The Thai Fabric Chronicles visits the weaving village of Ban Hat Siaw in Sukhothai Province.
The Village Weavers of Ban Hat Siaw
The woman weavers of Ban Hat Siaw produce some of the finest silk and cotton fabrics in all Thailand. Their fabrics are almost exclusively woven for sarongs with intricate designs and striking colors.
But what gives these weavers their textile pedigree has as much to do with quality as it has with Thai history and culture. The village weavers come from an ancestry that can be traced back to the ancient Kingdom of Sukhothai and before.
The village of Ban Hat Siaw lies in the middle of what was once the Sukhothai Kingdom, considered the first capitol of Siam. The stone ruins of Si Satchanalai, a satellite town of Sukhothai, are only a few kilometers from the village. (For more info about Si Satchanalai Historical Park click here.)
The Weavers and the Tai Phuan
Many of the weavers identify their cultural heritage with Tai Laos or Tai Phuan ancestry. Tai peoples (not Thai) began migrating into central Thailand around 1,000 AD from southern China.
The Kingdom of Sukhothai emerges in the early 13th Century . (The exact founding is 1238, but there’s nothing exact about the beginnings of Siamese culture.) The inhabitants of ancient Sukhothai would have been Tai peoples, including Tai Laos or Tai Phuan.
The village weavers today carry on a tradition of weaving that’s been on-going for a millenium. They are the living remnants of the Sukhothai Kingdom.
For more info, see my blog posts:
The Fabrics: Cotton, Silk, and Cotton & Silk
The village women weave sarongs of cotton and silk, and sarongs woven from a blend of cotton and silk-cotton for the ground fabric and silk for the pattern. In Lamphun, the weavers also will blend cotton and silk in the same fabric; but in Esaan the weavers rarely if ever use two different fibers in the same fabric.
The Village Fabric Museum
There’s a fabric museum in the village that’s free of charge. It’s right off the main road as you enter from the north.
The museum is physically connected to a very good fabric store which you must enter to get to the museum. The museum is rather dark and musty and has lots of tacky nick knacks and other weird stuff. But, it does have an interesting display of old Ban Hat Siaw fabrics, some over 100 years old.
If you’ve come to the village for fabrics then the museum is a must visit.
The Looms of Baan Hat Siaw
The looms used throughout the village are the same wooden treadle looms that are used throughout Thailand. A treadle loom is simply a loom by which the warp threads (vertical) are raised and lowered by two foot pedals.
These looms originated long ago in China and no one is certain when they became the standard loom of Siam.
The Simplicity of the Ban Hat Siaw Loom
What is striking about these village looms is their simple set up. Many of the weavers are producing complex patterns using only two heddle bars on the loom to raise and lower the warp.
This is a fundamentally different loom arrangement that other Thai weavers use. The looms that produce Praewa silk (read my article here about Praewa silk) or Lamphun silk use dozens of heddle bars to raise and lower warp threads to create a pattern via a brocading technique.
Sukhothai fabrics have designs which rival the complexity of Praewa or Lamphun weaving without a complicated loom set up. How do they weave such complex patterns on such simple looms?
What’s a heddle? A brief weaving lesson
A “heddle” attaches to every other warp thread and then in turn attaches to a heddle bar which can raise and lower half the warp so you can easily pass through a shuttle holding the weft (horizontal) thread. Use two heddle bars and you can easily pass the weft thread back and forth. Abrakadabra, you’re weaving.
Many textile historians believe that the invention of the heddle about 8,000 thousand years ago, was as important to civilization as the invention of pottery or the light bulb. Heddles made fabrics available to everyone because it made weaving much faster.
Sukhothai Weaving: The Nuts and Bolts
Instead of configuring a loom with a complex set of heddles and heddle bars to create a pattern (a brocade), these village weavers use a small metal pick to individually thread the weft up and under the warp to create the pattern. In the old days, the weavers used porcupine quills.
It’s almost a form of embroidery, except it’s done on the loom as the fabric is being woven and not after.
Time consuming-yes. It can take 4-8 weeks for a weaver to complete a top end, complex sarong. But! That’s about the same amount of time a weaver needs to complete a similar sarong for either brocaded Lamphun silk or Praewa silk.
Recommended Fabric Shops
There are several fabric shops in the village. I recommend the following two shops, both in terms of quality and fairness of prices.
Suntree Thai Fabrics
Suntree Thai Fabrics is the finest fabric business in the village. They have weavers on premises are are sticklers for doing things the traditional way.
Suntree Thai Fabrics:
Address: เลขที่ 329 หมู่ที่ 9 ตำบลหนองอ้อ อำเภอศรีสัชนาลัย จังหวัดสุโขทัย 64130
Gold Textile Museum Fabric Shop
This is the fabric store connected to the village textile museum. And remember, the textile museum is a must-see for fabric buffs, and to get to the museum, you must enter this fabric shop.
Gold Textile Museum Fabric Shop
Address: 477/2 Haddsaew, Si Satchanalai District, Sukhothai Province 64130
Line ID: 0613784256
Quality is never cheap. And no they don’t sell quality fabrics at tourist markets or night bazaars. And no again-the shop owner won’t bargain prices substantially. (If you purchase at lot, she might take 5% off the total price.) Remember: If a seller first offers you a sarong at 3,000 baht, then drops the price to 1,000 baht-RUN!
Please read my tutuorial “Thai Silk In Thailand: A Buyer’s Guide” and you’ll learn all about buying quality handwoven fabrics in Thailand.
You can find good quality, handwoven cotton sarongs starting around 1,000 baht (about $31 US). The more complex cottons will cost in the 1,200-3,000 baht range. ($40-$100 US) You can even find some simple cotton sarongs for as low as 500 baht ($15 US) but they won’t have the intricate weaving of the “pa teen jok”, the intricate bottom part of a sarong.
Silk, and Silk & Cotton
Generally Sukhothai silk sarongs or silk/cotton blends (remember the pattern is silk and the ground fabric is cotton) start around 4,000 baht. ($125 US) and can reach upwards of 15,000 baht ($500 US). The patterns are often brocaded and intricate.
Top End Silk & Cotton
The finest Sukhothai sarongs can reach upwards of 30,000 baht ($975 US) For 15,000 baht, you can find a sarong appropriate to wear to a formal afternoon tea hosted at the Royal Palace that will attract the notice of discerning fashionistas.
Ban Hat Siaw is very close to Sukhothai. Most people will make the ancient city of Sukhothai their main objective with Ban Hat Siaw as a side trip. The village also is within a few kilometers of the Si Sachanalai Historical Park which should not be missed.
Driving: Recommended! Ban Hat Siaw liies between Bangkok (465 Kilometers) and Chiang Mai (200 Kilometers). Driving from Chiang Mai will take about 4 hours and you’ll travel through beautiful countryside.
Flying: You can fly into Sukhothai and arrange a taxi, bus or scooter to the village. Air Asia flies daily from Don Mueang Airport. Bangkok Airways flies daily from Suvarnabhumi Airport. There may be other flights. Check around.
Lodging: Not sure if there are hotels in Ban Hat Siaw or the immediate area. I always stay in Sukhothai were there’s tons of hotels.