Lao.
  • Laos is the most heavily bombed country; more bombs were dropped here than in all of WWII. 
The center had a small theatre for watching a selection of videos. The one I watched featured some of the victims of these unexploded munitions, particularly the small "bombies." Examples of some victims' stories included a mother whose leg was blown off when the heat from her cooking fire detonated a bombie. Or a rice farmer who when using a tool to plant rice accidentally hit a bombie.. Having lost vision in one eye and one leg amputated, he no longer is able to support his family. His children have had to drop out of school in order to help farm in the same fields that may contain more UXO's. The video also showed children using metal detectors to find scrap metal left from the bombing raids, irrespective of the real dangers of encountering UXO's. 
Prosthetics "wall"

The COPE center also helps fit victims with more lightweight prosthetics; these give victims more mobility than even the clumsy, heavy ones they may have fashioned themselves in their villages. The organization also provides community outreach, going directly to remote villages to provide equipment, repairs, medical assistance, etc. Funding is also provided to enable victims to come to rehab centers, receive surgery, etc. 

While in Luang Prabang, I visited a similar visitor center. Posters there described how programs continue to occur in educating villagers of the dangers of UXO's  - what they look like and what to do if they encounter a UXO. Specially trained people are working at locating and destroying the UXO's, enabling the cleared land to be safely used for farming or residences.  Due to the large numbers of UXO's remaining despite continued efforts at locating and destroying the bombies, it is estimated that it may take nearly 100 years for Laos to be free of this scourge that continues to negatively impact the economy of Laos and its citizens.