Hand Dyeing in Laos

January 15, 2012

I had only tried my hands on dyeing once -and very briefly at that- prior to my recent dyeing experience in Laos.

I stumbled upon Ock Pop Tok as I was inquiring about knitting related resources while I was spending a few days in Luang Prabang. Ock Pop Tok literally means “East meets West” and was created by a local weaver and an English photographer in 2000. The center’s mission is to “empower women through their traditional skills and to promote Laotian textiles”. The retail shop is located on a main drag in the Old City. However, the workshop is hidden at the end of a narrow dirt roads way off the beaten path. I arrived at Ock Pop Tok, riding in the back of a tuk tuk (3-wheeler cabs popular in Asia). The spacious center courtyard is surrounded with small one or two stories basic buildings containing weaving and dyeing workshops, a cafe, a shop and a guest house.

My first stop in Ock Pop Tok (OPT) was the cafe as I was too hungry to think of anything else. The pretty cafe overlooks Mekong River. I ordered a few typical Laotian vegetarian food including my favorites: stuffed fried bamboos, stuffed Grilled Lemon Grass. The food was as fantastic as the peaceful scenery.

With a full and happy tummy, I was ready to get my hands dirty. The dyeing studio/hut at OPT is deliciously rustic. Water boils and dyes are processed in banged up metal pots heated over wood fired stoves. A small faucet and and a single, lonely sink provide the only water source and wash basin respectively. The light source is mainly the good old sun and ventilation is all au naturel, as there are no walls.

The dyes used here and in traditional Laotian Textiles are basically plant based and are found/grown around locally. I was given two silk scarves to dye and I chose to dye them in a deep yellow and a rich fuschia. For the yellow color, we dug out fresh turmeric (growing 4 feet away from the studio) which I washed, sliced and pounded to form a paste like consistency.

video: digging up Turmeric

It was then added to boiling water together with the fixing agent- handful of tamarind leaves (from a big old tree providing shade to the studio). For the fuschia color, local Sappan wood was used.

video: the Dyeing Potion

While waiting for my dyes to set; I also learned how to finish the fringes on a freshly woven silk scarf. I divided each section into two and rolled them back and forth on my knee. A tight knot at the end secures each hand rolled fringe. So Simple…

I was also shown how the gorgeous silken Laotian textiles are woven and even wove a few rows.

video: at the Weaving Loom

For those aspiring to become weavers, OPT offers lodging and classes as well. Of course, I could not leave without trading a few paper bills for a few wonderful finds at the gift shop.

All in all, this was a peaceful and an ultra productive afternoon. I am thankful to my travel buddy/photographer for his quiet patience and for taking as much interest as humanly possible in what he truly had no interest in.

riding in the back of a tuk tuk

© 2012, livingamused. All rights reserved.

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