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Contents : Hotels, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hua Hin, Krabi, Pattaya, Phang-nga, Phuket, Samui, Maps
Cover story : 10 Feb 2003
Vol.19 No. 21

Thai Textiles in Modern Society

By Ninnart


One of Some Best Buys



 

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Thai textiles bear unique characteristics, especially Thai silk which has proved its beauty on several international beauty contest stages since the first Miss Thailand got an opportunity to show its fine quality to the whole world. Thai silk's elegant texture never fails to capture the attention of the beholder. However, silk is but a kind of Thai fabrics. Indeed, cotton is another fabric playing an equally important role in Thai society as silk in that they are both produced by local wisdom, zeal and steady efforts.They are a precious heritage passed down from generation to generation.
 
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HM Queen Sirikit plays a leading role
in promoting mudmee silk.
 
Thai plain-colour silk known among foreigners is traditionally woven by hand providing its natural uneven looks distinguishing itself from other countries' silk fabrics. According to their characteristics and ways of weaving, Thai hand-woven textiles are grouped into various types such as Mudmee (IKAT), Yok, Chok, Khit, etc. All these except Yok can be woven from both cotton and silk. Each kind is unique and its patterns show the individual imagination of each weaver. The amazing thing is that there are no blueprints to model on.
Mudmee is regarded as the "Queen of Thai Silk" because of its intricate patterns. Though it can be woven from cotton yarn, the resulting mudmee does not look as gorgeous as mudmee silk.
 
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In the old days, it was the cloth for royal people and the nobility. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit is very fond of this kind of silk. Mudmee is woven in almost all provinces in the Northeastern region, such as Khon Kaen, Roi Et, Surin, Buri Ram and Si Sa Ket.
 
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Another delicate pattern of mudmee.
Pha Yok is another type of material worn among royal people and noble men and women in the past. It requires high-skilled weavers and complicated techniques. Gold and silver thread woven into this kind of cloth creates its lustrous texture.
 
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Pha Yok
Pha Yok is produced in all parts of the country, notably in Lamphun, Surin, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Trang provinces.
 
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Pha sin from Sukhothai province.
Pha Chok is mainly woven to decorate the edge of pha sin, so it is sometimes called sin tin chok. Its delicate designs are always admirable. Uttaradit, Sukhothai, Uthai Thani, Suphan Buri, Surin and many other provinces in the Northeastern region are sources of Pha Chok.
Pha Khit is usually woven from cotton and dyed with either chemical or natural substances. It is used as pillowcases, bedclothes and shawls. Frequently, the edge of pha sin is decorated by Khit too. It is made in Phrae, Uttaradit,Saraburi,Nakhon Ratchasima and many other provinces in the Northeastern region.
 
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Buddhist monks wearing yellow robes.
In former times, women wove cloth for household consumption while men forged iron. This clear-cut distinction in roles is reflected in a custom of Northeastern villages, according to which weaving skills are considered the most significant qualification for a bride-to-be.
Top
Textiles have been related to the ways of Thai life from birth to death. When a woman in the past knew that she was going to have a baby, she would prepare clothes, diapers and blankets for her expected baby. When a boy turned 20 and was ordained as a Buddhist monk, his parents would be pleased because they would share the benefit of their son's meritorious deed. Thais still believe that the parents will go to heaven after death by holding the yellow robe of their monk-son.

In a traditional Thai marriage ceremony, the bride and groom will each present a piece of cloth called pha wai to the other's parents as a way to pay respects to them. And when somebody dies, a white piece of cloth is used to wrap the body while the dead is dressed in clothes turned inside out, signifying death.
 
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A model wearing Thai Dusit,
a kind of Thai traditional costumes.
 
Inevitably, the consumption of Thai textiles started to decline after Thailand was led onto the road of modernization, particularly during the cultural reform of the government of P.Phibulsonggram. Synthetic fabrics gradually replaced hand-woven textiles because they were more durable and possessed brighter colours. And formerly, most Thai textiles faded easily because they were dyed with natural substances. Not long after the reform, most Thai people except the elderly, got dressed exactly like Europeans. Moreover, people of the younger generations regarded Thai textiles out of date.

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit was worried about this social phenomenon. She therefore came up with an idea of designing Thai national costumes for Thai people to wear in formal occasions. She always dressed herself in Thai textiles so that her subjects would get familiar with them. This attempt has effectively restored the popularity of Thai textiles. On 21st September 2002, the Queen was awarded the honourable Louis Pasteur's prize for bringing Thai textiles back to life again.
 
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Furthermore, both Thai and foreign designers have been inspired by the intrinsic value of Thai textiles. Some of them produced extraordinary costumes with the appropriate mixture of the unique texture and the modern pattern. Leather, lace and strings are added to the costumes to create new looks. Apparently, this has aroused much interest among young consumers, resulting in the rising demand for hand-woven fabrics.
 
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An elegant modern outfit tailored
from Thai silk.
Not only their domestic consumption has increased, but their foreign markets have expanded also. Thai textile products that are in great demand are plain colour silk, ready-made garments, shawls, handkerchiefs, neck ties, bow ties and raw silk. According to the statistics of the Department of Export Promotion for Jan-Nov 2002, the United States was the most important export market of Thai silk fabrics.The second was the United Kingdom. Japan, Italy and France were among the promising markets. Other Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong & South Korea were importers of Thai silk products as well. So, it can be said that Thai textiles have been expanded into large-scale manufacturing. This progress generates high incomes for the country. In 2002 (Jan-Nov), Thai silk fabric export income reached 521.65 million baht.
 
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In addition to Her Majesty the Queen's endeavours to awake the public interest in Thai textiles, the government's schemes to promote the values of local wisdom of Thai textiles along with their vital role in commerce, have made a big change as well. Free seminars, exhibitions and fashion shows have been arranged continuously to enhance consumers' awareness. The project of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques (SUPPORT), under the patronage of HM the Queen, is another important organization supporting the use of Thai textiles.
 
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A mannequin dressed in a
hilltribe's costume. Behind her is Pha Khit.
There is a tendency for Thai textiles to steadily grow because personnel in both the private and governmental sectors are being encouraged to get dressed in Thai textiles at least once a week. In addition, the developed dyeing techniques improving the brightness of colour will guarantee a more satisfied quality of Thai textiles.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language .

 



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