The longer I live in South East Asia, the more I’m discovering the wonders of making the best out of what you have. I mean this in the best of ways, sincerely. I think I once tried to fit my more Western-flavoured ways of doing, eating, and cooking into an equatorial environment that is actually full of weird and wonderful parts worth seeking out. These parts are strange, temperamental, yet forgiving and kind at the same time. So the more I explore, the more I’m discovering that these delicate and extraordinary parts need to be shared with you guys. I feel that this is the only way to do my discoveries justice.
I’ve loved the idea of ‘making’ since I was a little shrimp, but never honed a path that truly satisfied my cravings for creation. At art school, my antennae were pointed into the right direction, and as I wonder through my life, I’m starting to feel the gravitational pull of stuff that I could never put my finger on [or maybe ‘up’] before. Nowadays, I know what floats-my-boat, I see what I really want to see, and experience a life that inspires me to find out more. That paper bag on my head is wearing and tearing through time, and I’ve started to see glimpses of the crisp world around me as new, though a lot of this stuff has been around longer than I can physically imagine.
These once alien things like 100 year old Hmong textiles, dyed by whatever plants were growing in the area, and woven over a lifetime for marriage or death, not only make me question our modern function, but just shock my system every time I see their implausibly vivid colour or the same geometric weaving pattern that weirdly pops-up all over the world. Just like the internet, these ancient things have made our world feel much smaller once over. Mamas and grandmamas pick wild herbs in their backyards to feed and nurture their families from Italy, to Kanazawa, to Ubon Ratchatani, while rich health maniacs from the Silicon valley help unlock the tools of food that you can also read about in century-old Indian religious texts.
Above / These pants are hand loomed and sewn. Its blue colour comes from natural indigo dye on its hand spun cotton threads, and is about 50 years old from Laos.
To me, like recipes, old textiles hold History. They tell us about what was growing at the time its threads were dyed, they paint us a picture of what people respected and believed in, and hint at the personality of its creator. For example, some Laotian, Thai, and Cambodian textiles I’ve come across have unexpected patterns, animal symbols, or strange placements of features, just probably because their maker was feeling a little playful at the time. Sometimes you might find a tuft of unusual colour in a random spot, because that person just thought it was amazing, but didn’t have enough for the complete shebang. I love to think about the stories that come with these great-grandmother pieces… What was the person like? Why did they make it, and how did the land they called home look like?
Zooming out, they also show us how life was for their owners, and things that were precious to them. For most of the hill tribe and Hmong textiles, you won’t find any fish motifs through the weaving, simply because the sea was a lifetime’s distance away. I was told about a Blue Hmong friend of mine who took her sister to the sea for the first time (she herself had already seen it once before that), explaining to her how the water came up and down, and how the waves made noise, while both squealing from the unfamiliar sensation of deep, wet sand under their feet. This is why you might find incredible things like real cocoons on the fringing of certain supplementary weft brocades, because they are things that (especially when taken out of their usual context) are incredible on their own right. Things like baskets of silk woven by tiny creatures, or sometimes threads of hand spun gold are woven into a piece, because special. These things are what keep me in love with our Universe.
Above / This 45 year old Hmong skirt is hand spun natural indigo dyed cotton threads, woven into 4-5 metres of cloth, with vegetable dyed silk thread used for the embroidery and cotton threaded through the pleats to hold them together. Before its construction, the material is batik dyed by hand. The waistband is the natural colour of the original textile. (woah).
Shot by Kittipong Paiboonsombut (Tum) / Canon 5D / On Location at Blue Dye Cafe, Sukhumvit 36, Bangkok.
You will be able to shop each look in posts to come (STAY TUNED)