Thai Pillows: A Buyer’s Info Resource

This post was updated on 6/16/2018

Introduction

Thai Triangle Pillows

This blog post is intended as an info resource about traditional Thai pillows. Before you buy a Thai pillow, learn about quality and become a better shopper.

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 the past of Thailand and its culture. While the historical record is not precise, we do know that Thai pillow making dates back centuries if not a millenium.

The basic “ingredients” of Thai pillows 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.

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.

Popular belief (what Thai folk say) is that Thai pillow making started in Northern Thailand in a region called the Lanna Kingdom. The old mural paintings of Northern Thailand validate this belief.

good-one-now

The above painting is located in the “Old Wat” (Wat Gao) in Chiang Rai. While this temple painting is not old (maybe 50-60 years) by historical standards, it’s importance lies  in the fact that a Thai pillow is included in a sacred Buddhist temple painting.

There is no doubt that Thai pillowry was produced at least two centuries ago, and there is a strong probability that they date back as much as 800 years. Thai pillow making originated in what is today northern Thailand. (A century ago, this region was known as the Lanna Kingdom.)

The first pillows produced were simple triangle pillows and sleeping mats. It was much later in the development of Siamese pillow making that folding pillows (Pillows that have a triangle head sewn to one or more small mats) were made.

nan-painting

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.

Thai Pillows = Thai Culture

Thai Temple Pillow
Thai pillows are commonly used by monks inside their wats. The pillow above will be used by the monks for back support during prayers.

Thai pillowry and mats have evolved from the ancient culture of Siam. They are not a product of 21st Century marketing. It’s interesting to note that the Thai mat the Nan Prince is reclining on in the temple mural at Wat Phumin (photo above) has the same tubular construction that Thais use in making their mats today.

Modern Thai Pillow Making
Here’s some of the Thai pillows our business made. Fabrics are the key to making great Thai pillows.

To posess a Thai pillow or mat is to posess a part of Thai culture that is as old and traditional as the ancient walls of Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Nan or Chiang Rai.

Modern Thai Pillow Making

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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A pillow maker wraps and inserts rice straw into the triangle head of Thai folding 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 the Issan region (Northeast) of Thailand.

Thai pillowry is mostly made by rice farmers, who produce the pillows to supplement their income. There is a steady domestic need and an ever growing export demand for the traditional pillows and especially the mats and mattresses. The rice farmers turn to pillow making in the winter months when most of their rice fields lay fallow.

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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.

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 pillowry business will be owned and run by rice farmers whose families have been making traditional pillowry for generations. Pillow work can also be taken home and the finished product placed on the porch for pick-up the next day.

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

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 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 Yasoton. 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 pillowry. (Thai pillows are big and heavy!)

Thai pillow making is not a static endeavor. Although the pillow-making traditions of the past play a central role in modern pillow-making, new pillow and fabric designs are continually being introduced.

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A Thai masseuse uses a 4-Fold Thai mattress for her therapy session. The Thai mattress is stuffed with 100% kapok and made with kit fabric, just like any other Thai pillow.

A significant choke point in modern pillow-making has developed in the last few years concerning the sourcing of quality, new kapok. (Kapok is discussed in much more detail later on.) Kapok is the traditional fill of Thai pillows. If the pillow is not stuffed 100% with kapok, it’s simply not a Thai pillow. The increased demand for Thai pillows has made sourcing new kapok difficult and expensive. Used kapok is used exclusively in the domestic market and frequently in the export market. All kapok used in Thai pillowry is domestically grown throughout the country.

The future outlook for Thai pillowry is very good. With increasing demand comes increasing revenue and the ability to raise prices. While domestically the price of Thai pillowry is undervalued, the import demand is growing significantly and the pillow-makers can potentially earn significantly more for producing high quality pillowry for the export market. The tradition of Thai pillow-making is alive and well and growing larger every year.

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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.

Good Pillow or Bad Pillow?

A Guide to Quality

A good Thai pillow or mat is: 1. Well stuffed with new kapok. 2. Double-stitched at the seams for strength/durability. 3. The fabric is good quality and properly cut.

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

When looking for a Thai pillow or mat, always squeeze them. That’s the single most important quality check you can do. (I squeeze pillows all day long!). You’re checking to see if the pillow/mat is evenly and well-filled. Especially with triangle pillows you should squeeze the three edges. They should feel very firm-almost hard-and often slightly bumpy (because of the ricestraw inside.) You do not want a spongy feel.

New kapok is better than used kapok. New kapok is not only cleaner and much lighter, but has more loft and fluffiness. New kapok is especially important if you’re buying a mat or mattress.

Pay attention to the stitching of the pillow/mat. Often a pillowmaker will elongate the stitching so that the barest minimum of stitches was used to sew the pieces of fabric together. This is what you don’t want. You want the seams to be double stitched in a cross-hatched pattern so your pillow is well constructed.

Kapok

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Kapok = The Heart & Soul of Thai Pillows

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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.

All Thai pillows and mats are filled with kapok. If your Thai pillow or mat is filled with something other than kapok, then it’s not an authentic Thai pillow or mat.

Kapok is a cotton-like fibre that comes from the giant pods of the kapok tree. 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.

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Used mattresses piled up and waiting to be recycled for their 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.

Kapok trees grow to over 200 feet tall and are abundant throughout Thailand. 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 organic.

New kapok is far superior to used kapok because new kapok has less moisture content (and is therefore lighter) and has more fluff. Used kapok is also very unsanitary. Thai pillowry is 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 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’ve sourced new kapok for years and it’s very time-consuming.

Rice Straw

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Rice Straw = The Backbone of Thai Triangle Pillows

Rice straw is the traditional backbone of good quality Thai triangle pillows. These pillows are built to be hard and durable. (use your favorite soft sofa pillow(s) against a thai triangle for comfort) See foto above for examples of good triangle pillow work and rice straw. Always squeeze your triangle for a quality check. It should be hard and bumpy.

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As mentioned above, rice straw is the backbone for any Thai triangle pillow, including the attached triangle head on Thai folding pillows. Many manufacturers produce triangles without rice straw because it’s cheaper to do so. This will result in a poor quality pillow that will sag and lose it’s form after even moderate use.

Squeeze the tubular construction of a triangle pillow. (They’re called “chongs” in Thai.) If they’re smooth and soft, it’s likely the triangle you’re holding was made without rice straw. Simply asking the store owner if the triangle pillow has rice straw won’t do you much good as that person won’t know, and besides they will tell you whatever they believe you want to hear to buy their pillow.

Thai Kit Fabric

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Photo Above: Bone pillows in assorted Kit fabric colors.

Thai pillowry is most commonly made from Thai Kit fabric (see photo above). This fabric is a cotton/polyester blend that comes in many color combinations. Kit fabric is easily identified by its distinctive patterns. There are only a couple of textile manufacturers in Thailand that specialize in producing kit fabric.

more-kit
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.

Many retail sellers of Thai pillows, especially on the internet, will advertise Thai pillows made with 100% cotton Kit fabric. This claim is almost always untrue. The Thai Kit fabric used for Thai pillows is exclusively either a cotton/polyester blend or 100% polyester.

Thai pillows and mats can be made from any fabric. We often go on “fabric safaris” throughout Thailand, looking at silk and mudmee fabrics for pillowmaking. We bring these special fabrics to our pillowmakers. Below is a photo of our great triangle made from handwoven Thai mudmee silk.

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My company, House of Thailand, made these silk mudmee pillows.

The End

If you read this far, you may not be an expert in Thai pillows, but you know far more than the average consumer. And you now understand that Thai pillows are a cultural handicraft that’s been a part of The Kingdom for centuries.

37 comments

    • 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!

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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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