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tribaltextiles.info • View topic - A Lao-Tai supplementary weft textile

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:55 am 
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Posts: 155
Location: Beijing
Here is a textile I bought a few days ago. I tentatively identify it as a "Phaa Mau Phii" (Ritual shoulder cloth of some kind), and would be interested if Forum members who know more about this kind of textile can confirm or not. Which kind of "Tai" people I wonder?

The cloth measures 47cm x 170cm and is woven in dark blue indigo cotton weft on a dark blue silk warp background. The decoration is silk supplementary weft.

I bought it relatively cheaply in a rather dirty and stained condition, with some damage that you will see in the photos, so because of this I figured I had not much to lose by attempting to wash it (a procedure that often ends in tears with this kind of textile). I did this by soaking in the bath in a lot cold water with a tiny amount of dishwashing detergent, after first testing the red color for color-fastness by pressing a damp cotton cloth against it. No scrubbing or rubbing at all, since I am sure that the supplementary weft decoration (lightly twisted silk) would have turned "fuzzy" if I tried that. After washing I rinsed it several times with more cold water. The colors didn't run at all, presumably because they are well-mordanted natural colors. I was lucky in this respect since generally speaking if there is the slightest trace of synthetic color it runs into the ivory-white color in textiles like this, especially when using detergent. After washing I blotted it dry between two bath towels and then dried it flat on a rack.

Not all of the brown stain has come out, but I think I will leave it as it is now. There is probably some tannin in the stain so it would be difficult to shift it entirely. Likewise the broken areas I will leave as they are, but put some small pieces of dark indigo behind them if I mount it for display.

Chris


Attachments:
File comment: A Tai supplementary weft textile, probably from northern Laos
KT152-t1.jpg
KT152-t1.jpg [ 138.06 KiB | Viewed 8249 times ]
File comment: detail of the upper part of the textile
KT152-t2.jpg
KT152-t2.jpg [ 238.84 KiB | Viewed 8249 times ]
File comment: detail of supplementary weft decoration from the lower part
KT152-t3.jpg
KT152-t3.jpg [ 213.52 KiB | Viewed 8249 times ]
File comment: detail of supplementary weft decoration from the lower part
KT152-t4.jpg
KT152-t4.jpg [ 187.08 KiB | Viewed 8249 times ]
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 4:34 pm 
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 28, 2013 6:29 am 
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Location: Japan
Chris,

The blue background makes me think of the Tai Dam. I would guess Xam Nuea. Does it have fringes on the end we can't see? Rare to get an old piece with natural colors these days. Nice find and good info on washing it. Thanks for posting it.

Am attaching a textile I got recently. Not from the same area but the same technique in wool with a rather Asian look to the patterns considering where it is from.

Best regards


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Wool Brocade, Skane, Sweden.jpg
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 07, 2013 4:46 am 
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Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Nice piece Chris. I am no expert and actually feel like I know little about Lao textiles, as there is so much to learn and much is still not known due to lack of research. I have, however, been privileged to have had two old shaman cloths of the type called 'Phaa Phii Mon' ("phii mon" is a shaman in Lao; in Thai it would be "maw phii") , and can only offer some observations. First, the use of silk warps, if colored with indigo, is surprising. It is widely known in Laos that indigo corrodes silk over time, and consequently only cotton is dyed with indigo. If the warps are silk, and are dark blue, they are probably not indigo, hence the use of synthetic dye. Older Lao textiles did not use synthetic dyes. I cannot state categorically when these dyes became prevalent, but in my experience, the older textiles (40+ years?) all use indigo on cotton, and usually the cotton is handspun. That said, your piece appears to have hard use, so one would perhaps think it an older piece... a bit of a conundrum here. Interesting that you mention the silk possibly becoming fuzzy with scrubbing: fuzzy silk is only found on newer Lao textiles... I do not know why, but it's not because of washing, tho it may have something to do with the handling of the threads/yarns before weaving. I'm not saying yours has this quality, just noting that it is a feature to look for when trying to determine relative age.

Another way in which it does not conform to the old pieces is patterning: the old pieces (19th century/early 20th century) are lushly covered with imagery in a natural cream colored silk with very random color accents. The randomly colored accents are typically used only on shaman cloths, according to Patricia. Your piece is colorful by comparison.

The lack of fringe is consistent- the old pieces were finished at each end with applique bands of colored cotton and edged with small knots with clipped ends forming a very short fringe.

The pieces I had were from Houa Phan Province and were Tai Daeng. I think Tai Daeng attribution may be more likely considering the quote Pamela cites and the fact that they produced most of the shamanic textiles. Your piece could well be a shaman's scarf, but woven more recently (later 20thc.) as an evolution from the earlier style, or from another area in northern Laos. Attribution can be difficult as small communities may do things differently from their neighbors and may be remote from certain influences.

A published example can be found in Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast Asia by Gittinger and Lefferts; p.221 and 227. It has a similar appearance to the old pieces I've had, and the materials also are the same, with "blue black cotton warps".

I think you are really brave in washing it, tho I understand your thinking. I'm glad it worked out. I like to use baby shampoo, tho it may not clean as well as detergent.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2013 8:20 am 
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Thanks for all the comments, MAC, Pamela and Susan. MAC's textile looks Tai too (those motifs look so familiar) but the colors and arrangement are unusual and I don't know who wove it.

My description of the warp was a bit misleading (apologies), looking closely it is actually a khaki shade, probably indigo with a vegetable dye. Warps in these textiles are usually silk, of various colors, presumably because silk was easier to get in longer lengths, less prone to breaking than cotton and smoother. Cotton takes indigo dye better than silk so this is presumably why it is normally used for the background weft in these textiles.

I have heard Susan's comment about indigo being corrosive on silk before, and it puzzles me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't know of any technical reason why indigo would corrode silk. Indigo is a pigment and doesn't require a mordant, so there's nothing that will attack silk. Secondly, it was commonly used by Lao dyers to make green shades (yellow + indigo = green or khaki). These shades sometimes start off green while the yellow dye is still fresh, but turn khaki if the yellow oxidises to a brownish shade. Indigo has also been used on silk by Chinese dyers for centuries without problems. It is true however that it very difficult to dye a permanent, dark shade of indigo on silk, since it rubs off smooth silk fibers very easily (just ask my wife about her indigo silk scarf from Japan).

As I wrote the last para it did occur to me that there is one indigo dye procedure that would very likely give problems on silk. This is indigo that has been soaked in paddyfield mud to darken it (commonly done with indigo on cotton to make a nearly-black shade). In this case the mud is there to add iron (mordant) to the mix, and that might corrode silk over time.

Here is another close-up photo of the weave, that I think shows the warp and weft and the ivory-white supplementary weft better.


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File comment: another detail
detail.jpg
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2013 9:21 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 12:58 am 
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Thanks Susan, that makes sense. Alkaline residues from the dye bath left behind by incomplete rinsing would certainly attack silk over time.

When dyeing indigo on wool (another protein fiber) I usually add a few drops of vinegar in the final rinse, just to make sure the alkali is all gone.

Does "raw silk" mean silk that hasn't been degummed? Not sure what difference that would make.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:43 am 
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Chris, Susan

A very interesting discussion - thanks! I know you are the chemist, Chris. Might the 'gum' in the raw silk stop the alkaline residue from getting to the inner silk fibres or, perhaps, even have a chemical reaction or bind with the alkaline? Said as an ignorant, non-chemist!

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 3:26 am 
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Ah, a chance to ramble on about fiber and dye chemistry, one of my favourite topics...

I haven't done much silk dyeing and have never used silk that hasn't been de-gummed, but I imagine that would tend to protect it. On the other hand when the gum finally wears off the color might tend to fade (particularly indigo), since a lot of the dye would be in the outer gum layer.

Silk and wool are both protein fibers. They take acidic vegetable dyes brilliantly and are a joy to work with, and the mildly acid dye bath doesn't damage them. You can get good reds, browns, yellows with just one dip. With cellulose fibers (cotton, hemp and so on) on the other hand, an acid dye will make hardly any impression on them unless you do a lot of mordanting, and even then you will probably need several dips. In the case of the morinda red favoured by Indonesian dye-ers you need about 10-20 dips for a good dark shade, and about 3-6 months work. With morinda, the mordant is an oily mixture which is pounded into the cotton so that some of it penetrates the fiber: the dye sticks to this oily mixture rather than to the cotton itself. Which is why washing morinda-dyed fibers in detergent is risky, since you will tend to strip out the mordant and the dye with it.

The resistance of cotton to acid dyes is exploited by some northern Indian weavers, who add white supplementary cotton designs to white wool textiles, then dye the wool using an acidic dye, leaving white designs on a colored background (remember drawing on white paper using a white wax candle when we were kids, then painting over it in watercolor to reveal the design?).

With indigo, the situation is reversed. Indigo isn't really a dye at all, it is a pigment that sits on the outer surface of the fiber. In this case cotton comes into its own since it has a naturally white color and a rough surface, so indigo sticks well to it and looks great. Wool is also good with indigo since it has a rough cuticle. Well-washed and de-gummed silk on the other hand is completely smooth (under a microscope it looks like a piece of monofilament fishing line). Getting indigo to adhere to that is quite a challenge.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 4:00 am 
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Chris, these pieces are well described by Gittinger as shamanic scarfs and are found with blue and red grounds tho the blue are much less common, perhaps one in ten. I have several of them , one of which is illustrated in her book. The blue ground that I have seen are cotton warps. Yours is a very nice one despite the damage. I have not seen these around for many years and bought mine in the 70's and early 80's.


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