|organic cotton elephants stuffed with organic kapok!|
|organic cotton on the banks of the Mekong River|
In 2009, we spent 2 weeks with Aew, who worked with village groups of organic cotton farmers, spinners, dyers and weavers for more than 15 years. We documented and celebrated the Pattanarak Foundation's Organic Cotton Project in a photo book, Weaving Sustainable Communities: Organic Cotton Along the Mekong. (Preview it free online.)
|Alleson and Aew from Napafai|
We met up with Aew in her hometown of Ubon, where she also works for another Thai non-governmental organization, to learn more about her ongoing work with these artisans. She now works as a volunteer board member for the Nong Peun Noi Product Training Centre, where the skilled artisans taught us how they gin and fluff cotton, spin it by hand, dye it with local natural dyes, tie-dye their mudmee (ikat) patterns and weave cloth on traditional floor looms.
|tyeing the pattern before dyeing|
|the tie-dyed indigo mudmee|
At this centre, the area artisans receive training – such as the 3-day training in sewing bags that was going on during our visit with Aew – and train school groups and other artisan groups in their centre, passing along their skills.
|Nong Peun Noi Product Training Centre|
We love the stuffed elephants (sold here as cushions, but equally delightful as sweatshop-free toys) and ordered them in a variety of colours, including bold checks and stripes! (Who says all elephants are grey?) We were excited to find 4 pieces of mudmee cloth in intense indigo blue, woven with a handspun organic cotton weft (crossways yarns) and we ordered small zippered pouched in a finer indigo mudmee cloth.
|mudmee zippered pouches --|
perfect for notions, change, iPod or phone
|a finely patterned mudmee cotton cloth|
A quilt with organic cotton batting intrigued us too. Cloth made from fine cotton yarns was loosely woven then 2 layers were stuffed with cotton after its seeds were removed using a handcarved, hand-cranked, traditional cotton gin and fluffed with another traditional tool.
|removing seeds with traditional wooden cotton gin|
|fluffing cotton before spinning it|
|organic cotton batting in a handwoven quilt cover|
We look forward to visiting Napafai's new shop – in the planning stages – and seeing continued opportunities for these artisans to market their work, especially important for the middle-aged and older women whose work with cloth brings much-needed income to their families.