Photo essay: Cotton Weaving in Northern Thailand

Junhom Bantan is a Northern Thai weaving group that specializes in eco-friendly, natural dyes and handweaving. They weave with handspun cotton, as well as stronger, unbleached cotton yarns. TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles has been working with this group since 2007, building a fair trade relationship. On Christmas Day, 2011, we began a 2-day visit to the small villages where group members live and work. These cultural traditions are still alive and well, thanks to the efforts of Mai, the woman who acts as the group's manager,and whose mother started the group many years ago. A keen interest in natural fibres and natural dyes in Japan, as well as other countries, continues to provide a market for their eco-textiles.

[Photos and text copyright Ellen Agger 2011. Please ask for permission to use them.]

Mai, who manages Junhom Bantan now, stands in front of the small village shop with her mother who started the village natural dyeing/weaving group many years ago. Most customers, like TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, now visit the village to make special orders.

A sampling of cotton threads show some of the natural colours available from leaves, barks and insect resin. This group specializes in earth tones in interesting combinations.

Juhom Bantan's breezy cotton scarf in shades of blue is available from TAMMACHAT's online shop.

The dyeing area, in the shade for comfort and protection for the dyers, houses dye materials, a chopping machine for dye materials, yarns, dye pots that simmer over fires, 2 spin dryers to wring out the dyed yarn, and a drying area out of the sun.      

Mai's paa (father) and sister do most of the group's dyeing now.  

The fruit of the ebony plant creates a rich, dark brown.

This machine chops bark into small pieces so it can be used multiple times to create dyes. The chips are later composted.

Unbleached cotton yarns steep in a dye bath, soaking up a tan colour from bark of a local tree.

Unbleached cotton is lightly dyed and hung to dry.

The blue dye is created from hom, a leaf in the same family as the more famous indigo plant. It has been collected in the wild in Northern Thailand, made into cakes and used in Ban Tan to dye cotton yarns a medium and dark blue.

A typical floor loom in Northern Thailand. This one is set up with a trigger shuttle and a "rocking" seat. It's under the house, easily accessed when the weaver has some time to weave.

Women weave when they have time. Some use it as a main source of income when they are not growing and harvesting rice, their staple crop. Others use it to supplement their income. Some tell us they simply love to weave.

This 83-year-old woman is one of the weaving group's original members.
This is the second year that this group has received the Green Products certification from the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion, given to small textile producers.

Alleson and Mai enjoy getting to know each other in Ban Tan. Mai told us she values being friends with her customers. We share this value and also feel it's important that the weavers enjoy their work. This is "slow fashion" -- creating cloth that takes time, patience, care and love.