Many would argue that the finest Thai silk 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.
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.
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.
The Village’s Mudmee Silk
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.)
The Village’s Brocaded Silk
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.
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.
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.