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 Post subject: Lao story textiles
PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 10:57 am 
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I was wondering if anyone here has any information on these type of Lao textiles? The books I have with me at the moment don't seem to have anything on these pictorial types.

Both are woven in silk, and from memory, I was told they were about 40 years old. The silk is soft with age, and they appear more like the darker colours in the pictures (the first one taken with a flash).

I was told the one on the left, which shows a lady riding an elephant and a naga, was a goddess entering a temple. But this maybe incorrect

The one on the right is a representation of a famous 16th century stupa in Vientiane, known as Pha That Luang. The stupa or pagoda is surrounded by the symbol for rain, vital to life and the two- headed Naga, a symbol of Dharma protection and fertility. In the centre of the textile is a temple structure, with the Buddha on an elevated pedestal and monks in meditation, supported by mythical giants. Above are birds symbolizing freedom.

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If the images need resizing please do so, as I have a lot of trouble getting them to the right size for the board...


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 6:01 am 
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Location: Eugene, OR USA
You have a couple of beautiful textiles. The style is very typical of the Tai Daeng people who live primarily in Houaphon and Xieng Khouang Provinces in NE Laos.

We have researched our library searching for the goddess figure. That particular motif has us stumped - we cannot locate a similar motif in Cheesman's Lao-Thai Textiles, Kanlaya'a Legends in the Weaving, or Veunvilavong's Traditional Lao Patterns. Bunce's Buddhist Textiles of Laos does display some ancestor spirits that are narrow-wasted full body female figures in sinh, but we have rarely seen an ancestor figure without his/her fingers upturned toward the sky. Ancestor spirits are often portrayed riding on the back of elephants and the siho (mythical "elephant-lions"), which a symbolic of strength and political power.

Kanlaya's text briefly discusses that some myth/folk tales (as in the Sangsinhsai epic) have female princesses mating with Naga. But the story's relevance to this textile is just conjecture.

The temple motif in the other textile is common for the Buddhist-leaning Tai Daeng.

We'd love to know where they were woven, if you know. Different regions, and even different valleys and villages, have their unique expressions and motifs.

Thanks for sharing!

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 12:04 pm 
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Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply to my question. I also have cheesman's Lao-Tai Textiles and Gittenger's Textiles and the tai experience in southeast asia with me and also wasn't able to find anything like these pieces, which is why I directed it at the board....and I also members might find it interesting to see the pieces.

I finally tracked down the information I got with the textile on the left. I was told it was 50 years old, but had been well looked after (it's very soft but in good condition) and that was made by the Phuan people in northern Laos with natural dyes. And also:

"Numerous images and design motifs have been used to create a traditional mythical narrative. The prominent, interwoven structure of golden coloured silk consists of figures of Luang or crested Naga, the serpent/snake of Hindu and Buddhist myth. The central figure at each end is a legendary queen bearing flowers in offering and supported by an elephant. The queen is surrounded by attendants also carrying flowers. Towards the centre are priests and devotees with offerings. Throughout there are many monkeys, flowers, nagas and naga hooks. In the border section are small elephants."

I don't know what the actual myth is that is referred to here unfortuantley. It wasn't a cheap piece for me at the time, but it stands out because of its unusual design from my other Lao pieces.

The textile on the right was woven in Sam Nuea I was told, though I can't be more specific than that. I hope this helps.


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 Post subject: Painted On Later?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 6:32 pm 
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Ah! Again you dazzle us with the splendor of your Lao textiles. Thanks for sharing! They are a beautiful way to tell a story! The description you got with the left textile states that it is a traditional narrative and should then have been widely known and probably recorded somewhere. It would seem that the story was not often told in textiles, though , as we don't see others like yours!

What are the sizes of these pieces (about)? Are they folded over on top in the photos or are we seeing the whole piece? The patterns at the top seem to end in mid motif? The colors look like the basic natural colors of older pieces and they may be older than 50 years.

Looking closely at the piece on the right, I wonder if the green and blue colors may have been painted or dabbed on to motifs woven in white after the weaving was completed? There seems to be a shadow on the ground weave in these areas. Does anyone know if colors were sometimes painted on after the cloth was woven?

Does anyone know who or where the Phuan People are? Are they the people of Sam Nuea? I don't have any of the books on Lao textiles. Which is the best one to look for? In the late 80s I saw a collection of two hundred old Lao pieces collected over 10 or 15 years by a person living in Thailand, but I don't remember anything like these. They are fantastic! May I ask how long ago you got them?

Thanks again for sharing them with us. Best regards, MAC


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 10:33 pm 
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The Phuan people are a sub-group of the Tai (which include the largest group of Laos, the Lao people; in Laos the larger family is referred to as the Lao Loum, or "lowland Lao"); the Phuan sub-group represents a sizeable tribe that live primarily in NE and north Laos, esp. in Houaphon, Xieng Khouang, and Luang Prabang Provinces. According to Schliesinger's Ethnic Groups of Laos there are about 100,000 Phuan in Laos alone. They are of the Tai-linguistic family that originally heralded from southern China and northern Vietnam (not to be confused with the Thai people). They tend to be sedentary wet-rice farmers (not swidden agriculturists) with a strong link to Buddhism, as is evident by the textile motifs. Their Buddhist traditions are mixed with a belief in local spirits (animism).

For more about Laos' tribal groups, I would recommend a wonderful book called The Peoples of Laos: Rural and Ethnic Diversities by Laurent Chazee. It has some wonderful color plates of the people and their art (textiles, basketry, etc.) as well as one of the most in-depth modern descriptions and analysis of the 131 (and counting) ethnic minority groups and sub-groups that make up Laos' 4.6 million people.

I cannot imagine that the textiles would be painted - we have never seen such on textiles from this area. Silk would typically be locally raised and dyed (and I would bet my bottom dollar on all-natural dyes) and fully woven on a floor loom (supplemental weft). It is jaw-dropping to see the local weavers hand-pick the threads on these complex textiles!

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 Post subject: Re: Painted On Later?
PostPosted: Sat Jul 03, 2010 12:39 am 
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MAC wrote:

What are the sizes of these pieces (about)? Are they folded over on top in the photos or are we seeing the whole piece?

Looking closely at the piece on the right, I wonder if the green and blue colors may have been painted or dabbed on to motifs woven in white after the weaving was completed?

May I ask how long ago you got them?



The textiles were photographed folded in half and the design on the second half mirrors the part you see in the pictures. There's no painting on these textiles.

The one with the queen shows the supplementary weft silk sitting up a little from it's background as it has softened with age. Looking at my records I bought it 10 years ago (it doesn't seem that long ago!) which would make it at least 60 years old by now. it's length is 89" x 18.50". The yellow in the weaving is I think the undyed yellow silk you get in the region.

Looking around on the net, I wonder if the Queen in this textile is related to the myth of Sinxay that you see related on this blog:

http://blog.gotlaos.com/2010/02/the-ren ... -laos.html

The other textile on the right with the Buddhist stupa is a more recent purchase that I was interested in because of it's resemblance to the textile with the Queen. I was told it was made about 40 years ago, and the silk in it is a little stiffer which supports the newer date. (however really old, well stored pieces can also have bit of stiffness to them even after many years). The length of this one is 79.50" x 17". Both ends are the same exept for the birds in the middle. You have a green/yellow bird mirroring each other and a blue/orange bird on the other side.


I have other Lao "story" textiles which I can photograph for the board, but they are very different to these two pieces and very geometric and woven in browns and blacks. Unfortunately, I don't know the stories to match them.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 03, 2010 5:10 pm 
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Location: Eugene, OR USA
Our experience is that assessing the age of a textile is frought with challenges. Textiles, according to the locals who sell them, seem to consistently come in three ages: new, 50 years old and 90 years old.

50 years old seems to mean it was from a previous generation (or two or three ago) and looks a bit beat up. It maintains a greater softness from being washed and worn. In truth, may be 10 years, or 75 years old. Some "new" stuff may be years old as well, just unused and sitting in a bin for a while... We are often told pieces are "made by my grandmother" and are 50 years old; I get the impression that means it is merely not new and its creation date is unknown. As for grandma?? - it does sound good.

90 years old means it looks more beat up, faded (from sun, poor dyes, washings, or true age) or has the potential to look like or be truly classified as a true antique (over 100 years old). Technically, things 100 years old or older are deemed national treasures and may have a more difficult time getting through customs. I know in Vietnam one is not allowed to take things out of the country without special permission if it is a true antique. Not sure about Laos' rules (and their gov't is not as cohesive in its attendance to such issues). Hence old items are often said to be "90 year old" to let you know its legal to take out of the country, but indeed, has "antique value" (which may or may not be true). Of course, often items are said to be 90 years old in order to boost their price.

Few vendors (either in a store or as an individual in a village) know the history of what they are selling, and even textile experts (and we're not historical experts on these textiles by any means) have a tough time truly dating items. Certainly the styles and motifs of the 100% woven silks go back an untold number of generations. However, almost all the true rare antique silks were swooped up by collectors from Thailand, Japan and elsewhere when Laos, a desperately poor country, opened up a generation and a half ago.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 04, 2010 3:31 pm 
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Fascinating textiles and beautifully woven! Thank you for sharing them with us.

I really don't know anything about the motifs, and am no expert, but have seen and handled some Lao textiles of significant age and have my doubts as to the veracity of what you've been told. For starters, regarding the colors: you never see silk colored with indigo, so the use of blue silk means it's not natural dye; greens are made by combining indigo with yellow from another source, possible mango or jackfruit bark(?), so would also be problematic if used on silk. The reason for not using indigo on silk is that indigo is corrosive with age when used with silk. I learned this from Patricia Cheesman, who is both an expert on Lao textiles, and on indigo. You will also see in the minority textiles from China, that usually only cotton is dyed with indigo- if you see blue silk, it's probably synthetic/chemical color.

Other clues as to age have to do with the texture of the silk and with any cotton used: in the past the silk was usually plied tighter and does not 'pill'; cotton was usually handspun and so the texture is not flat and regular, as hand spinning yields a thread with some irregularities in thickness. Really good examples of handspun cotton are the old Lao-Tai blankets of natural and indigo-dyed cotton, and sometimes also incorporating silk (see example below). For me, handspun threads have soul, as the hand of the maker is so evident.

These are just a couple areas of consideration. Dating is a difficult issue and as said in previous posts, one that can even stump the experts. It is very difficult to ascertain an exact date unless buying from the maker or original owner, and even then, their memory can be faulty- a lot of these people don't even know their own birthday, so why would they know the age of a piece of cloth... For that reason I feel that age is not such an important criteria in textile value, unless other criteria are also present, such as meaningfulness in the culture, and relative condition.

Much research still needs to be done on Lao textiles, as they are a fascinating and complex subject. Thank you again for bringing these to our attention.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Jul 04, 2010 8:10 pm 
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Indigo can be processed to avoid its caustic effect on textiles. Often a dyer will process the silk with one dye, which balances the Ph, and then overdye with indigo (from a variety of strobilanthes plant, called "hohm" in Laos) to obtain the desired blue, black or green that the plant leaves can create; Cheesman does address this process in Lao-Tai Textiles. Deep rich blues that hold on silk can be obtained with careful preparation; we have seen (and have) many vibrant and deep blues as background and supplemental colors on 100% silk healing and shaman cloths woven by the Tai Daeng.

We were fortunate to have a dyeing workshop with Souksakone Khakampanh in Xam Tai last year (with a translator, fortunately!), a nationally-renown dyeing expert and textile designer who lives in Xam Tai. She claims she can obtain virtually any color for dying silk you can imagine! Her beautiful and vibrant works bear that out.

In addition, the bueck vine (Marsdenia tinctoria) yields some amazingly brilliant turquoises, and can be mixed to obtain a variety of greens, both deep and pastel.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 1:23 am 
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Thank you very much for your replies. I know how problematic dating old textiles can be. All I can be really certain of it that it is at least 10 years old. I bought it because of it's design and the weaving skill and because it appealed to me, not because of it's "age". It may be as old as I was told or it may be a textile that has been delibretly softened with repeated washing.

It was interesting to see the comments on the dyes. Obviously it's hard to apply hard and fast rules as to what can and can not be done with natural dyes as it is all up to the skill and experience of the weaver and their knowledge of the local plants and how to use them correctly (and the right order in which to apply them). It seems to be a skill that would take a lifetime to acquire correctly and then pass on.

I have a number of the black and white (and indigo) door curtains of varying ages, which again I bought because of their wonderful designs. I'm hoping at some point to photograph them for the board. Can anyone reccomend a book which deals with these textiles? You hardly ever run across them in Lao textile books and yet they are such wonderful weavings. I understand such detail is lavished on them because they are for protective home use and not usually woven in themselves for public sale as such.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 2:54 pm 
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Patricia Cheesman's Lao-Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Neua and Muang Phuan (Studio Naenna Co., Ld., Chiang Mai, 2004) is the "Bible" for northern Lao textiles. Nothing else comes close for thoroughness or scholarship. It has been brought up in this forum many times.

You can order it through a meta-bookshop like http://www.abebooks.com or http://www.alibris.com.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 4:07 pm 
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Better yet- get it from The Source- Patricia! http://www.studio-naenna.com/books.html No doubt she would be amenable to signing it too, as it's shipped directly from her in Thailand.

Thanks much Above The Fray for the info about indigo on silk. Patricia's book does state that indigo dyed over or under other colors results in neutral Ph, so my comments about green are incorrect. However, in old textiles (the operative word being "old") one will not often find indigo by itself on silk, or if so, the silk will have deteriorated. This does take time, so a 20 or 30, or even 50 year old piece may not have achieved that condition. Patricia and I have discussed this on several occasions and I defer to her on her experience with old Lao-Tai textiles.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 11:50 pm 
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Above the Fray wrote:
Patricia Cheesman's Lao-Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Neua and Muang Phuan (Studio Naenna Co., Ld., Chiang Mai, 2004) is the "Bible" for northern Lao textiles. Nothing else comes close for thoroughness or scholarship. It has been brought up in this forum many times.

[/url] or http://www.alibris.com.


I have a copy of this book - and there's not much on it about the B&W door curtains, which is why I asked if anyone was aware of another source of information....it doesn't look like there is one in english.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 06, 2010 2:07 am 
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I have perused all of our books for references to door curtains that are in black or indigo and white. I haven't found any, though that doesn't mean anything definitive on its own.

In our travels, however, we have also not ever seen any b/w door curtains. We have seen indigo/white cotton or cotton weft (often hand spun), silk warp shawls, and blankets in one or two pieces, but have never seen door curtains in black/indigo and white. The door curtains we have seen used in houses were almost always colorful. We were able to buy a newly made door curtain of hand spun, indigo dyed cotton with additional multi-colored supplemental weft silk designs (I apologize - we have sold the piece, so I cannot look at it to differentiate warp and weft threads re: which are cotton and which silk at this point in time - my one photo is too distant to be useful). This one was made in Houaphon Province, and is the only new cotton and silk door curtain we have seen that did not include the poly-cotton plain weave ground. We do have many long, thin shawls with either plain or gold-dyed silk with handspun cotton indigo weft patterns, and new and old blankets, both bordered and not, with handspun cotton and silk patterns, usually in two pieces joined in the middle. We also have several blankets with the silk, red, zone-dyed border. However, no black and white door curtains. Perhaps what you have are single panels yet to be made into blankets. We have found many of those.

On our next trip, we will ask around about black/indigo and white door curtains, and can also ask about the patterns in your initial textiles, particularly the one identified as being from Xam Neua. We love a good hunt!


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File comment: Master dyer wearing a door curtain with handspun cotton and silk - all natural dyed, with predominant naga and siho patterns.
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File comment: Young mom with her baby draped in a handspun cotton weft pattern, two piece blanket with silk zone dyed border.
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File comment: Lao girl with her handspun cotton weft pattern long shawl.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 06, 2010 2:14 am 
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wonderful photos above the fray! The second and third images show the sort of textiles I was asking about. These look like very fine ones all these ladies are wrapped in. Nearly all the curtains I have seen are similar to these usually in cotton with a silk supplementry section on the bottom. They are obviously not terribly rare as such, but I've been puzzled as to why they are almost totally absent from books published on Lao textiles. One day I'll get to Laos on a nice long trip and see for myself.....

You often see similar pieces as blankets, but from what I understand if they have a tube at the top they are curtains and if they are sewn into another textile around the edge they are a blanket.


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