Warm Heart Creates Eri Silk

Greetings. My name is Eileen Eisele and I am honored to be guest blogging for TAMMACHAT. For the past 3 months our family has been volunteering at Warm Heart, a non-profit based in northern Thailand. I am here with my husband Greg and fairly agreeable 11-year-old daughter Joji. Warm Heart is a community-based NGO that works towards empowering rural Thai villagers through education, health and microenterprise initiatives. I was thrilled to meet Alleson and Ellen on one of their scheduled rounds to collect an order of scarves they placed earlier in the year with the Warm Heart weaving partnership.

Part of my volunteer assignment was to help with marketing materials for the microenterprise program. My background as a photo stylist for catalogs and commercial photo shoots has taught me one thing -- a picture is worth a thousand words. Having no prior knowledge of weaving it was with utter fascination I started documenting the incredibly multilayered process of a hand-loomed textile, from creepy crawly Eri silkworm to sensational silky scarf.

I present to you the story of a Warm Heart scarf.

Warm Heart weavers are located at the Warm Heart Children's Home and at the Pa Dang Temple. At the Children's Home, the looms sit under a converted rice barn; upstairs is the children’s library.

Eri silkworms munching away on lahoun leaves -- their job: to eat, grow and poop (which, I am told, makes a tasty tea).

Soft Eri cocoons in their "cocoon condo." After the cocoon is spun, it is cut open and the pupae released -- to become a moth, lay eggs and die, or be eaten as a tasty fried snack.

Soaking the cocoons -- this softens them and removes the stiff seracin so they can be fluffed and spun into threads.

A bundle of fluffy Eri silk fibers dries in the sun -- next the fibers will be separated by hand, ready for spinning.

Rattana, a nun at the Pa Dang Temple (Wat) spins on a wheel made from a recycled bicycle rim.

Mae Joom's experienced hands spin the silk fibers into thread. Eri silk is incredibly unique in that it has the rough texture of a cotton wool mix but the softness of silk.

Mae Joom, Warm Heart's head weaver and trainer, prepares the "Deer’s Ears" leaves for the dye bath.

Newly dyed strands of Eri silk dry in the sun. The dyeing takes several steps to reach the desired color. In the next step the pink will become dark espresso brown.

Cotton and silk threads are wound and ready to be set up on the handloom. TAMMACHAT's Eri silk scarves use traditional Mulberry silk and/or cotton for the warp threads with Eri silk for the weft.

The handloom under the rice barn is prepared for the TAMMACHAT order, which takes several weeks to complete.

Loom detail -- I was a little obsessed by the beauty of the these hand-built looms, wonders of wood and metal recycling, just gorgeous.

Rattana and her assistant work at the loom at the wat, adjusting the warp threads as they weave.

Sripan sets up the warp threads on the handloom. This is an important and time consuming step.

Ann weaves a TAMMACHAT Moss Green Agate scarf with great concentration. Twelve to 14 scarves in one design are woven at a time.

P'Yada holds her daughter Popiya, who was ever present on weaving days. All the weavers helped entertain her while P'Yada worked the loom.

Sanom, a PaDang nun displays the subtle cream and espresso Eri silk and cotton TAMMACHAT scarf still on the loom.

A shuttle holds Eri silk threads -- the texture is nubbly but oh so soft. It gives the finished scarf a beautiful texture.

Loom heddles guide the loom to create the intricate patterns -- I did mention I was obsessed.

TAMMACHAT scarves are now finished -- Joom and Moss Green Agate, which is now available online.

Coming to a neck near you -- detail of the Ivory and Ebony Eri silk scarf shows the finished espresso brown color.

Sripan and me -- they are happy to turn the camera on me for a change. I learned so much from these weavers.
[Note from Ellen of TAMMACHAT: We are thrilled to get to know and begin to work with Warm Heart, which is doing important work to help children, help reduce poverty and help villagers empower themselves in northern Thailand. We're also thrilled to see younger women carrying on weaving traditions and creating new ones with Eri silk.]