What better combination is there than naturally-dyed silk and a simple weaving structure? If you’ve been following my ClothRoads scarf of the month, you’ve probably noticed a trend—I like simple, yet intriguing, hand woven structures. Ones that beg for a closer look to decipher how a weaver uses a traditional technique or pattern, and translates it into contemporary weaving. This month, my choice is the Traveling Blocks silk scarf by Miss Noot of the Living Crafts Centre in Luang Prabang. She is a skilled artisan who has won an international award for her innovative designs. Let’s see if you agree with my pick.
The Silk Fiber
In Laos, there are two types of wild silkworms, the Bombyx mori and eri. The Bombyx mori originated in China and eats mulberry leaves. It produces a fine and smooth silk filament. This singles silk is used as the warp thread for this scarf. The other silk, eri, has been domesticated in southeast Asia for centuries. It eats a variety of plant leaves such as castor oil, cassava, and papaya, but not mulberry. The silk from this cocoon cannot be reeled; it is handspun into a coarser, rougher silk that is thick and irregular and of various weights. The lightweight eri silk is used for the weft in the striped sections; the heavier spun is used in the woven block areas.
The Natural Dyes
The Living Crafts Center has a dye and weaving studio; classes are also offered for visitors. Solid documentation is given regarding the natural dyestuffs grown and harvested locally and used in their weaving.
For this scarf, the silk yarn was mordanted in alum. The pink-colored silk was dyed using the heart wood and roots of the Sappan tree; the wood/roots boiled to release the color. Limestone was added to darken the color. The pinkish-grey color is from the fresh leaves of teak. The leaves are boiled; fresh leaves make the soft pink grey.
A commonality of Laos weaving, whether weaving a traditional pattern or one more contemporary, is the fineness of the warp sett; this one is about 50 ends per inch. (If you’re a non-weaver, this means there are about 50 silk threads in any given inch that run vertically. The weft is the crosswise or horizontal threads.) In this scarf, the lightweight eri weft is plain weave, going over and under every one of the warp threads across the row, forming a 1 3/4” solid stripe. This solid stripe is offset by a 1 5/8” “striping” of alternating woven color blocks and unwoven sections of warp threads.
You might think the color blocks are tapestry as you barely see the warp, but look closely, the warp does show, just not much. These blocks are formed by discontinuous weaving one block at a time, each one 1 5/8” in width, and changing the weft color for each block. In between each woven one, an open block is formed strictly by not weaving any weft in that section. Miss Noot chose colors that move diagonally across the scarf, making a traveling color field when worn. Simply brilliant.
To me, the intriguing aspects are the play of solid blocks against the open weave sections, plus the playing of colors that can be achieved whether in weaving a pink-reddish version or the more neutral black, silver and white. By providing this level of detail, it is my desire to both educate as well as offer inspiration to weavers. I’d be delighted to hear from you if this scarf tickled your fancy too. Or if you want Miss Noot’s brilliance to bedeck you, they’re available in the ClothRoads store.