4 things you don't know about the Laotian silk

Laos is known for its natural silk fabrics, the result of an incredible hand-made skill which was handed down from generation to generation. However, this craft is not well known, and what a better way to discover this unique and fascinating craft than to go for an excursion to Luang Prabang, to learn about the secrets of the Laotian silk...

Different paterns of silk scarf


1. Laotian silk is a "wild" silk

“Wild” silk refers to its imperfection, in the fact, it is raw, natural, rough and less smooth as the Japanese silk, for example. So, why will you be interested in an imperfect silk? Well, it is precisely in these imperfections that lies the perfection of the Laotian silk. This one is 100% artisanal, from the breeding of the silkworm to the finished product, and very often, it is 100% hand-made and 100% organic. Each hand-made piece bears the identity, know-how, own decorative pattern and imperfection of the weaver. Therefore, each piece is, all the more, full of life, noble, unique and "wild".

Colorful Raw Silk


2. A family tradition

There are no big companies in Laos operating sericulture (silk farming). The know-how is passed on from generation to generation within families and within the region. Some experts would be able to recognize a pattern from the North to a pattern from the South, a technique from the West to a technique from the East. Thus, each family produces a particular silk, according to their ancestral method of plucking, molding, dyeing, spinning, weaving, etc. For example, the Sam Neua Region, at the border of Vietnam, is known for its thick and extremely strong silk, while in the south, in the Xieng Kouang Region, one will find thinner, lighter and softer silks.

An incredible know-how


3. Silkworms, animals unlike any other

We tend to forget that silk has an animal origin: it is made by the Bombyx of the mulberry tree, more commonly known as the silkworm. How does it work? First of all, the silk worms must be fed 4 times a day with fresh leaves from the white mulberry without interruption for one month until they reach their adult size. It will then weave its protective silk cocoon for 3 days. After all the meticulous works of our dear mulberry bombyx, all we need to do is to recover the silk before it becomes a butterfly and destroy the filament coming out of the cocoon. To give some figures, it takes approximately 5,000 cocoons to produce 1 kilo of silk. Also, a pair of butterflies represents a square of silk: indeed, a butterfly with 300 eggs will produce 300 silkworms, and so, 300 cocoons will produce 300 meters of thread each!

Cocoon of silk


4. A meticulous and tedious work

Once the cocoons are collected, the silk is extracted, this is called the scouring stage. It requires a lot of attention to detail and delicacy. The threads are boiled in pure water so as to obtain the required softness to make the yarn easier to weave. Before this final phase, the weaver still has to process the dyeing and spinning stage manually and in a natural way. Weaving is often done using a traditional loom. This requires great dexterity from the craftsman, who must take into account the force applied to the yarns, the regularity of the lines, the patterns and the colors. This step also requires a lot of time: a weaver can only make about 1 to 2 meters of fabric per day! To make a long traditional shawl, it will often take more than a month of work.

A traditional loom


The Phoenix Voyages Experience:

A day to discover the manufacture of natural silk in Luang Prabang

Visit a natural silk farm in Luang Prabang at the Ock Pop Tok Weaving Centre. Ock Pop Tock means "West and East" in Lao, because of the partnership between a European and a Laotian woman who created this small local company.

Depart from the hotel at around 9:00 am and transfer to the silk farm. On arrival, there will be a brief introduction to the silkworms, different types of fabrics, and necessary steps to make the precious fabrics.

Then, the participants are invited to prepare the natural pigments for fiber dyeing. These are grown directly in the farm: (turmeric for yellow, teak for pink, indigo for blue, etc.).

Lunch is served on site in front of the magnificent panorama.

In the afternoon, the course focuses on the use of looms and sewing. Each participant will be able to make their own table placemat with traditional Laotian pattern. The course gives an overview of the Laotian culture and weaving craftsmanship, all in a social setting. Working alongside the weavers is a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the local culture. Ock Pop Tock is, above all, an amazing experience.

 At the end of the day, return back to the hotel, cherishing the unforgettable memories.