Thai Pillows: A Buyer’s Info Resource

This post was updated on September 11, 2021

Introduction

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Thai pillows & mats are made in a rural environment in Northeast Thailand (Isaan). Work is quiet and primarily done outdoors. 

Thai pillows are Thai culture. Their sizes, shapes, fabrics and fill are unique to Thailand. You can find Thai pillows the world over, but they’re all made in the same place-the rural villages of Yasothon Province in northeastern Thailand.

I have been involved in Thai pillow making for years. Over time, many pillow makers and their families have become friends of my family. This short tutorial is my attempt to introduce this wonderful, old Siamese handicraft to those interested in the culture and tradition of Thai pillows. Enjoy

This tutorial will introduce you to the many shapes and sizes of Thai pillows, mats and mattresses. I’ll show you how they’re made and the difference between a quality Thai pillow and a bad one.

A Brief History of Thai Pillows

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An old-style silk triangle pillow at a museum in Northern Thailand.

The origins of Thai pillows reaches back far into Thailand’s past. While the historical record is not precise, we do know that Thai pillow making dates back to at least the beginning of the Sukhothai era (the mid-13th Century) and probably much earlier.

The basic “ingredients” of Thai pillows and mats (Tip: The term “Thai Pillows” also includes mattresses and mats.) are fabric, kapok (the fill) and rice straw for triangle pillows. These ingredients have been available to Siamese culture for thousands of years.

Thai Pillow Historical Photo
This old photo was taken in 1898 in Lampang northern Thailand. A man reclines his head on a triangle pillow. The woman is a masseuse.

Some of the most reliable historical records are painted murals in the old wats (temples) scattered about Northern Thailand. Some of these old wats contain murals from the mid-19th Century (1850-1875) which clearly depict the use of Thai pillows.

A mural in Wat Phumin in Nan Province depicting Thai triangle, rectangle pillows and mat (see white arrows).

Probably, the most important temple mural (above) depicting Thai pillows and mats is located in Wat Phumin in Nan. The mural depicts a Nan prince entertaining a couple of young women while reclining on a Thai mat with a rectangle and triangle pillow behind him. This mural is between 150-175 years old and is the earliest representation of Thai pillowry known. What’s important is that 175 years ago, Thai pillows and mats were already so much a part of Thai culture and life that they were included in sacred mural paintings.

A mural in Wat Kaew in Chiang Rai, one of the most sacred temples in Thailand depicting a triangle pillow.

The above painting is located in the “Old Wat”, Wat Kaew in Chiang Rai. While this temple painting is not old (maybe 70-90 years old) by historical standards, it’s importance lies in the fact that a Thai pillow is included in a mural in one of the most historic Thai wats.

The Ramkhamhaeng Stele of Sukothai

A stone Buddha at Sukhothai World Heritage Site
Ancient Sukothai

There are pillows for sitting and pillows for reclining…

-King  Ramkhamhaem of Sukhothai from the Ram Khamhaeng Stele (1292)

Historians consider Sukothai to be the 1st capital of Siam. (Prior to 1939, Thailand was called Siam.) It was founded in 1238 and lasted for about 200 years until Ayutthaya was founded. Sukothai is where the Thai alphabet was first formulated.

The Ramkhamhaeng Stele is a squat rectanglar cuboid stone with inscriptions carved into it. It was found in 1833 in the ruins of Sukhothai and tells the story of Siam’s first capital and its King-Ramkhamhaeng. It’s carved inscriptions have been dated to 1292. This stone testament specifically mentions Thai pillows with the following quote:

There are pillows for sitting and pillows for reclining to accompany the yellow robes offered year by year.

This passage refers to the annual Buddhist ceremonies where saffron clad monks came to the ancient city of Sukhothai to pray and chant usually during Buddhist Lent. Thai triangle pillows and folding pillows are specifically designed for reclining. This passage is an unmistakable reference to them.

Even today, when you go into a Thai wat, you’ll see Thai pillows placed on the dais for the monks to sit on while they chant.

Given the Ramkhamhaeng Stele, Thai pillow making can be accurately traced back well over 700 years. But I doubt Thai pillows made their first appearance at Sukothai. The materials-fabric and kapok-had been in use for at least a millennium prior.

For more info about Sukothai, please read my post “My Heart Belongs to Sukothai“.

Modern Thai Pillow Making

Thai pillowry and mats have evolved from the ancient culture of Siam. They are not a product of 21st Century marketing. But that doesn’t mean that Thai pillows are a static commodity that’s been frozen in time for a thousand years. Not at all.

New fabrics, designs and techniques are constantly being added and improved upon by Thai pillow artisans. Here’s a sampler of some of the fabrics and shapes of contemporary Thai pillows. (My Thai pillow business made all of them.)

Modern Thai Pillow Making
The above photo shows Thai pillows made from Chom Tong (upper left), mudmee (lower left) and silk (bottom center).
Assorted Thai pillows
Photo Above: Upper Left-Bone Pillow; Upper Center – Rectangle Pillow; Upper Right – Thai Bolsters; Lower Left – Papaya Pillow; Lower Right – Bonestar Pillow
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Photo Above: Siamese Folding Pillows. Upper Left: A rare folding pillow made from river reeds in mudmee style; Upper Right: Standard green kit fabric; Lower Left: Azure blue Jomtong Fabric folding pillow; Lower Right: Pillow makers showing off a custom pillow.
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My company, House of Thailand, made these silk mudmee pillows.

The art of Thai pillow-making is alive and well in Thailand. Thai pillows and mats (referred to as Thai Pillowry) are no longer produced in Northern Thailand, and are now made almost exclusively in small villages in Yasothon Province of northeastern Thailand.

Who Are the Pillow Makers?

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A pillow maker wraps and inserts rice straw into the triangle head of Thai folding pillows.

Thai pillows are mostly made by rice farmers, who produce the pillows to supplement their income. There is a steady domestic need and a growing export demand for traditional pillows, especially the mats and mattresses. The rice farmers turn to pillow making in the winter and spring months when their rice fields lay fallow until rainy season starting in late May.

Modern pillow production is organized around the rural Thai village. There are no centralized “pillow factories” like those of the apparel industry. At most, a small group of mostly women may gather at a privately-run, pillow-making business and make pillows in an open air environment. The business will be owned and run by rice farmers whose families have been making traditional pillows for generations. Pillow work can also be taken home and the finished product placed on the porch for pick-up the next day.

The work flow starts with cutting and sewing of the fabric to be used in the “pillow shells”; then preparing, wrapping and stuffing rice straw into triangle pillows; filling the pillows and mats with kapok; sewing closed the mats/pillows; and lastly, the cleaning and preparing the pillows for shipment.

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The Thai Pillow Making Village is near the town of Yasothon. The pillow makers are rice farmers who make Thai pillows when their rice fields lay fallow during fall and winter.

Women supply the bulk of labor for pillow-making, including the skilled positions of fabric cutting and sewing. Women produce and choose the design of the fabrics used for the pillows. Men supply the logistical labor of finding and hauling kapok to the villages; hauling fabrics (a very heavy commodity); working the power blowers used to stuff kapok into the pillows and lastly loading and hauling the finished pillows. (Thai pillows are big and heavy!)

Women with children too young to attend school, bring the kids with them for the work day. (Or work on pillows at home.) The kids can run about and play while their mother works. The rural environment of pillow making is a safe environment for children.

Good Pillow or Bad Pillow? A Quality Guide

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Photo Above: Hill Tribe style triangle pillow. I visited a Hill Tribe village near Prae and found this handwoven village cotton fabric. I knew when I first inspected the fabric that it would make a stunning triangle.

A good Thai Pillow is:

  • Firmly filled with new kapok
  • The seams are double-stitched for strength
  • A quality fabric is used

Kapok

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Kapok is the heart and soul of a Thai Pillow. If your pillow or mat is not filled with kapok, it’s not a Thai pillow.

New kapok is better than used kapok for a variety of reasons. But, it’s more expensive and much more difficult to find. If you ask a retailer if their Thai pillows have new kapok, they will alway assure you that they do. But almost always the pillows will have used kapok. (Almost all retailers don’t know exactly what’s inside their pillows because they’re not involved in the manufacturing process.)

New kapok is both cleaner and lighter than used kapok. It also has better resiliency (the ability to spring back to its original shape.

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Photo Above: Natural, unprocessed kapok fresh out of the kapok pod. Photo Insert Above: Kapok stuffed into a Thai mat and ready to be sewn closed.

Kapok comes from the Kapok tree-a large tropical tree that grows in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The kapok is contained within the seed pods of the tree.

Kapok is a cotton-like fibre. It’s very soft and has a yellow luster. Kapok is hypo-allergenic, resistant to compressing, repells insects (keep the bedbugs away!), resistant to mold and mildew and it’s 100% organic. Kapok is impervious to water (In fact life jackets were made of kapok). Kapok is considered a premium fill around the world. Thai pillow makers have used Siamese kapok for centuries.

The pods are broken open by hand and the seeds are manually seperated from the soft kapok filling. The raw kapok fiber is then directly used for pillowry. There is no chemical treatment of the kapok and no chemical additives. The kapok used in Thai pillowry is untreated and therefore organic.

Used Kapok

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Used mattresses piled up and waiting to be recycled for their kapok. Thai pillow makers buy old pillows/mattresses to recycle the kapok. Recycling is good, but used kapok has problems. It’s dirty, moist, and lost its original fluff, not to say it’s also rife with rodent feces.

New kapok is far superior to used kapok because it has less moisture content (and is therefore lighter) and has more fluff. Used kapok is also very unsanitary. Thai pillows are made on village farms with all the usual barnyard animals freely walking about. Used kapok, in the form of old mattresses and pillows, is piled high and may sit for months before being recycled. The piles of old mattresses and pillows (see photo above) make a great home for mice and chickens. The humid environment also makes mold and mildew a problem with old kapok.

If your retailer gets their mats/pillows from a wholesaler in Bangkok (and they will), I guarantee that the kapok is used and of poor quality, regardless of what they may claim.

New kapok, of course, is more expensive than used kapok. It is also difficult to source. In my Thai pillow business, I sourced new kapok for years and it’s very time-consuming.

Double-Stitching

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Good quality Thai pillows will have double cross stitching at the seams to prevent bursting of the kapok fill.

Checking the quality of stitching on a Thai pillow is simple. Just look at it! Remember: stitching is usually an omen about the pillow. Sloppy stitching often portends poor quality kapok and fabric. Good stitching portents quality.

Bursted/ripped seams are the most common complaint a customer has with a Thai pillow. Often a person only uses the pillow for a week and already some of the seams are developing small and growing splits or bursts. This is wholly the result of poor stitching.

Thai pillows should be filled firmly which places stress on seams. When you sit on the pillow, this causes even greater stress. Double-stitching the seams, as in the above photo, eliminates bursting. Pay attention to the stitching of the pillow/mat. I have seen retailers advertise that their pillows are double-stitched, but then have photos which clearly show single stitching. Buyer beware.

If your Thai pillow does burst a seam, don’t panic. Just get out needle and thread and sew it back up.

Thai Kit Fabric

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Photo Above: Bone pillows in assorted Kit fabric colors.
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Thai bolsters made with common Kit fabric. Almost all Thai pillows you’ll see at markets and tourist areas will be made from kit fabric.

Thai kit fabric, as shown in the above-photo, is the most common fabric for Thai pillows. You will rarely see a Thai pillow made with any other type of fabric. In this tutorial, I have used photos of many different Thai pillows my company made from other traditional Thai fabrics-silk, mudmee, river reeds, Chom Tong, and Hill Tribe fabrics. But these are specialty pillows that you will rarely find.

Kit fabric is easy to identify by its bright colors and patterns. There are a myriad of patterns and color combinations, but all kit fabric has the same basic look. Today, all kit fabric is made on mechanical looms. Thai pillow makers order their kit fabric from travelling textile salepersons that specializes in this fabric. At last count, there were only two manufacturers in Thailand, therefore all the pillow makers are using basically the same kit fabrics.

Thai kit fabric is usually 100% polyester. There are higher grades of kit fabric that are 50% cotton/50% polyester. Any retailer who tells you their kit fabric is 100% cotton is not telling you the truth. Period. Simply touch the fabric and you’ll know it’s not 100% cotton.

Pillow Firmness

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A Thai masseuse uses a 4-Fold Thai mattress for her therapy session.

One final quality issue is firmness. How firm or soft should a Thai pillow be? Here’s a brief overview:

Mats/Mattresses: The general rule is that the firmer the better. This is especially true with mats and mattresses. As a mat/mattress is used, the fabric, especially kit fabric, will stretch. Therefore you need a very firmly filled mat/mattress to compensate for the fabric stretching. (Example: Our regular sized roll-up mats were made 42 inches x 75 inches. After one year of normal use, the mat had stretched to 43″ x 78″.)

Folding Pillows: A folding pillow is combination mat and triangle pillow sewn together. Therefore you want a folding pillow to be very firm. The triangle portion should be made with traditional rice straw (more about that in the next segment) and should be downright hard so it won’t sag after repeated use.

Triangle Pillows: Very hard! I discuss this in depth in the next section.

Bone Pillows: Also known as hourglass pillows can be soft or hard, depending on use. Most Thai masseuses prefer hard bones for Thai massage work.

Rectangles and Bolsters: Firmly filled so that they don’t lose shape with repeated use, and remain firm enough to support a leg, arm or neck.

Bottom Line: Always choose the firmly filled Thai pillow over the soft, mushy one.

Rice Straw & Triangle Pillows

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Rice straw is the backbone of Thai triangle pillows, including the triangle part of a Thai folding pillow. Rice straw is never used in any other Thai pillow other than triangles.

The purpose of rice straw is to give strength to the pillow so it will keep its shape after repeated use. The last thing you want is to have a sagging triangle after only a few uses. Rice straw prevents this from happening.

Thai Triangle pillows (and Thai roll-up mats) are tubular in construction. (See above photo of the open ended Triangle pillow.) These tubes are called “chongs” and rice straw is first inserted into them, and then the pillow maker stuffs the chong with kapok using a stick.

A good triangle pillow will be hard, very hard, and often a little bumpy. You test the quality of a triangle pillow by squeezing them-and squeeze the tops of all three sides. Soft usually means the pillow maker did not use rice straw. Hard and kind of bumpy means they probably did. Again, a triangle pillow made without rice straw will quickly begin to sag-you won’t like that.

Rice Straw and Customs

Almost all countries have restrictions concerning the importation of rice straw. Rice straw is a known habitat for assorted bugs and tiny vermin and so most countries mandate a special license with protocols to be followed before allowing importation. These licenses are only issued to commercial importers. My Thai pillow business had such a license, issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and we had to meet twice with officials to go over our product and protocols before the permit was issued.

Tourists can not import rice straw, therefore you’re at the mercy of custom’s officials who can confiscated your Thai triangle pillow if they so choose. I have heard countless stories of tourists returning to their home countries only to have their Thai pillow confiscated. I know of a Thai pillow importer in the United States who didn’t have a rice straw permit and Customs confiscated her entire 40-foot container, burned the contents and sent her a hefty bill and fine. The strictest country by far is Australia, followed by Japan and the U.S.

In the U.S., if a tourist attempts to bring back a Thai folding pillow, Customs often cuts off the triangle head (where the rice straw is) and gives you back the mat. In other words, your Thai folding pillow just got beheaded.

Bottom line: A tourist who wants to bring back a Thai triangle pillow is on the horns of a dilemma. A good triangle will have rice straw and is subject to confiscation, while a triangle without rice straw is a poor quality pillow. (Although remember that Customs will assume a triangle pillow has rice straw inside. If you tell them it doesn’t, they’ll probably cut open the pillow to verify.)

Final Thoughts, Reflections & Musings

The pillow makers and I are showing off a Thai triangle pillow.

If you’ve read this far, you now have a knowledge of Thai pillows which probably surpasses the knowledge of most Thai pillow online retailers. My goal has been to not only give you a “nuts & bolts” explanation of Thai pillows, but to also show their cultural origins.

What I remember most of all my years in the Thai pillow business are the pillow makers-the rice farmers of Esaan. Working side by side with these pillow makers was a wonderful experience. They not only shared their secrets of pillow making, but accompanied me on my “fabric safaris” to the silk weaving villages of Esaan.

I’ve reflected on this in my essays “A Vagabond to Isaan” and “Confessions of an International Thai Pillow Dealer“.

The future does not bode well for Thai pillows. Over the last 10 years, there has been a race to the bottom-who can make the cheapest pillow. Making pillows with new kapok, rice straw and fine fabrics is being overrun by cheap, poor quality pillows for the tourist market.

But Thai pillows will always exist because they are part of Thai culture. I hope this tutorial informs you that Thai pillows are more than just a commodity to be haggled over at a tourist market. Thai pillows have their roots in the golden days of Sukothai and the beginnings of Siamese culture.

59 comments

  1. Hi there,

    Is it possible to buy the product? Or can you recommend or suggest where can i buy the thai mattress?

    Thank you

    • Sa-wad-dee Evangeline,

      Thanks for writing. If you live in the U.S., I’d suggest going to amazon.com and searching Thai pillows/mats. There is one seller, Lelawadee, that still sells the mats, I believe. They ship from Thailand so it takes time to get your order. I’m not endorsing their products, only mentioning their name for your consideration. At this time, I’m not aware of any one else selling the roll-up mats in the U.S. Best of luck.

      -Jeff

  2. Thank you for this blog. You are incredibly informative and honest. Your writing got me even more interested in finding a kapok mattress! Unfortunately I also now feel like there are no good options to purchase a high quality mattress/pillow in the US and the ones available aren’t worth the money.

    SO, if you ever feel like getting back into the business or hear about new suppliers with excellent quality products and willing to sell in the US, then please let us know immediately. Judging from the other comments, as well, there is definitely an eager customer base.
    In the meantime, I just wanted to say thanks for sharing. Much appreciated. Be well.

  3. Hi, thank you for this extensive guide! Some of the fabric in the pictures is so beautiful! Online I am only finding pillows made with the Thai Kit Fabric. Do you know where I can find someone of the Mudmee or Jomtong that you described earlier. I can’t find your shop, thank you

    • Hello RRR,

      Thanks for writing. You will have difficulty finding a Thai pillow made from mudmee or Jomtong (or any fabric other than kit fabric). All the photos you see of mudmee and Jomtong fabrics are pillows where I personally bought the fabric and brought it to my pillow maker in Yasoton to make a Thai pillow. I used to sell these pillows when I was still in business. We closed our business about 2 1/2 years ago as costs were getting to high to make a profit.

      Jomtong and mudmee pillows are custom made pillows. You may need to go on a “pillow safari” to Yasoton, Thailand when it’s safe to have one made. Best of luck.

      -Jeff

    • Thanks for asking. You are smelling the kapok. The musty smell often is noticeable when the kapok is damp. (High humidity can cause damp kapok.) The cure: put the pillow in the sun for a couple of afternoons.

      -Jeff

  4. Hi Jeff –

    Informative blog – thanks. I live in Chiang Mai and am looking for several kapok items – bed pillows, several bolsters and a mattress. Can you have them made for me or tell me where I can have them done? Imperative that new kapok is used. None of them need covered in nice silk fabric since they will all be covered.

    Thanks, Deborah

    • Hi Deborah,
      Thanks for writing. The bad news is that I doubt you’ll be able to find a pillow maker to produce what you want. I shut down our business a couple years ago. My pillow makers would make custom pillows for me because I was also placing very large wholesale orders.

      You can find a seamstress in Chiang Mai to make the shells for bed pillows and bolsters and stuff them yourself. (Make sure to use zippers as your opening for stuffing.) You have to be a skilled pillow maker to make a mattress properly.

      Your problem is sourcing new kapok. You need very little. You need to find a kapok supplier and that’s not easy. The pillow makers in Yasoton know suppliers, but they usually don’t keep an inventory of new kapok.

      Thai pillow making is an old fashion artisan skill. our best bet is to go to Yasoton and speak directly to a pillow maker. And I do realize that is difficult and time consuming. Best of luck.

      -Jeff

      • Thank you Jeff for the reply. If and when I go to Yasoton, is there anyone there you can recommend I speak to?

      • Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. Contact: Muay at 081-600-6701. Her family made all our custom made pillows with new kapok.

  5. Are you able to recommend a seller who I can order a Thai Meditation Mat from and have it shipped to me in the US (California)?

    • Hello Dennis,

      Thanks for writing. The only recommendation I can give is to buy from a seller that will ship your pillow from the United States, not Thailand. Postal delivery from Thailand of Thai mats is not reliable and can take a long time.

      I keep watch on the current sellers of Thai mats and pillows. I’m not impressed to say the least. I don’t believe their advertising to be truthful. (My opinion). Here’s a few examples: 1. They claim their pillows/mats to be stuffed with new kapok-I doubt it because it’s more costly and hard to consistently source new kapok in Thailand. I would source and purchase new kapok, ship it to my pillow makers and then inspect the kapok before manufacturing to be sure it wasn’t recycled. I can guarantee you that the sellers in the U.S. don’t do that. 2. They claim their mats are “double stitched” when I can see from their photos that they’re not. They claim the fabric is cotton when I know for a fact that it’s a polyester fabric. On and On.

      The pillows/mats you buy in the U.S. (or in Thailand) are pretty much all the same and produced in and around Yasoton. The fill will be inconsistent (We weighed each individual mat before sewing up the ends to be sure we had a consistent fill.), the ends single stitched and the kit fabric will be polyester. Still, you may very well find that basic mat to be very much what you wanted. I’m just informing you of the truth prior to purchasing. In no way am I suggesting you not buy a Thai mat. Best of luck!

      -Jeff

    • What is your opinion of Leewadee Thai roll up mattresses on Amazon? They claim to be 100% cotton, double stitched, and kapok filled. My main concern is how to know if it will be recycled or new kapok. Thank you for your very informative posts!

      • Hello Suzy,

        Thanks for writing. My opinion: Leewadee will sell you a standard, ordinary Thai pillow, nothing more nothing less.

        1. Standard kit fabric (the fabric Leewadee uses) is usually either 100% polyester or at best cotton/polyester blend. I have never seen 100% cotton kit fabric. A manufacturer would have to make a specialized order from a textile manufacturer for 100% cotton kit fabric. That’s expensive and a business would have to invest a lot of money because you need it in every color you offer the pillow/mat. I strongly doubt their pillows/mats are made with 100% cotton fabric. Odds are that it’s polyester.

        2. Double Stitched. I can’t see the stitching clearly on their mats, but on their folding pillows I can see from customer photos that the pillow is single stitched, not double stitched. It’s easy to see double, cross-over seam stitching and I just don’t see it on their products. That’s why you get complaints of bursting seams.

        3. Kapok. I can’t see into their products but I can talk about the reality of making Thai mats/pillows with new kapok. New kapok is expensive and hard to source. New kapok will add about 30% to the average cost of a Thai pillow/mat. I have never seen an ordinary Thai pillow that uses new kapok because of the cost. Our pillow maker in Yasoton made standard pillows for domestic sale, and also our high quality, new kapok pillows for our company. I purchased the new kapok and arranged delivery to our pillow makers. Our new kapok was shipped in large bags and kept in a separate shed from the recycled kapok. I inspected every delivery to be sure it was high-grade, new kapok. Is Leewadee doing the same? I sincerely doubt it.

        Sorry for the long answer. Best of luck.

      • Jeff, thank you for your quick and super helpful response. More than anything I want to make an informed purchase. I’m very interested in purchasing a Thai mat, and your posts have been very informative and educational. Thank you!

  6. Hello Jeff, thanks for your informative post. I have a few questions. Are there any makers you are aware of who use new kapok and sew the seams properly and will ship via EMS within Thailand? Second – my friends want to buy some triangle pillows to take back to the US but I read about the restriction on import of rice straw. Any makers use materials that aren’t on the restricted import list? Third – I have one of those bone shaped pillows I bought at chatuchak market. Are those also filled with Kapok and if so what’s the likelihood it’s used? Thanks

    • Hello Elana,

      Thanks for writing. I don’t know of any Thai pillow makers that consistently use new kapok in their pillows. New kapok is more expensive than used kapok and much harder to source. The overwhelming odds are that if you buy a Thai pillow it will be made with used kapok. The same goes with the stitching. It’s just cheaper to single stitch than to double stitch.

      You’re correct about the US import restrictions about rice straw. You must be a commercial importer with the proper agricultural permit to import rice straw. Some triangles are made without rice straw (a serious structural defect in my opinion). The softer the triangle the more likely there’s no rice straw inside. But again remember, the quality of a triangle pillow is partly judged by its hardness-the harder the better. Also, I have doubts that simply telling a US Customs officer that the pillow is legal will hold much weight with them. They might confiscate the triangle pillow regardless.

      While I can never be sure about the materials used in a pillow unless I inspect it first hand, I almost assure you that a bone pillow purchased at Chatuchak will have used Kapok inside. For a bone pillow though, new or used kapok may not make that great a difference. Of course you want the fill to be sanitary and clean, but because so little is used, loft and weight are not nearly as important as on a big mattress. Best of luck-

      -Jeff

  7. Hi

    I took 2 triangles back to the states as presents, but customs took them off and said they need to be quarantined as they are made from plant material is this correct?

    Sean

    • Hello Sean,

      Yes, U.S. Customs will confiscate any Thai triangle pillows you attempt to bring into the country. I’ve never heard of them quarantining the pillow; they usually just destroy them. To import pillows into the U.S. you need a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture permit to import rice straw, and you must be a commercial importer. (Rice straw is the plant material which mandates a special permit for importation.) The agricultural permit mandates fumigation protocols that must be followed to get triangles into the country. (Rice straw is a known carrier of insects and their larvae). When I was selling Thai pillows in the U.S. that’s how we did it. Best of luck

  8. Hi Jeff, i really like your blog. It’s really informative.
    I have 3 thai triangle pillows at home. I’ve owned them for a year now. Bought in Phuket, the triangle part i felt its made of straw and kapok. Only yesterday it started to give me rashes after i sat on one of them. I suspect it may be the fabric being dirty. My skin is quite sensitive. I will have rashes everytime i sat on a wool carpet back in my parents home As we dont know much about carpet, we did not wash the carpet only vacuum as cleaning since we got it as a retirement gift for my mom. It has been almost 10 years. So when i got the rashes from my thai pillow i suspect it’s from the fabric being dirty.

    So may I ask for your advice how do I clean them? I thought of removing only the kapok inside of the flat pillow part, one section at a time to wash the fabric by hand. But worried i might not be able to put it back.

    Or should I spray it with Febreeze Fabric Refresher and sun dry it? Worried it damages the kapok inside.

    Thanks

    Jasica

    • Hi Jasica. Thanks for your great question.

      I assume your Thai pillows are made from the usual Thai kit fabric which means it’s probably 100% polyester (possibly with a small % of cotton blend). The commercial dyes used on this fabric can also cause allergic reactions. Thai pillows can be spot cleaned, but you can’t wash the entire pillow. The fabric covering is intended to stay on at all times.

      If you rip the seams and pull the kapok out, I fear you’ll have a mess on your hands and you’ll never get the pillows back to their original condition for many different reasons.

      My recommendation is to have a cover made for your pillow with a fabric that meets your needs. (I’d recommend organic cotton or hemp-both non allergenic) Covers are easy to make, although if you don’t sew you may have to find a seamstress. I have several Thai pillows made from expensive silk and I use simple covers to protect the fabric while using the pillow.

      I have no recommendation about Febreeze-just not familiar with it. Thai pillows should be sun dried at least once a year. Before getting a cover made, consider this: Throw a large cotton towel over the pillow and use. Does your rash go away? If so, have a nice cover made. Best of luck!

      -Jeff

    • Hi Janne. Thanks for contacting me via this blog. I don’t know of any store in Bangkok that specializes in Thai pillows. But my wife and I are not “Bangkokians” as we live in Lamphun Province. You may find vendors at any of the tourist markets, especially Chatuchak. (I was recently at Pratunam Market and saw none.) Generally, you’ll find Thai pillows in shopping areas for tourists.

      Beware of the issue of rice straw if you’re going to take the triangle to another country. All Western countries have import restrictions for rice straw. Many triangle pillows use rice straw inside for strength and structure (at least the good quality ones do). It’s very common for Customs to confiscate triangle pillows because of rice straw inside. The triangles available in Bangkok (they’re all made in Yasoton Province) may or may not use rice straw. Don’t expect the vendor to know what’s inside.

      Let me know how your search for a Thai triangle in Bangkok goes. Many of my blog readers will be interested. Best of luck!

  9. Hello, I’m sorry if this question was already asked. I currently live in Chiang Mai and would like to get a nicer quality or maybe even custom made triangle pillow. I love the ones made from mudmee or batik. Do you have a recommendation for a shop in Chiang Mai where I could find them? All I’ve seen are cheap quality ones that look mass produced. Thanks!

    • Hi Kelly. The only way that you can get a high quality, custom Thai pillow made with silk or another premium fabric (along with new kapok and rice straw if you’re getting a triangle pillow) is to know a traditional pillow maker who will make one for you. Thai pillows are made in Yasoton Province-not Chiang Mai. You are correct that all the Thai pillows you see in Chiang Mai are cheap and mass produced. In this blog, you can see many photos of some of the high quality custom Thai pillows I had made by my pillow maker in Yasoton. You will need to travel to the Pillow Making Village just outside of Yasoton to find a pillow maker willing to do the work. Here’s the telephone number of my pillow maker Muay in Yasoton: 081-600-6701. She does not speak English, only Thai. Best of luck.

  10. Sa-wah-dee, Jeff. I have just returned to the US from a two-week trip to Thailand. It was FABULOUS! I have returned with a small triangle pillow and a bone-shaped pillow from two different places in Thailand. The triangle came from MBK in Bangkok and the bone from a market outside of Bangkok. They are not labeled. Do I need to fumigate them before use? If so, what method/product would you recommend? I live in a city so it is highly unlikely that what may be inside would make its way to a farm. However, I do not want insects that may affect me or my pets (cat/dog). Thank you!!! Kup-Kuhn-Kah!

    • Hi Cynthia. Great Question. The short answer is you don’t have to fumigate your Thai pillows. Fumigation is only “legally” needed for rice straw, not kapok. There may or may not be rice straw in your triangle pillow. Many triangles are made without it. Rice straw is a great place for insects and larvae to hide and so commercial importers (like myself) to import into the U.S. have to follow fumigation protocols for any products with rice straw. But your triangle made it through U.S. Customs, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Your bone pillow is probably filled with used kapok which can be quite unsanitary. But again, the chances that the bone pillow has live insects in it is quite rare. Your Thai pillows should be fine. Enjoy!

  11. My dog peed on the pillow. Is there a way I can wash it? I asked the dry cleaners but they said they couldn’t. I tried washing it myself but it won’t dry.

    • Hi Stephanie. Usually it’s the cat that pees on Thai pillows! But ok, your dog’s guilty. There’s really not much you can do. A Thai pillow/mat can only be spot cleaned from the outside. (Cool water/mild detergent). But the urine has penetrated into the kapok fill so a spot clean will do you little good. There is no way to get the urine out of the kapok. Water and moisture do not harm kapok per se, but moisture can lead to mold and mildew which is the death of any Thai pillow. Sun the pillow for a week and see if the smell goes away. If the urine smell does go away, it’s your decision on whether to use the pillow or not (of course).

  12. Hi Jeff,

    Really enjoying reading through your blog. So much interesting and great information!

    The more I read and learn the more I am really bummed that you closed your shop and that I didn’t find you earlier. Is there another supplier that ships to the USA that you would recommend based on your quality standards?

    Thanks so much!!

    • Thanks for writing Ryan. I have no recommendations at this time for buying Thai pillows/mats in the United States. That’s because you’d probably receive a pillow/mat made with used kapok. The truth is that most manufacturers in Thailand claim to use new kapok but don’t. Also, many Thai manufacturers don’t reinforce their triangle pillows with rice straw, which results in a saggy triangle pillow. If I find a U.S. vendor selling quality Thai pillows (that I can verify) I’ll let you know. Best of luck.

  13. I am interested in a wholesale manufacture rear of seat cushions in Thailand. Can anyone make suggestions as to who I should contact? I would be exporting k=large quantities to the US.

    • If you’re going to export large quantities (full 40 foot ocean containers) then you need to go to Thailand and meet your manufacturer and go over all the details of your order. (I would also strongly suggest that you have your manufacturer make a dozen or so for your final quality control check to be sure they’re made as you want. Bangkok has many legitimate “middleman” suppliers so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a manufacturer. But you need to visit the manufacturer to go over your order. You also need to arrange money transfer lines (with good exchange rates) that don’t rip you off and have your complete logistical freight services worked out before placing any order.

      A word of caution. I’ve had many new pillow designs made and marketed. It usually takes about 3 generations of tinkering with the original design before I would get it just about perfect. Best of luck.

  14. Hi Jeff, thanks for sharing the art of Thai pillows with the world. This really is a market that is not very well understood. I noticed you mention you are retired from the Thai pillow business? Why is that?

    • Hi Supansa. My wife and I closed our Thai pillow business for many reasons: 1. Costs were ever going upward and it was more and more difficult to make a profit; 2. It’s a lot of work! 3. I’m not a young man anymore and want to concentrate on Thai fabrics and this blog. Best of luck.

  15. Hi Jeff, thank you for your very informative blog about all things Thai. I am looking at a Thai folding mat with triangle pillow for purchase. After reading your comments about new versus recycled kapok I want to be absolutely sure I get a product with new material.
    Can I be sure that a product shipped to Canada will contain new kapok? If not, can you refer me to a reputable seller who is willing to ship to Canada?

    With my best wishes,

    Susanne

    • Hi Suzanne. Thanks for reading my blog. You ask a very important question concerning kapok. Yes, new is far superior than used. BUT, you will have a very difficult time finding a seller that uses new kapok. (New kapok adds about 25% to the cost of manufacturing a Thai pillow.) The problem is that all sellers now claim they use new kapok, but they’re generally not telling you the truth. I know several vendors that advertise “new kapok”, but their products are stuffed with used kapok. That’s because they don’t manufacture the pillows and only know whatever their wholesaler tells them. I know who and where they bought their pillows from and know that their manufacturer does NOT use new kapok. So there’s no way you can be sure until after you receive your folding pillow. (I can tell used kapok from new kapok immediately because I worked with it for years.) Unfortunately, you will probably end up with used kapok regardless what the vendor assures you of.

      Also of great importance is whether the triangle is made with rice straw. A triangle without rice straw will sag and lose shape quickly with use. Rice straw is the traditional method of giving structure and strength to a triangle. Try to get info about whether they use rice straw or not. In the U.S. you need a special import permit for rice straw pillows. But I’ve shipped hundreds to Canada on individual sales without any problem from Canadian Customs. Best of luck. Let us know about your Thai folding pillow when you get it.

      • Thank you for your response. I sent an inquiry to the seller of the mat I am looking at and their answer iss that 50/50 pre-used and recycled kapok was used in the mking the product.

        After reading your blog article, I am not sure I want to go ahead with the purchase.
        I don’t mind paying extra to get a mat stuffed with new kapok.

        With my best regards,

        Susanne

  16. Dear Jeff,

    Thank you for taking the time to not only respond to my query but also for maintaining this informative blog on accumulated and insightful Thai pillow wisdom. I have previously written to you via House of Thailand, so I assume you have the details of my email could you please contact me via that email (the same email as the one used for this blog) in order to let me know about the names and phone numbers of the pillow makers you recommend for this custom project. Thank you for your consideration of this..

    Kindest regards,

    Marlo

    • Hello Marlo,
      My old website houseofthailand.com is now gone (very sad), so I don’t have any of your old emails. But you can contact me via instagram at @thaifabricblogger,on Pinterest at mythailand.blog; or on Facebook at House of Thailand. I’ll send you my personal email if you contact me via one of those. I’m trying to set up a website for our pillowmaker in Yasoton, but there’s issues involved that I haven’t yet solved. I hope to hear from you from one of my social media venues.

  17. Dear Jeff,
    Dear Fellow Thai pillow Enthusiasts,

    Well it has now been more than six months since ditching our expensive latex mattress for a multi layered Thai fold up mat set up. Even stated in a most objective and unbiased observational manner I still need to report that nothing has made such a difference to both my wife’s and my own general sense of well-being and recuperation or rejuvenation from sleep than changing to a sleeping surface made up of kapok filled tubes or chongs. Although our bedding set up also includes other layers made up of wool and coir (coconut fibre) it is the kapok that is the heart or core of this mattress ensemble. The undeniable and ingenious advantage of the roll up mats is that they avoid sagging something that ordinary kapok filled futons or traditional kapok mattresses are prone to do with time We both feel that we would need custom kapok roll up mats especially made to measure for permanent bedding with a chong diameter of 2.5 inches as stipulated by you, covered in organic hemp or cotton. We would need between 4 to 6 such mats. Is this something that we could custom order from your Thai Pillow Making team in Thailand through you dear Jeff? Maybe to be sent directly from Thailand to Australia were we live.

    Kindest regards,

    Marlo

    • Sa-wad-dee Marlo,

      It’s great to hear from you with an update on your quest for a healthy mattress. You wrote: “it is the kapok that is the heart or core of this mattress ensemble.” This is so true! In fact on my Thai pillow tutorial I write that kapok is the heart and soul of Thai pillows. I think a lot of your success is due to the fact that kapok is hypoallergenic and therefore a healthy bedding material.

      Unfortunately, I’ve retired from the Thai pillow business. So I can’t help you out on a custom order. I do recommend hemp fabric to make your custom order. You’d have to source an authentic source. (Beware. There’s lots of fake hemp fabric for sale.) A problem you’ll find is that the pillow makers want to be paid in cash, Thai baht. That means you may have to actually travel to Yasoton to conduct business. If you really want to do that, I can get you names and phone numbers, etc. Best of luck.

  18. I am coming to Thailand and would like to take some pillows back to home, may I know how much it weights… as I am only allowed to take 32kg

    • Sa-wad-dee Nagsen,
      Thanks for writing me. I’ll be happy to answer your question, but you have to tell me what kind of Thai pillows you’re interested in getting. They can range in weight and size greatly.
      -Jeff

  19. Hi Jeff,
    My gratitude to you dear Jeff for all the ground breaking work you have done over many years in order to bring thai pillow making culture to the West and also thank you for your informative and extensive commentary via this resource on the use of the fold up mat as a mattress. Some questions remain would a heavy material like cotton or hemp (silk is not doable for me) make the kapok inside and the cover outside more prone to mould/mildew? How do the experimental bespoke personal mats hold up? What wisdom have you arrived at regarding chong diameter? Are six inch chongs comfortable or is it a bit like trying to reinvent the wheel (chong)? It seems that pillow making tradition has settled on a certain size of chong and if so is it only because they are easier to fold up when made with smaller diameter chongs? I am also intrigued by what you call coconut husk mats are these woven like coir carpets or needled felt pads or something entirely different? And finally and most importantly are you still involved with Thai pillows commercially or are you now focusing on cultural education?
    Kindest regards,
    Marlo

    • Hi Marlo,
      Sorry for the delay in responding. Using cotton or hemp as a fabric will not have any effect on whether a mat gets mold. Mold results when a Thai mat/pillow gets wet or damp and doesn’t dry out. I’ve never had a serious problem with mold in all the many thousands of Thai pillows/mats our business made and sold. I’m sure using new, fresh kapok had a lot to do with it also.

      I’ve made Thai pillows from both heavy weighted cotton fabric and hemp, and the pillows are wonderfully strong and durable. Hemp is a great fabric because it’s hypo-allergenic.

      My experience with chong diameter is that the best width is about 2.5 inches. The mats will easily roll up and the kapok will not bunch up. I’ve only used 6 inch chongs when I’m making GIANT triangle pillows.

      Thai coconut husk mats are simply made by shredding coconut husks and filling the fabric shell with the shredded husks. I believe if you search alibaba, you’ll see some examples.

      My wife and I are no longer making Thai pillows/mats commercially. We still frequent the Pillow Making Village often and I still have the pillow makers make personal pillows/mats for me. (Currently they’re making me a couple of silk mudmee folding pillows.) I now mostly concentrate on writing about Thai fabrics and pillows. I’ve also been exploring business opportunities in selling Thai silk.

      -Jeff at mythailand.blog

  20. Hi Jeff, I am in real need of your advice and expertise. I am a long time natural bedding enthusiast andwrite to you after having had a recent epiphany after starting to sleep on Thai roll up mats’ tubular structure filled with kapok as an antidote to my back ache. Indeed stacking these kapok filled mats two or three on top of each other is far superior to a natural latex mattress. This because latex seems to “press back” against joints. Both my wife and I wake up refreshed and invigorated sleeping on these mats. This after having tried to unsuccessfully befriend the ever sagging and compacting/hardening Indonesian kapok mattress and Japanese cotton futon. My query is the following would it be possible to get these mats with tubular compartment to be sewn from a more durable calico or other organic mattress cover material such as cotton or hemp in the Thai Pillow Village? And how manageable is a non-traditional/experimental project such as this for the Thai Pillow Makers? Would they be more prone to mould with such a cover i.e. less aeration? How large could the diameter or lumen be of each tubular compartment, before they become to bulging and bumpy therefore uncomfortable? Or before sagging and compacting becomes problematic? Would a Kapok Blower machine be the best way to fill the compartments? I also note that rice straw is used for the triangle pillows could these also be utilized for firmer support in the “roll up mat used as mattress idea” maybe as the base mat? I have no commercial interest in this idea. My sincere gratitude to you for publishing this educational blog informing the public about the magic of Siamese Kapok and Thai pillows and mats.
    Kindest regards,
    Marlo

    • Sa-wad-dee Marlo,
      Thanks for writing me on my blog. Let me try to answer some of your questions and comment on your insights.

      You ask if the pillow makers will make mats from other fabrics such as hemp or organic cotton. The answer is yes and no. I have had our pillow makers make pillows/mats for my personal use from hemp, silk and high quality cotton. But I’ve known the pillow makers for almost 20 years and they do it because we’re friends. I doubt you could go to the pillow making village as a stranger and get anyone to make custom pillows.

      The tubes in Thai pillows/mats are called “chongs”. I’ve made folding pillows with chongs as big as 6 inches in diameter! The pillow makers do use a blowing machine to fill the chongs. What’s important is the quality of the kapok that the chongs are filled with. Quality Thai pillows/mats are filled with new, clean kapok that has very good loft and resiliency. Used kapok is heavy, full of moisture and dirt and has very little loft left in it. The chongs of a new mat should be tightly filled because the pillow/mat’s fabric will stretch with use. If the chongs are soft and squishy when the mat is new, the mat will have thin spots after a year of usage.

      Rice straw is only used in triangle pillows. And its purpose is to make the pillow hard and durable to it will retain its triangle shape and not sag. You would never want to use rice straw in a mat. The Thais do make/use coconut husk mats which are very hard. (Much firmer that the kapok mats.) A coconut husk mat makes a great base mat to place a Thai kapok mat on top of.

      The bottom line is that a good Thai mat should be firmly filled with new kapok. After that, the fabric is the next most important factor. I like using silk because it’s hypo-allergenic and very durable. But I’ve also used heavy weight cotton and hemp fabrics with good success also.

      I hope this info helps. Best of luck
      -Jeff at mythailand.blog

  21. Hello Jeff, I’ve just discovered your excellent web site – seemingly the only such resource on the planet – great work! So, I have a question that I have found no useful information about anywhere; is it possible to wash a Thai pillow? I have a triangular pillow with integral fold out three mat section that has suffered an unfortunate food spill…it definitely needs cleaning. In order to prevent staining or smell I immediately doused it in water and squeezed it out. One or both of these operations may have been a bad idea as the pillow has now developed lumps and is not drying well even after several days. Moreover, I recognize the small of wet kapok, and worse, the faint odor of mildew beginning. This cushion is probably lost (I’m thinking of cutting it down to two panels) but in the interests of helping others looking for solutions to such problems, I thought I would ask you here. What can be done? What should have been done?

    • Hi Brent,
      Thanks for contacting me on my blog. I have good news and bad news. Yes, you can spot clean a Thai pillow with a sponge, mild detergent and luke warm water. Just sponge out a stain/spill and rinse. (You can also try dry cleaning, but I really have never done this.) But you thoroughly wet a section of your folding pillow and so the kapok is both bunching up and having a problem drying. Recommendation: Put the pillow in the sun to dry. When dry, try smacking it with a broom handle to try to “reinvigorate” the kapok. (Sunning and beating with a stick are the traditional ways to clean a Thai pillow.) Yes, wet kapok smells, but that should go away with drying. BUT you mentioned mildrew. That’s a death sentence for a Thai pillow. I always recommend if a pillow gets mold or mildrew to discard it. Yes, you could also cut off that folding mat section, but beware of cutting the seam and exposing the kapok. It can be very difficult to sew up a ripped seam on a completed pillow because the kit fabric doesn’t hold seams very well and you need to have some expertise in sewing to do it properly. Best of luck to you.
      -Jeff

  22. Hello,
    I am looking to purchase a batik triangle pillow, but from Indonesia as I love their batik fabrics. Did you ever have any problems bringing the kapok pillow into the US? Do you have any advice or recommendations for shipping? I would hate to pay the money then have it get confiscated by customs. Thanks
    Lindsey H

    • Hi Lindsey,
      Thanks for contacting me through my blog. Batik triangle pillows sound great! If the triangles only have kapok inside, you should be fine with importing them. If they’re made with rice straw, then you can’t import them (legally) without an agricultural permit. The problem is without rice straw, the pillows will sag and loose shape with use. As for shipping, since it’s only one, just use air freight of Fedex, UPS, DHL, etc. They’ll prepare all the proper paper work. Best of luck.

      • Hi…one more question. By preparing the paperwork, do you mean these express couriers will take care of all the customs process for you and deliver the package straight to you? Or will the package still have to go through a customs warehouse somewhere, then you be contacted to pick it up?
        Thanks
        Lindsey

      • Hi Lindsey,
        The express couriers will take care of the Customs process for you. You may have to fill out a form which they will provide. In other words they will make sure the proper US import forms are used and filled out. Your package will go through Customs and then be delivered to your address. I’d love to see a pic of your triangle pillow when it arrives.

      • The fact that I can literally text someone over WhatsApp overseas and pick fabrics based on their Instagram pics is just amazing. But…they have so many batik fabrics it’s overwhelming to have to choose!!! I hope it turns out cool. I wanted one with a lot of patchwork however it will cost too much as you have to buy a certain size of batik fabric and not just pay for the amount you use.

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