A Silk Safari to Ban Ta-Sa-Wang

Ban Ta-Sa-Wang
A master weaver carefully works on a bolt of brocaded Thai silk in Ban Ta-Sa-Wang. Many silk enthusiasts say that this village produces the finest silk in The Kingdom.

Many would argue that the finest silk weaving in the Kingdom is found in the small villages near the town of Surin, located in southern Isaan, about an 8 hour drive from Bangkok. Ban Ta-Sa-Wang is the most famous of these silk weaving villages, and deservedly so.

Ban Ta-Sa-Wang is unique in Thai silk weaving because it produces not only mudmee silk fabrics, but possibly the finest brocaded silks anywhere in the world. Brocaded Royal silk is woven here.

Brocaded Thai silk from Ban Tasawang
This small, quiet village lies about 10 kilometers from Surin and is home to the famous giant looms that produce Royal brocaded silk-the silk the Thai Royal Family wears. Throughout this village wooden looms clack away during the day. Silk weaving is a village business, not a past-time or handicraft.

Thai silk weaving in Ban Tasawang
A village weaver at her home. Left Photo: These are the vertical “warp” threads that carry the basic color design of the fabric. Right Photo: The pattern she is weaving is very traditional for this area of Thailand.

Sadly, the business of Thai silk is slowly ebbing away here. For years, I have been coming on silk safaris to Ban Ta-Sa-Wang and I’ve seen the creeping downturn. Gone are the days of gobs of silk enthusiasts (a romantic name for tourists) bustling about the silk vendor stalls bargaining for the best price. A small museum that displayed important silk fabric from decades past is now shuttered.

Don’t get me wrong. Ban Ta-Sa-Wang is still an important silk weaving center that produces the finest silk weaving in The Kingdom. The village is still a “must-see” for any lover of sericulture. And most importantly, it’s great looms which produce Royal Silk are still clacking away all day long.

baan-tasawan-7
A master weaver at work. Her silk is recognized as some of the finest silk brocade in The Kingdom. Patience and an uncompromising level of detail are the attributes of fine silk weaving.

The Village’s Mudmee Silk

Thai silk mudmee fabric in Ban Tasawang
A store display of mudmee silk in the village. Ban Ta-Sa-Wang has the largest selection of silk mudmee fabric in The Kingdom.

There has always been a friendly argument among us silk connesuirs as to which town in Isaan has the best mudmee silk: Ban Ta-Sa-Wang or Chonobot? (Chonobot is small town near Kon Gan) Take your pick. (I’ve written an entire tutorial in this blog about mudmee silk that you can find here.)

I choose Ban Ta-Sa-Wang. The mudmee selection is larger and the weaves seem slightly tighter. The designs are more modern and creative in Chonobot; but the mudmee weaves are more traditional in Ban Ta-Sa-Wang.

Prices for mudmee silk in Ban Ta-Sa-Wang are very good. A sarong bolt, which is 1.5 meters, of good quality mudmee silk can be had for $40-$60 (US). In Bangkok, the same bolt would be 2-3 times as much and you wouldn’t have hundreds of bolts to choose from. In the village, you can buy with the confidence you’re getting authentic Thai silk at a fair price. (I also wrote a buyer’s guide for Thai silk which teaches you to recognize a silk counterfeit. Click here.)

Thai silk in Thailand
A village silk shop of Thai silk mudmee fabrics. You can purchase either the fabric itself and have made whatever you’d like at your favorite dressmaker’s shop; or buy shirts, blouses, sarongs and dresses already made. The prices are very reasonable.

The Village’s Brocaded Silk

Brocaded Thai Silk
Handwoven, brocaded Thai silk is the most complex weave there is. It is also the most expensive to purchase. A weaving team might produce several inches a day.

As mentioned earlier in this blog entry, the village’s giant looms produce brocaded silk. Brocaded silk (or any brocaded fabric) has a woven pattern that is raised as if the fabric were embossed. It is the most difficult silk fabric to weave, and the weaver must be a master of her craft.

These great looms (there are only 3 in the village) will string their complex brocade pattern 6-8 feet above and below the loom itself. As the master weaver meticulously shuttles her weft thread (the horizontal thread of woven fabrics) back and forth, at least two other assistants watch over the warp threads (the vertical thread of woven fabrics) of the brocade pattern.

Thai brocaded silk in Surin, Thailand
A weaver at home. There are no sweat shops with Thai weaving. This weaver is producing a simple, single color brocaded silk.
Brocaded Thai Silk
A closer look at the silk brocade she is weaving. If you ran your fingers over her fabric, you would feel the brocade pattern. Brocades can produce a pattern, even from monochromatic threads.

Brocading is accomplished by raising selected warp threads (the vertical threads) of the brocade pattern so that the weft threads (the horizontal threads) can be woven underneath them. This technique produces the embossed pattern.

Confused? Here’s a series of photos from Ban Ta-Sa-Wang that will help you understand how a weaver accomplishes a brocaded pattern. You will also better understand the tremendous skill needed to weave a silk brocade.

How to Brocade Thai silk
To understand brocaded, handwoven fabrics, you must first learn a basic weaving vocabulary. Weaving is composed of vertical threads (the warp) and horizontal threads (the weft). A loom is pre-strung with its warp threads. The horizontal threads are carried back and forth by the wooden shuttle. A brocade paddle is used to lift selected warp threads so the shuttle can pass underneath.
baan-tasawan-4
In the photo above, you can see the different racks of brocade ties (the white strings) that selectively raise the warp threads so the brocade paddle can be inserted underneath and then raised upward. The dozens of warp brocade racks represent the brocade pattern.
baan-tasawan-5
When the brocade paddle is turned on its side, it lifts the selected warp threads enough to allow the weaver to put the shuttle containing the weft thread underneath. The above photo shows a weaver doing just that.
baan-tasawan-2
By allowing the shuttle to pass underneath the selected warp threads, it creates a raised surface on the fabric. Remember that the weaver is looking at the back side of her fabric. The finished side of the fabric is face-down to the weaver.
Brocaded Thai Silk
The exquisite brocaded silk as it slowly creeps from the loom. Remember, you’re looking at it upside down as if you were the master weaver. This is Royal Silk.

The above brocaded pattern is as complex as you’ll ever see. That’s why the master weaver needs at least 2 assistants to monitor and continually count the threads of the pattern. Even a master weaver could never weave by herself such a complicated pattern. This is textile art.

How to get to Ban Ta-Sa-Wang

baan-ta-sa-wang-map
Ban Ta-Sa-Wang is 10 kilometers from Surin and is an 8 hour drive from Bangkok. You can also fly to Ubon Ratchathani and hire a driver to take you (about a 3 hour drive). Surin has hotel accomodations. The village is famous and any Thai driver will know the way.
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