Friday, May 31, 2013

Lao supplementary weft weaving

Chok – discontinuous supplementary weft
Kit – continuous supplementary weft
(The Lao terms are so much more concise!)
The top weaving shows both types of supplementary weft, 
the middle ones are discontinuous (chok) and the bottom continuous (kit).

Traditional Lao weaving incorporates complicated and highly symbolic patterns in supplementary weft. This means that in addition to the warp and weft yarns that create the woven structure, an additional set of yarns is worked in as weft to make the pattern. Because these weft yarns are not integral to the structure, the technique is called supplementary weft.
The supplementary weft may be continuous or discontinuous. Continuous weft yarn goes all the way across the width of the cloth: this is the method when only one color is needed within a row. If many colors are used, the method is discontinuous supplementary weft, and these weft yarns are wrapped by hand under the warp yarns, or passed with a shuttle part of the way across the warp, if the blocks of color are larger. The weaver works with the back side of the fabric facing up.
In the bottom photo, she has a wide section of discontinuous supplementary weft,
so she passes the shuttle through this section of the warp.

The patterns for supplementary weft are created ahead of time, and are stored on the loom in the form of a vertical heddle system.  This is a set of nylon yarns that are ‘woven’ in the same pattern that will appear in the textile. 
The ‘warps’ of this system are actually heddles, each one holding one of the actual warp yarns of the piece on the loom. The nylon ‘wefts’ are loops, which are attached in place above or below the working warp. The loops are hung on a frame with nails above, and slipped onto posts below.
In this manner, each of the nylon weft loops holds the place of  a pattern row, with respect to the heddles. The weaver uses the loop to separate the vertical heddles back and front, bringing the necessary heddles for the current row forward. These forward heddles are grasped and raised by hand, and the sword is inserted under them, establishing that pattern row. The supplementary weft is passed, or wrapped by hand, with the sword holding the pattern heddles up. Then the sword is laid flat and the plainweave heddle, operated by foot pedals, is opened and the plain weft is passed.
In the case of continuous supplementary weft, the weft is passed twice for each pattern row, alternating with a pass of the plain weft. Discontinuous weft is only inserted once per pattern row, but more strands of weft yarn are used.

The sequence of weaving is thus (with images from my half-day weaving class, as well as the weaving workshop):
-       select the next loop of pattern storage from the vertical system above the working warp

 -       use this loop to separate the vertical heddles, back and front
-       remove the loop and replace it between these heddles, below the working warp (my teacher, Euay Jan, helps keep the vertical heddles separated for me.)
-       lift the heddles that have been brought forward and insert the sword under them 
-       open the shed with the sword and pass the supplementary weft
-       close the sword shed without removing the sword, open the plainweave shed and pass the plain weft shuttle
-       if this is continuous supplementary weft, open the sword shed again and pass the supplementary weft once more, then the plain weft once more
When the weaving pattern reaches a mirroring point, the pattern loops are taken from below the working warp and moved above, to create the reverse sequence of pattern sheds. So at any given point, you may see a weaver taking from above and storing below, or vice versa. Understanding how to use the vertical heddles in the right sequence is another aspect of the weavers’ expertise: the system is not a complete ‘pre-programming’ of the pattern.
This is the reversal or mirroring point of my weaving in my class. After this, I worked my way backward through the stored pattern heddles.
Hoping this sheds some light on the process. It's fascinating to watch, especially the hand-wrapping of the discontinuous weft. The weavers working this way have bundles of color hanging next to them, from which they choose the necessary colors (an excuse for two more pretty photos.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fai: Lao cotton

When I came to Laos, I was hoping to see some cotton fiber preparation and spinning. The Living Crafts Centre being what it is, it did not take long to coordinate my interests with the needs of the centre. There is a cotton display that required attention, and women from a major cotton producing area were due in town. One of these women, Euay Navon*, came to demonstrate the various steps of the process, and I got to simultaneously document and learn from her.

Notice that she is beautifully dressed in all handspun, handwoven cotton, in several different types of material.
The cotton, she said, was not the best quality, because it hadn’t gotten enough sun to dry out after picking. She also showed how it can get damaged by rain, if the water gets inside the pod as the cotton grows (left damaged, right good). 
The bad parts have to be sorted out, then the seeds can be removed with a hand-cranked gin (eeuw in Lao). This was so much easier and faster than other seed-removing methods I’ve seen, such as the Ethiopian rolling of a stick against a stone to squeeze away the seeds.
The ginned cotton is then fluffed up using a bow (kâ gong) inside a horizontal barrel-shaped basket. This is similar, conceptually, to the bowing done in India by men who go around and re-fluff the batting of quilts. Somehow, the flicking of the bowstring teases the cotton apart, eventually making it into a nice, fluffy cloud. Some technique is definitely involved, and my clouds are not as fluffy as Euay Navon’s.

The cloud is separated into bits about the size of two handfuls, placed on a smooth surface, and rolled around a stick to form a cylindrical puni or fai lor. These are made nice and firm, tightly packed before the stick is removed.
Now we’re ready to spin on a wheel (), or technically a wheel-driven spindle, just like the Indian charka. The wheel is turned with the right hand while the cotton is spun long draw against the quill with the left hand, as with a charka or a great wheel. Euay Navon makes relatively short passes, not allowing the yarn to wind on too close to the quill before drafting back again. She is a patient teacher, and emphasized the importance of pulling quickly, straight back from the quill tip, with a slight vertical angle.
Trying this, I experienced that ‘leap of faith’ I’ve heard spinners talk about regarding long draw – at times, Euay Navon would pull my hand back for me, and it seemed so fast, and she’d make a cranking motion with her right hand, telling me to keep adding twist. That balance of speed and control is a delicate thing, and I only got it for brief moments before turning clumsy again.
The spun yarn is skeined on a niddy-noddy (piya), of which there is a beautiful example here at the Living Crafts Centre. I didn’t find it in time to get Euay Navon to demonstrate, but it has both sets of arms parallel, so they must wind on straight. Will research further….

Much of the weaving is done with singles, such as Euay Navon’s beautiful indigo plainweave shirt.
This was such a treat and a privilege, and now I practice my newly learned techniques to make the cotton display informative and authentic. Several of the silk weavers are also accustomed to working with cotton in their home villages, and they took to the ginning and bowing as soon as it was put on display. This is a good way to find out who has the knowledge: put the tools in front of them, and they can’t resist showing their stuff.

* Euay is a respectful Lao term of address, literally meaning 'older sister', which Euay Navon is to me, by just a very few years.

A short video of  this demonstration is on YouTube:
Lao cotton prep and spinning

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More Katu

....because I just can't get enough of this weaving style, and Geo was wearing a skirt she wove today.
 Is this stunning, or what?
 And some pillows, displayed in the villa. I am definitely developing a soft spot for the Katu weaving.
    Probably because it's done on the backstrap - it appeals at a visceral level.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Katu backstrap

It's amazing to be surrounded by weavers, and I was especially happy to find that there is backstrap weaving going on here. Keo, shown here, and her sister Mone have come from the south of Laos to work at Ock Pop Tok
I had seen the Katu style of textile before, because the traditional men's garments have weft twining, and they come up in image searches of 'weft twining.' Three of these loincloths are hanging in my room - I coincidentally got the room decorated in the Katu style.
There is another beautiful weaving, which has been used to cover a chair. (Photographed outside my room because the room is dark.)
Needless to say, I've been observing Keo's weaving as much as I can. Her foot-tensioned loom is warped with four metres of cotton which will be woven in a tubular manner, rotating around the loom beams. There are three shed sticks, and two string heddles. The extra sheds control the intricate warp float designs within the stripes (as seen in the chair details and the detail in the last post.) The string heddle is a simple, self-adjusting heddle wound around the warps, with no knots or other tricks. There is a safety line running through in case the rod slides out, because it's not even secured tightly at the ends. Notice there are no yarns holding her other shed sticks in place, and no second cross. She does not get up from weaving without carefully rolling the warp up, from the feet toward her.
Her feet flex and extend as she changes sheds, and also while she works the beads into place.
The beads are strung onto the weft thread, and counted out before she passes the shuttle.
She makes use of a finished piece (with weft twining, see?) to measure the size and number of beads needed for her flower motif.
The traditional weavings vary in design, color, and density of beading. The beaded part takes a lot more time, since they have to be counted, and worked into place one by one. The piece Keo is working on now is an Ock Pop Tok design, which will actually be split into two along the middle of the warp when it's finished, and used on two different skirts. It's more efficient to weave the two parts as one.
More pieces from the showroom at Ock Pop Tok, and one of the women working here has a very beautiful bag that is all patterned stripes and no beading, which I need to photograph. I have also uploaded a short video showing Keo weaving.

A further coincidence is that the ouerjan design on my Bedu bag, which I'm carrying here, reminded Mone of Katu designs - from a distance she thought there were beads in it! This hadn't even occurred to  me, but the effect is very similar.
Eventually I showed Keo photos of Bedouin weaving in Qatar. I had never dreamed, when I searched 'weft twining' months ago and came up with Katu images, that I'd be sitting with a Katu weaver and showing her imaged of Bedouin weft twining and saying, "See? Same as Katu."
I am living a textile fanatic's fantasy, and every day is full of awe and delight.

The rainy season began in earnest the same day - rain is audible in the background of part of the video.