Shadows of Silk

Collection with 22 media items created by Transterra Editor

Thailand 30 Apr 2013 15:00

Surin is located in the rural east of Thailand, in the province Isaan. Agriculture, the main industry of the region, was once supplemented by sericulture. Such an arrangement was making the households self-sufficient, ensuring food on the table and shirts on one’s back. My host, Pimnipa, used to grow and weave silk herself, but two years ago an extremely hot summer killed all her silkworms putting her out of business. Subsequently, she had to abandon her loom. The raw silk-thread is not easy to get and the prices went up, as only few suppliers managed to survive. Pimnipa is my guide to what remains of the local silk industry. She takes me under the roofs of the sparse houses that are still involved in silk-making, so that I can learn about the process. Several years ago each household was self-reliant but today people had to specialize to get by. Those who grow silk, usually don’t weave, and those who dye thread, don’t rear the worms and so on. It’s not a solvent business anymore. Nowadays, the climate change and the low profitability also top the reasons for the widespread reluctance to invest in sericulture. It takes both, time and patience. Silkworms are voracious eaters, and yet they're extremely fragile and vulnerable to insects, noises or heat. Recent very hot summers resulting in hundreds of baskets full of dead caterpillars left a large hole in the finances of many villagers. Like in Pimnipa’s case, those baskets were then put aside never to be looked at again. Each handmade silk cloth is unique and easily recognizable because of its irregularities and occasional knots. The patterns are often a signature of the village or even a family, secretly guarded for generations. In spite of its beauty, the handmade silk attracts less and less buyers every year. Due to the time and labor required to make a piece of fabric, this product is not cheap. Since the markets are overflowing with cheap factory-made silk from China, small looms struggle with distribution. A loom on the porch was once a sight as common as a buffalo in the Surin villages. Today more often one can see those tools in the far corner of the backyards, like sad decaying carcasses of the by-gone self-sufficiency. But there are a couple areas where the hand-woven silk brings great returns. Ban Thasawang is one such village, a place of great renown as it produces the silk for the Royal Family itself. The less fortunate weavers are mostly Pimnipa’s age or older. Their daughters and granddaughters are unlikely to learn the craft. The youth flees from the villages to the cities, and even if they remain, they indulge in far more “sophisticated” pastimes like watching TV or taking drugs. The household silk production, a vehicle for women empowerment and a source of their pride, is in the hands of the passing generation. And without a rescue plan they may die alongside. Photos by Gloria Kurnik

Thailand Silk Surin V Illage Silk Worm Silk Production Asia

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Shadows on Silk - 01
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. The dry season stretches far beyond what’s normal. In hope for rain men head to the fields to prepare them for sowing. Women wait at home.

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Shadows on Silk - 02
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Houses around Surin in Thailand were once a hub of cottage silk production. A housewife was taking care of each step, from rearing worms to weaving.

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Shadows on Silk - 03
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Pimnipa chats with her aunt about global warming. This is a really “hot” topic in the village nowadays. Both women once used to rear silkworms.

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Shadows on Silk - 04
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. A woman shows off her sericulture. Traditionally, the threshing floor is wetted to keep the temperature down. Modern appliances like AC had been installed to fight the rising temperatures.

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Shadows on Silk - 05
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Housewife showing the silkworms while covering the basket with mulberry leaves to feed them. The worms here are about a week away from spinning their cocoons.

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Shadows on Silk - 06
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. As silkworms feed only on the fresh leaves, some are growing them as a side business. With caterpillars eating 3 times a day, this bag won’t last for long.

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Shadows on Silk - 07
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Pimnipa’s neighbor, age 77, sits next to the cocoons she cultivated herself. Her eyesight is not so good anymore so she recently had to stop weaving.

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Shadows on Silk - 08
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Pimnipa buys the cocoons to show me the process of extracting the thread. It needs to be done before silkworms get out as they would damage the fiber.

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Shadows on Silk - 09
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Cocoons are boiled to ease the silk threads out. Pimnipa squints in the acrid smoke from her small wood-burning stove while performing the process.

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Shadows on Silk - 10
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. It is a sad and short life for a silk worm but nothing goes to waste in this Thai village. Despite the irritating fumes and fierce heat that day, Pimnipa have finished in time to serve the boiled silkworms for breakfast.

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Shadows on Silk - 12
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. This housewife specializes in dyeing patterns on the weft yarn. Once, each weaver was doing it herself, now it’s easier to buy the processed material.

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Shadows on Silk - 13
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Pimnipa’s aunt with her granddaughter. Even though the girl has been put to sleep by the lullabies of the clattering loom, in reality she’s unlikely to learn the craft.

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Shadows on Silk - 14
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Weaving was once a skill passed from mothers to daughters. While kids are still keen on observing their mothers at work, teenagers know better pastimes.

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Shadows on Silk - 15
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. The silk is being cut off the loom after one week of weaving. Women laugh as Pimnipa had picked the fabric that she wants to buy from her aunt.

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Shadows on Silk - 16
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Pimnipa’s daughter, Joy, is folding the silk. A piece is about 2 meters long and this intricate pattern is unique to their village. Sadly, Joy will never learn it.

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Shadows on Silk - 17
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. We find a household where the whole family is actively involved in reeling, dyeing and weaving. They found a distributor who comes to collect the fabric.

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Shadows on Silk - 18
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. A portrait of one of those rare families where children are actively helping with the silk making process. The daughter prepares the yarn before dyeing the pattern.

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Shadows on Silk - 19
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. In this household even the son weaves. When he's older he wants to take care of the family business as he's seen that they can make a living from it. That’s a ray of hope for the industry but his interests may change with time.

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Shadows on Silk - 20
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. While most of the silk artisans struggle to find clientele, the silk factory in Ban Thasawang weaves for the elites. Prices here are so high that are revealed only to serious buyers. This is the charming part of the complex.

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Shadows on Silk - 21
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Across the road, the other part of the factory in Ban Thasawang falls into ruin. This raises a question if the business here is indeed as profitable as advertised.

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Shadows on Silk - 22
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Ban Thasavang Silk Village. The process of weaving requires here four to five people working together on one piece of fabric. One person always sits below the ground.

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Shadows on Silk - 23
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Ban Thasawang Silk Village. Immersed in semidarkness, staring blankly ahead. This weaver’s figure is perhaps the best metaphor for the state of the nation's homegrown industry.