Two hundred kilometres west of Chiang Mai lies the district of Omkoi. With ridges topped with pine, this high plateau is known as one of Thailand’s coldest winter destinations, and a great escape from Chiang Mai’s wilting summer heat. Here the slopes, mountaintops and valleys are dotted with small villages, populated mainly by the Karen people.
Earlier this month I drove up into Omkoi with Po, to begin weaving work in the village of Sop Lan. Po, who for the past ten years has worked with us as a textile designer and baskets manager, knows the area well. Several villagers in the hamlet of Sop Lan have asked us to extend our textile work to them, so here we are on an early October morning, climbing through a breathtaking mountain landscape before easing down the steep slopes into Sop Lan. With the green rice terraces stepping up into the forest line, it could be Bali.
We’ve decided to specialize in weaving silk scarves in Sop Lan, and to speed things up we’ve sent the silk skeins ahead of us, which the women have spun onto PVC spools. We’re no sooner out of the car after the five hour drive than we start to warp the first of the three looms. The warp is blue and gold, one colour running into the other in a gradation so fine that once the scarf is woven it is hard to tell where one colour starts before fading out into the second. Po will need to go through this process with each woman several times before they will be able to repeat the process on their own.
It takes three days to finish the three looms. During this time an endless procession of villagers drop by to watch, or, as the Karen do, to help. We haven’t seen the first scarves yet – but by the beginning of November there should be a flow of Grade A silk scarves coming into our Chiang Mai and Bangkok shops. Check back soon to see this new collection!