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PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2008 9:53 am 
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Hi! I would like your advice. While in Laos I purchased this Laotian bed cover recently for its detail and relative complexity. It is approximately 37” x 75” on its outer dimensions, including the hemp border. Its warp and weft are both silk, with discontinuous supplementary weft for the design. I was told it is about 60 years old, made in the Xieng Khuong style using natural dyes. Judging from what few examples of Xieng Khuong weavings I have viewed online, I cannot say it is inconsistent with those examples. But I am new to Laotian textiles, not expert, and would like to hear what others think.

In trying to educate myself about northern Lao silk textiles, it has been frustrating to try and get copies of some of the books suggested in the bibliography. I have been totally unable to locate "Legends in the Weaving" by Dara Kanlaya. What few copies of Mary F. Connor’s 112 page book available, originally listed for $25, are now selling for hundreds of dollars, which seems excessive. Any helpful suggestions would be welcome.

Also, I note some difficulty in reducing my photos to the 80 kilobit size. They were originally taken in RAW format, using 8 Meg uncompressed size. So when first developing, then recompressing, then resizing, requiring two separate software packages, if I reduced it to as low as 385 pixels to meet the 80 kilobits or bytes limit, all semblance of detail is lost. While others also exceeded the 80 mph speed limit, I note a few persons were successful in reducing their photos while maintaining detail. But I cannot tell if it is because the native resolution of the camera was low to begin with, or whether the patterns and colors photographed were loud and large. Any insights?

Finally, I keep going back and forth about whether the age of a Laotian piece is a fair predictor of whether the dyes are natural or not. I have read that the chemical dyes were a creation of late 19th century, so certainly they have been available in certain parts of the world for more than 100 years. I have also read that Laotian textiles were late coming to chemical dyes, as traditional practices were unfamiliar with the technology, natural dye sources were still plentiful, and like the detail of the weaving, there was a cultural resistance to change that the economics of chemical dyes did not breach until late. I also understand there is no sure way of telling except by mass spectrometry. Since many of us don’t have the opportunity to train our “eyes” by handling thousands of pieces, and since even a trained eye can be wrong, is the age of a Laotian article a decent predictor as to the nature of the dyes used?

Sorry if these questions have been answered elsewhere in the forum, but being new to this, I just thought I ask.

cheers!


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Bed Cover 003 silky 640.jpg
Bed Cover 003 silky 640.jpg [ 78.35 KiB | Viewed 10048 times ]
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2008 11:49 am 
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Hi!

Lovely Lao-Tai woven coverlet. Thanks for sharing it with us. In this post I am only going to comment about posting photos and also books.

The best way that I have found to reduce image file size has been in Adobe Photoshop (with Image Ready) using the 'save for web' option and making sure it saves as a jpg file. I like to have the original file as high definition as possible. I then crop to max 600 px width at 1375 dpi and then save for web and keep trying to see good def and keeping file size around 60-70K occasionally slipping up if the photo is very complex with lots of colours which pushes up the file size.

I can help you with the Mary Connors book 'Lao Textiles and Traditions' as I happen to have 2 copies (most bookaholics will understand how this happens....!) I am prepared to let you have the book as long as my out of pocket costs of sending you the book (cost of mailing it to you and PayPal commission charges) are covered. Please contact me via the email link if you would like to have the book on this basis.

A very good book is Lao-Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan' by Patricia Cheesman and the result of years of research by Patricia. ISBN 974-272-915-8 Regrettably this has never been as widely available as we would have liked. Aside from in the local bookshop in Chiang Mai it has also been quite expensive. This is a shame as it is an excellent book and a great resource. Thread http://www.tribaltextiles.info/communit ... .php?t=213 has some more info about the book.

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http://www.tribaltextiles.info
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 Post subject: Who Sold It?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2008 11:46 pm 
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Joined: Thu Jul 17, 2008 2:51 am
Posts: 69
Location: New York
Hi:

Did you buy it from a dealer or in a market?

When I was in Laos in early 2007, there were lots of these in the markets in Vientiane and some in Luang Prabang - but those were new. My expert collector friend bought one from a dealer in Luang that he thinks is old but I'm not sure.

We bought lots of other textiles from dealers but we don't think that most are more than 30 years old, even though the work is incredible on some of them and the dyes subtle.

Poke around more for books - some show up on major sites for absurd amounts but are available more reasonably elsewhere. For books on Asian material, always check out Select books in Singapore http://www.selectbooks.com.sg/

Enjoy - it is a lovely piece.
Anna


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 25, 2008 9:40 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 30, 2008 7:33 am
Posts: 155
Location: Beijing
Some comments on dyes and dating items. The original poster was quite right that it's rarely possible to be definitive about dyes just by looking. That said, some dyes can be immediately identified as synthetics just by looking:
- very brilliant reds (especially with a tendency to run ... which you can test by pressing a little damp cloth or tissue against the color)
- bright greens with very even color (there isn't a good bright natural green, and most older greens were made by mixing blue and yellow, with consequent variations in hue)
- dense blacks (there's no really true black available from natural dyes, but plenty from synthetic materials)
With newer Lao textiles it's often the ground weave that gives it away, even if the synthetic dyes have been well-chosen and blended to mimic natural dyes, which is true of many pieces woven in the last decade. Older pieces have a ground weave of handspun cotton: this is a little uneven in thickness which tends to make the whole weave a little irregular with a slight "slubbiness", in contrast with the grid-like regularity of machine-spun cotton. Handle is a final clue: older pieces have a floppy handle, whereas newer stuff tends to be stiffer.
Skepticism is always in order, as textile makers have time on their hands and are always figuring out new ways to make stuff look "old", with antique washes and so forth.

All that said ... the textile is beautiful and the workmanship good, I'd almost rather hear that it was new!


Last edited by Chris Buckley on Fri Jul 25, 2008 10:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 25, 2008 9:46 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 30, 2008 7:33 am
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Location: Beijing
A comment on file sizes of photos. If you are trying to reduce the file size and are fond of using a "sharpening" function, go easy on this. Sharpening a picture pushes up the file size quite significantly.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 26, 2008 7:49 am 
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Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2008 9:41 am
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Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments; I was fearing worse news. I would also like to thank Pamela for her support. Let me respond in part to some of the questions.

Ikat/Anna: yes, I bought this particular piece from a dealer in LPQ. I did not see a lot of pieces like this one at either the night market in LPQ or the morning market Talat Sao in VTE, and I was fairly thorough at both, visiting several times. But my eye is pretty quick about what I don’t like, so I am sure I did not focus on all the pieces. Thanks too for the link for books.

A few personal observations. First, I subscribe to the conservative amateur’s rule that even if a piece of art turns out not what it was represented to be, I choose it for the intrinsic enjoyment. Second, from what little I could figure through common sense about the risks with new Laos woven textiles, I felt this piece is inconsistent with those risk factors. As I understand it, the biggest risk currently is the growing lack of workmanship compared to the past. This is primarily a reflection of current economics, as weavers are looking more closely at the cost of the employee’s time and labor that goes into a piece than they ever did in the past. The current production of larger pieces like pha bieng and sihn are dominated by simple large repetitive geometric designs woven without small detail, like contemporary abstract western designs (or the animistic embroidered blankets), because they take less time to make. As one dealer at Talat Sao told me once she realized I was looking for something more than the standard stuff, “the tourists don’t understand.” Another dealer remarked that the stuff in the open markets seem to be losing the quality they previously produced. All this makes sense to me, as the entire region is wracked with stiff inflation (combined with a very weak dollar!)

The next largest risk, as told me by Carol Cassidy, is that the open markets in particular are beginning to use more imported Vietnamese and Chinese silk. Again, this is consistent with my sense of the economics at play, and it dovetails with my response to Chris below about synthetic dyes. So one safe play is to buy new cottons.

I felt with this piece that there was too much detail, complexity and size for it to be economical to create anew. First is all the discontinuous supplementary weft over a large piece. Second is the small detail, even with the background material. Third is that the piece overall seem to express an individuality that is often missing from cheaper new textiles. So if it is not 60 years, but 30-40 years, I am just glad it survived the bombs.

So does my analysis of the economics of the marketplace as a litmus test for old vs. new pieces hold up to scrutiny? What do you think?

Chris: Thanks for the tips about not sharpening photos. I will play with it again taking care not to do so. I was aware, thankfully, about natural dyes being unable to reproduce true blacks or the brassy technicolors. But I usually make my raw guesses based on more that just color, especially when I handle material I suspect are Chinese silks, which can be softer than Lao silk.

By the way Chris, you’re in Beijing and I am writing this from Hangzhou in the south, at least until I go to the Olympics.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to remove the wrinkles from folding this textile piece? What precautions should be taken? What about techniques for hanging it? Should I mail order one of those quilt hangers?

Again, thanks to all. Cheers, Greg


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:28 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 30, 2008 7:33 am
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Location: Beijing
Greg and all

I find this whole discussion very interesting, partly because I particularly enjoy Lao textiles with supplementary weft weaving, and partly because i have a long-standing interest in Greg's question about dyes (though I am no expert in Lao textiles per se). So here are a few Lao textiles that seem relevant, though not directly commenting on Greg's piece. They were bought in the mid-1990s in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

The first is a Tai Daeng ceremonial cloth, about 2.75m long and 0.4m wide. It is woven with silk in 4 colors (brown, red, yellow-khaki and a very dark blue approximating black) on an indigo cotton ground.The first photo shows the end of the cloth, the whole thing being rather too long to photograph easily. The detail photo of this shows (I hope) the rather slubby weave from handspun cotton. It would seem that synthetic dyes were not available to the weaver who made this piece at the time and place that it was woven. The item is quite clean and fresh looking, but has a limp handle.


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Last edited by Chris Buckley on Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:09 am, edited 2 times in total.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:36 am 
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Location: Beijing
Here is the second piece. The red-colored end of this cloth is silk supplementary weft design on handspun silk ground. This weaver seems to have used a mix of natural and synthetic colors. There is a rather garish purple that I assume is synthetic, since i know of no natural dye that can produce a shade that brilliant. The ground color is probably natural lac.

My guess is that this piece corresponds to the first phase of synthetic dye use in Asia, when these dyes were new on the market and were used mainly for their brilliant shades (with no embarrassment or attempt to disguise their use). I expect that these dyes were not cheap at the time, hence their sparing use.


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Last edited by Chris Buckley on Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:51 am 
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The third piece is another Tai Daeng ceremonial cloth, but this was woven in the mid 1990s. A dealer from Vientiane, having "mined out" all the old cloths from a particular Tai Daeng village, commissioned the local weavers to make some new pieces. They wove about 30 cloths, each around 2 meters in length, of which I eventually bought about a dozen, liking the designs and workmanship. They are all different, coming from individual weavers, but most are woven on a ground of commercial black, machinespun cotton. I hope the difference in weave is clear in the detail photo below, in comparison with the two pieces above. Looking at the overall pieces, you can also see a difference in the straightness of the wefts, the contemporary piece being more precise and rectilinear.

The dyes are all synthetic (I think), and the red shows a slight tendency to bleed with the wet tissue test. The textiles were not woven to deceive, but the colors have been chosen to roughly mimic traditional shades. Some of the cloths with more subdued colors are quite hard to tell from old pieces on the basis of color. Thus you have the paradox ... sometimes the synthetic dyes are more obvious in the older textiles. This is not only true of old Lao textiles ... I have seen the same phenomenon in Tibetan carpets too.

Comparison of the first and last pieces also shows a difference in approach to design that I've noticed on other Tai Daeng items. Contemporary weavers seem to like to fill the cloth entirely with decoration, whereas the older pieces tend to be a bit "looser". This is probably a slight shift in fashion.

I have not been back to Laos recently, but do intend to visit again. I'm interested to hear if Tai Daeng and other groups are still weaving good pieces, or if the commercial/ economic pressures that Greg mentions have driven quality in the other direction.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2009 7:37 pm 
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Nice bed cover. We have several with a very similar pattern, but in much more saturated colors - I like yours! We have found many of these without the border and backing available in Houaphon Province dyed and woven by the Tai Daeng. These are all naturally dyed, and we know this as we have bought them directly from the master dyer who has other women do the weaving for her. She has shown us a natural black dye, and we have several pieces with this dye, that is made in the following fashion. First she makes an "old gold" color from the wood of a very large jungle tree (I unfortunately don't have the name, but I do have some pictures of the leaves of the tree if someone is interested). The silk must not be washed after dyeing it gold and just dried as is. Then she mixes it with water and the ash from burning the rice fields prior to planting and soaks it for 4 days and 4 nights. This makes the true, solid black. If the tree wood is soaked and then rice field ash is added and the silk soaked for an hour, it makes a medium, warm grey. I have a ziplock bag with samples of the gold, grey, and black silk made in this manner, and a used piece of the wood with a photo of the leaves of this tree. While I am not a dyer, I am fascinated by her work and knowledge. This master dyer is known for the color subtleties she is able to make that no one else can achieve, and has taught many dyeing classes in Vientenne. We were told through our translator who is her childhood friend that she has also been invited to Japan to teach dying classes there, but has been unable to go. We like to buy directly from the weavers, so I am not able to speak to what is available in Vientenne, though I know this particular woman is able to sell everything she produces to Vientenne with no rejection of any of her goods. Its nice that we get first pick, as we go to her directly! So, in summary, a beautiful blanket with that pattern still made, the Tai Daeng of Houaphon Province are still weaving beautiful, authentic textiles using natural dyes, and a true black can be achieved with natural dyes.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2010 3:10 am 
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This blanket is gorgeous. What a lucky buy for you. When I first saw it I was reminded of a blanket a friend in Laos sent me photos of. I would dearly have loved to buy it but couldn't afford it at the time (the Lao seller wanted something like US$400.00 for it) but I've always been impressed by the colours and quality of the piece and yours reminds me of it.

It was described to me at the time as being sourced from one of the old Vientiane families and roughly 40-80 years old.

(note: the images may need to be re-sized. I've done what I can without loosing all detail)

Image

Image


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 14, 2010 10:00 am 
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I just have a little light to shed on Greg's piece and some of his questions, having encountered some similar, recent pieces on Peter and Bai Whittlesey's website for 'Lao Essential Artistry' (http://www.gotlaos.com/taidaanblre.html). Their examples and the accompanying text, as well as some of the comments by forum members basically support my gut feeling that these are recent examples and as such are 'reproductions' inspired by the type called "phaa hom dork", as mentioned in Patricia Cheesman's book Lao-Tai Textiles, p.211. Her photos show three examples, two of which are single panel, like the reproductions. However, they show designs laid out in a much more random manner- without symmetry and in highly contrasting colors, unlike the reproductions. I suspect the reproductions were designed specifically for the Western market with tasteful and atypical colors, and dense, symmetrical designs. Also, the silver bits trimming the end are not typical for blankets, but more likely to be used on headcloths or body wraps- I think they are also a recent embellishment.

Determining age is not easy with Lao textiles, and the use of natural dyes versus synthetic ones can give hints, but is not definitive. As Above the Fray so well described, natural dyes are still being used in some areas by some weavers/dyers. The two panel blanket from the early 20thc. shown on p.211 is similar to one I have had, and has a purple color that is highly unlikely to be natural, yet this is probably a 70-80 year old blanket. Purple was one of the very first colors to be synthesized in the last half of the 19th century. It can be seen a lot in Chinese Minority blankets from the late 19th-early 20th century. So, the use of synthetic dyes is not necessarily an indicator of recent age- at least certain colors.

More definitive in determining age is the type of silk and the way it's plied. This is something one learns by looking at and comparing lots of textiles. Basically, the newer silks used in the supplementary wefts are very loosely plied, giving the threads a thicker feel than those on older textiles. The plain woven areas are quite regular and sometimes will show 'pilling', or little bits of silk that build up on the surface. Older silk is not as regular and does not pill. It just feels different...

Re your search for Legends in the Weaving: White Lotus Press has a copy on their website for $55. (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:8wIg37l4hHwJ:www.whitelotuspress.com/list/textile.html+%22legends+in+the+weaving%22&cd=29&hl=en&ct=clnk)

In conclusion, it must be said that these are very beautifully woven textiles- of high quality in design and material, and very appealing. But take the age attributions with a grain of salt and just enjoy the pieces for their innate aesthetic qualities. It's wonderful to see such fine weaving and dyeing still being done in Laos, and to see it appreciated by buyers.

Hope this helps!

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