Meet the weavers
Over the years, Sop Moei Arts has collaborated with many textile and basket weavers. Some have worked with us for over twenty years, while some have joined us more recently, lending their expertise in traditional skills to our designs and producing textiles and baskets that continue to maintain the highest quality.
When we started working with the Karen in Sop Moei District, most women and men knew how to weave textiles and bamboo baskets. Women grew their own cotton, spun their own yarns and wove clothing, blankets and bags for their families on traditional back-strap looms. Likewise, the men wove baskets out of bamboo, rattan and other materials foraged from the jungle.
(Photos from our archives - weaving on a backstrap loom in Sop Moei District)
Although our work with the Karen started as a maternal and child health project, we soon turned to income generation activities with weaving as the main focus. We introduced large, up-right looms which made it possible to weave wider fabrics and expand the possibilities for different designs. Our aim was to collaborate with local weavers and produce textiles and home decor for a contemporary market while still retaining traditional Karen elements and high quality.
One such local weaver is Ler Gi. She joined our project in 1996 as a young woman and is now one of our most highly skilled weavers. Her story is in some ways similar to many Karen of her generation. Growing up in a remote village in Sop Moei District that only had a dirt track connecting it to the outside world, there were few opportunities for education or employment other than the small village school and farming. After weaving for a few years, marrying and starting a family, Ler Gi and her husband decided to move to the lowlands, so that their children would have better schooling opportunities. After moving, Ler Gi contacted us to ask if she could continue weaving. For a few years, she had a loom in her home and wove there, but when others from the village also moved to the same area and formed a community, we decided to build a new weaving center so that they could continue weaving.
Today, Ler Gi runs the weaving center. She and her husband also have a farm where they grow rice and garlic. And although textile weaving is traditionally a skill practiced by women, her husband also weaves part time. They have three children, and their focus has always been to provide a good education for them. Two are now at university and the third is in high school. Ler Gi herself weaves some of our more complicated textiles, such as wall hangings and the chenille panels for cushion covers.
(Ler Gi, winding thread and weaving our "Indigo Dawn" M wall hanging)
The second part of our weaving project focuses on basket weaving. Most of the basket weavers we collaborate with live scattered in small villages in Sop Moei District. Klue Dae is a highly skilled basket weaver who comes from a remote mountain village known for its fine baskets. He is both skilled at weaving traditional Karen baskets, such as the decorative version of the "nai" basket which is given as a courting gift, and innovative baskets, such as the bamboo wine holder basket. He comes up with his own unique pattern designs for these.
Klue Dae has worked with us for twenty years and has two children who are now in high school. He and his family continue living in the mountain village, farming rice. His wife is also a skilled textile weaver, specializing in traditional Karen blouses, with particularly fine embroidery and Job's Tears seed applique.
(Klue Dae weaves our wine holder baskets and decorative "nai" basket)
Jetli is another talented basket weaver who has worked with us for nearly 15 years. As a teen with a disability, his prospects for finding employment that required physical labour was limited and he turned to basket weaving as an alternative source of income. Today, he supports his wife and two young daughters on the income he makes from basket weaving. Of all the weavers we collaborate with, Jetli has the most versatile skills and is always interested to try out something new or experimental. The drum basket, flower basket, dome basket and Ikebana basket are just of few of the basket models he makes.
(Jetli carrying flower baskets and weaving a drum basket)
Ler Gi, Klue Dae and Jetli are just three of the talented textile and basket weavers that we hope to continue working with in the future, developing our range of baskets and home decor. In a world where these traditional skills are rapidly disappearing, their high quality baskets and finely woven textiles are all the more special.