Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cambodia: Silk workshop

On our second-to-last day we went on a tour of a silk workshop. It was pretty exciting for me because the larger project of preserving traditional artisanal craftwork and providing good jobs for Cambodians was a EU project.  There is a beautiful store selling the products of these artisans, and some information about the background and current projects. Some of these young craftspeople do restoration work on ancient buildings (presumably mostly the stone workers), some design and create art for major hotels, government buildings and other high end outlets. Most of the object d'art in the shop were beyond our price point!

But I digress.

The shop sponsors a tour of the silk factory, about 20 minutes away in a more rural setting. There. we saw everything.  We first visited the silkworms, from tiny little worms, to the bigger fatter ones engorging themselves on mulberry leaves, to the more lethargic ones starting to spin their cocoons.

I had no idea silk came from the discarded cocoons of the silk worm. But they do. So when the worms become butterflies and bust out of their cocoons, the cocoons are gathered and the process begins.  First a whole batch of them are boiled. The lady working with the raw silk (outer layer) waved a brush-looking-thing in the boiling water and you could see a few strands catching on it, which were threaded into the first round of spinning. Turns out the local raw silk is a stunning rich golden yellow color.  Fine silk is a slightly (slightly!) more muted yellow.  After the raw silk is drawn off the cocoon, another person does the same process  - boiling and gathering strands to combine into thread - with the fine silk.

The next step is spinning the thread.  One of my favorite things in the shop was the repurposed bike parts. They used the pedal, chain and wheel.  The pedal was the hand crank, and the tire rim held the new thread. Although we didn't get to see the dyeing, there was a display about how the all-natural colorants they used were derived.

The final step is weaving. The looms are huge and impressive.  We saw simple one-color scarves as well as more complex designs. The whole tour definitely made me appreciate, and want to go buy, silk (and of  course this is the point of the whole thing. That's OK.) 

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