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.)