By now, you know it, Lao borders are open and we’re so excited to accompany you in your discovery of Laos through textiles. Alongside our Master Weavers and experienced teachers, you can try your own hand at traditional crafts.
A wide range of classes in silk weaving, natural dyes, batik drawing and bamboo weaving are available — from half-day to 1, 2 or 3 day classes. You know that we always go the extra mile, right? What if you could also book longer customized classes?
You want to learn ikat, do a 2m scarf instead of our standard 1m80 and add some discontinuous weaving in there? Plus, dye some additional silk to bring back home? Totally possible! This is what Barbara Schaefer requested and she just left Luang Prabang very happy with the experience.
10 years ago, while in Luang Prabang, they visited the Living Crafts Centre.
A couple of months ago, Barbara, an American who has been living in New Zealand with her husband for years, reached out to us. Together, they’ve traveled the world and 10 years ago, while in Luang Prabang, they visited the Living Crafts Centre. Her husband always looked for handicraft experiences wherever they set sail.
Barbara always remembered the place but did not remember the name. And then during the pandemic – New Zealand was closed for 2.5 years and Barbara was itching to get back into the world – she started looking for where they could go when travel would be allowed again.
Itching to get back into the world, Barbara told her husband, let’s go back to Laos!
When they were sailing the world, they would always stop by Bangkok for healthcare. And since her husband needed to go to the dentist there, Barbara, who is a yoga teacher, told him, “Let’s go back to Laos!”.
She googled “Laos + weaving” and found the place they had visited many moons ago, Ock Pop Tok. She sent us an email thinking, if they reply, we’ll go there, otherwise, we’ll just forget about it.
We did reply (we’re very responsive!) and if at first Barbara mentioned that she wanted the 3 day ikat weaving, she rethought it and opted for a 5 day class in Luang Prabang. She really wanted to spend the maximum time at the weaving studio.
An intermediate weaver, Barbara wanted to deepen her knowledge of how cloth is made.
So, together with Sengchan, our Activities Manager, we devised a customized class for Barbara. Barbara, who bought her first loom in 1976, told us she was an intermediary weaver and had some experience with natural dyeing but would love to learn more about both. And since she’s quite tall, she asked if she could weave a 2m scarf instead of our usual 1m80. All it took was a few emails and the program was set.
A couple of weeks ago, as soon as New Zealand borders opened, Barbara landed in Luang Prabang, more than 10 years after her first visit. “Understanding how cloth is made is more important than what I make”, Barbara told us. And this trip to Laos served the purpose of deepening her knowledge of how textiles are made. Even more so, since she believes that, “Lao textile has it all. It has color, a variety of fibers, natural dyeing, tabby (straight weave) and more complicated designs.”
What I’m taking home is more than a scarf, it’s a technique, confides Barbara
Spending the week at our Living Crafts Centre, Barbara was impressed by the weavers. “They are so knowledgeable. It builds on what I already know,” she affirms. And since Barbara is already a weaver, she has the ability to understand how it all works. “I have an understanding of how patterns are written”, she shared. It is indeed way more than just straight lines. The patterns are intricate. “Theoretically, I understand how it works, but I wanted to deepen my understanding. What I’m taking home is more than a scarf, it’s a technique”, she adds.
The standing looms the weavers use in Laos are different from the looms Barbara has been using. “I needed one day to understand how it works. When I had questions, I would ask Yai (the weaver who accompanied Barbara all through the week) and Sengchan. They have a really good grasp of concepts. I wanted to know if I could retrofit one of my looms to make it work like this one. And they told me this will not work but you could try this instead. Their depth and understanding of how cloth is made go beyond Laos, it’s intuitive”, says Barbara.
So much so that, yes, having a translator is useful for in-depth questions but Barbara told us that, “after some time, Yai and I developed our own way of communicating.”
When asked if she would recommend the experience to fellow weavers, Barbara told us she would most definitely, for intermediate weavers at least. “You need a week, it’s a real study. This is not for beginners, it’s for intermediate weavers to broaden their knowledge, make masterful work and be inspired. (…) For a lot of us, weaving is a hobby, and to be in the presence of people who’ve made this their livelihood is inspiring.”