Most Thai silk is woven in North-Eastern Thailand, a region that is also known as “Isan” (pronounced: ee-san).Thai silk is very unique and differs from Chinese or Japanese silk. For example, Japanese silk is a lot finer and smoother – but it lasts only about years. Thai silk on the other hand is a lot more rough and lasts about 40 years, even when used on a daily basis.
Nowadays, most Thai silk is machine woven, but sometimes you can still find hand-woven silk. Of course, hand-woven is more expensive – and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find, because machine woven silk has flooded the market and lowered the prices that people are willing to pay for hand-woven silk.
There are many steps involved in making Thai silk, and many women in Isan still make their own silk from scratch. That means, they take care of the mulberry trees that silkworms love to munch on. The women then take care of the silk worms, feed them until they grow up and start to build their cocoon.
Once the cocoon has reached it’s final size, they throw it into boiling water to separate the cocoon from the silkworm. They also eat the silkworm – it’s rich in protein and actually considered a delicacy in the region.
The cocoon is made from a single fibre – and this fibre is almost 1km long! So they unspun this fibre and twist it together with other fibres, and that makes on yarn of raw silk. In the next step, this raw silk yarn is soaked to take away a substance from the fibre, and that makes the yarn more soft and almost transparent.
Then, the silk is dyed. Most silk nowadays is dyed with chemical colors, but some areas still use traditional dyes made from plants, minerals and animal parts.
Most Thai silk is just died and then patterns and motives are created in the weaving process by combining different colors together.
However, there is even a more complex way of creating patterns and motives: the raw silk yarn is being died in different colors in precisely defined distances, and then through careful weaving, the pattern or motive emerges – not by combining several differently colors yarns together, but simply from the weaving of one yarn that has the motive already colored inside the yarn.
You can see what the preparation for this kind of dying looks like:
This requires a lot of attention to detail and careful planning and visual imagination in advance.
Buying Thai Silk
But since Bangkok is the trading center of Thailand, you can buy all kinds of Thai silk here. Just be sure to buy original Thai silk – nowadays, fake Thai silk from artificial materials is produced so well that many people can’t tell the difference anymore by just looking or touching it. However, most of the Thai silk that you can buy on markets that are frequented mostly by tourists is fake.
If you want to learn more about Thai silk, we have expert guides who even worked as Thai silk weavers when they were young, helping their mothers, and they know all there is to know about Thai silk. They can also give you hands on lessons on traditional Thai silk weaving techniques and help you to learn to judge the quality of silk. Just contact us for more information.