Chom Tong fabric (pronounced jom tong) is legendary throughout Northern Thailand. Most fabric shops in Northern Thailand that specialize in Thai handwoven fabrics will carry a selection of Chom Tong fabrics. Even in the small town of Pasang in Lamphun Province where I live, the fabric shops stock this unique cotton fabric.
The town of Chom Tong lies about 60 kilometers south of the City of Chiang Mai, barely within the southern edge of Chiang Mai Province.
It’s a dusty, old town that’s well off the beaten tourist trail. You won’t see many farangs here. The ones that do pass through are usually going to Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand, which is close by. I come here for their fabrics.
Chom Tong Fabric
Chom Tong fabrics can be brilliant colors or they can be delicate shades of pastels. The patterns can be wild stripes, blocks of color swatches, or a simple solid color. If you’re looking for a common color or design theme with Chom Tong you will be hard pressed to find one. And yet, this fabric is one of the most easily recognizable in Northern Thailand.
Let’s start with some common features of Chom Tong. It’s always a medium to heavy grade cotton fabric. It’s always handwoven. The texture is always course with a fairly loose weave.
Chom Tong fabrics often (not always!) accent their patterns with mudmee weaving. It’s the only cotton fabric from Northern Thailand that integrates mudmee weaving with standard warp/weft weaving that I know of. (I wrote a blog entry about mudmee weaving that you can read here.) Simple mudmee motifs are integrated into the pattern and give the fabric it’s unique characteristics.
Chom Tong Fabric and Thai Pillows
When I first saw this fabric in a Chiang Mai fabric shop, it didn’t take me long to envision Thai triangle and folding pillows made from this fabric. The range of unusual colors along with its sturdy weave made this fabric an obvious choice for Thai pillows.
I bought several bolts and brought it to my pillow makers in far-away Esaan. They had never worked with this northern fabric before and at first thought that using it for pillow making was just another silly farang idea. After all, as any Thai will tell you, handwoven fabrics are cultural and you don’t try new ideas with accepted tradition.
After some cajoling, I got our pillow makers to cut and sew some pillow shells from the Chom Tong. The fabric held its seams very well and to the relief of the pillow makers, was an easy fabric to work with.
It took the pillow makers about a month to use all the Chom Tong fabric I had initially brought them. The pillows were stuffed, sewed up, finished off and sent to me in Chiang Mai. The results were far superior than my initial vision. The pillow makers loved the result. Chom Tong fabric indeed made for great Thai pillows.
Chom Tong Fabric and Thai Apparel
Before I started using Chom Tong fabric for Thai pillows, I made fisherman pants, pantaloons, sarongs and other Thai apparel from this fabric. Apparel making is the intended use of this fabric.
Our customers (all women) loved the heavier weighted fabric and the unusual colors and designs. Chom Tong apparel sold very well and at a top price.
I had our Chom Tong apparel made in Pasang, and so unlike the Esaan pillow makers, the Pasang seamstresses were well aware of this fabric and usually found it easy to cut and stitch. The only real problem I had with using this fabric is that it’s almost impossible to find two bolts that are identical. But that’s always an issue with handwoven fabrics.
The town of Chom Tong is easy to reach from Chiang Mai. Just drive south on Highway 108 for about 1 1/2 hours and your there. In town you can ask around for fabric stores that are scattered around the small town.
To see weaving in action, I would recommend the Ngong AF Chang Women Weaving Group. To find this weaving cooperative, stay on HWY 108 right through town. About a mile after leaving town and heading south, you’ll see the cooperative on the right hand side of the road. You can always ask for directions in town.