Last weekend, me and some friends visited the Mulberry Farm which is just outside Phonsavan. The Mulberry Farm is a lao-owned Not-For-Profit Company that specializes in the production of naturally-dyed, handmade Lao silk, but also produces some other organic products as Mulberry wine, Mulberry soaps etc. Their main goal is to
strengthen communities by developing and refining the rich cultural resources that Lao villagers already possess. The production of traditional silk is a labor intensive project which can involve many people in many different aspects of the community. From the growing of mulberry trees to the creation of natural dyes, hand-crafted silk production utilizes local labor, local knowledge, and local resources. This, in turn, encourages village self-sufficiency and productivity. (www.mulberries.org)
The company works together with over 200 villages whom they support with trainings and material (as mulberry plants and worms). However, the main “production site” is the one we visited. Mrs Bouavone gave us a tour around the whole area which was entertaining and informative. It was great to see all the different steps it takes from the silkworm-eggs to the final dyed and woven cloth. I learnt so many things! The silk-yarn is quite rough and strong (which I personally like a lot) and just becomes delicate, soft and “silky” after boiling in water and other processing-steps which I don’t remember. All the plants for coloring grow also on the farm and the silkworms which die after giving birth to new eggs are eaten for lunch!
It was interesting to hear about the problems the farm faces with exports to developed countries. Mrs Bouavone told us that they have some clients abroad who like to buy the “natural”, “organic” and “hand-made” cloth but don’t understand that “natural” or “handmade” means that products might vary from each other. Humans are no machines, nor is nature. An interesting observation is that for lao people a blue cloth has the same blue color than another cloth dyed with the same color, whereas we would say that it’s a different blue because it’s much brighter.
I would like to learn more about textiles, the meaning of patterns they use in Laos, weaving and everything related! We will see – maybe I will take some weaving classes soon (besides my lao language course, cooking classes, guitar lessons, and all the lessons I forgot or which I give to others). My visit at the Mulberry Farm was great research for the project in Ban Napia and the one with the UXO Survivor Information Centre in Phonsavan!