Tai textiles: Yesterday and today

Text by Jana Igunma and Cholthira Satyawadhna

Photographs by Oliver Raendchen

Introduction

Silk and cotton weaving is an art that was practiced among all Tai peoples, and still is well known among most of them. Handwoven textiles showed not only the wealth of families, communities, and the Tai royal courts, but also was an important factor in the commercial relations between the Tai and their neighbours like China, Angkor, and Vietnam. Tai textiles were mentioned as tributary gifts and merchandise in the historical records of the Ming dynasty. It is impossible to exactly date the beginnings of weaving in the region of Southeast Asia and Southern China. More than thousand years ago, trade flourished between India and China via various silk roads. The south-west silk road had its origin in Sichuan where traders followed the rivers through the mountainous areas to today`s Assam. Silk and textile trade may have favoured and influenced the development of different weaving and dyeing techniques, but also design and use of textiles among the various Tai groups. Clothes are used as a form of group identification, and textiles have been very important symbols of prestige throughout history. But, they also fulfil important ritual and religious functions.

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Tiin sin, “foot”, or hem of women’s tube skirt for festive and ceremonial use
Origin: Lao, Vientiane region, ca. 1998
Material: silk mixed with synthetic
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Ratchasii or Sihoo (a mythical lion) and kai (fowl, usually given as an offering during a suu khwan ceremony)


Phaa sin kap tiin tam lae, women’s tube skirt for everyday and occasional use
Origin: Lao Phuan, region Mueang Phuan/Northern Laos, ca. 1930
Material: silk, cotton, metallic thread
Technique: Mat mii (Ikat), Khit (continuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Combination of Naak (Naga) and diamond pattern


Phaa sin, women’s tube skirt for everyday and occasional use
Origin: Tai Daeng, region Sam Nuea/Northern Laos, ca. 1995
Material: silk, cotton
Technique: Mat mii (Ikat), Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Naak (Naga) and baai sii (flower and leaves arrangement for the suu khwan ceremony)


Head scarf for everyday use
Origin: Tai Dam, Northern Laos, ca. 1992
Material: cotton
Technique: embroidery
Symbolism: diamond pattern


Ritual cloth for use in suu khwan and traditional healing ceremonies, also used in death rituals
Origin: Tai Dam, Northern Laos, ca. 1990
Material: cotton
Technique: Khit (continuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Elephant, Naak (Naga), Ratchasii or Sihoo (a mythical lion), rice flower, diamond, umbrella


Phaa hua saang, head cloth for an elephant
Origin: Tai Lue, Northern Laos, ca. 1960-70
Material: cotton
Technique: Khit (continuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Naak (Naga), elephant, ancestral figures with candle lights, kai (fowl, usually given as an offering during a suu khwan ceremony), baai sii (flower and leaves arrangement for the suu khwan ceremony)


Phaa biang, women’s shoulder cloth for festive and ceremonial use
Origin: Lao, Luang Prabang, ca. 1930
Material: silk, cotton, metallic thread
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: horse, stars


Phaa sin, fabric for women’s tube skirt for everyday and occasional use
Origin: Tai Khuen, Northern Laos, ca. 1995
Material: cotton
Technique: Ko (tapestry weave)
Symbolism: river/waterfall


Phaa sin, women’s tube skirt for everyday and occasional use
Origin: Lao, Vientiane, ca. 1990
Material: silk, cotton
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: palm leaves, stars, Naak (Naga)


Phaa biang, modern adaptation of a women’s shoulder cloth for festive and ceremonial use, also used by female moo in traditional healing ceremonies
Origin: Lao Phuan, Northern Laos, ca. 1998
Material: Silk
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Naak (Naga), diamond


Phaa waa or phaa khoma, men’s shoulder cloth for festive and occasional use, also used as waist sash or sometimes as head tie
Origin: Lao and Khmer, Southern Laos, ca. 1990
Material: Silk
Technique: Plain weave


Shoulder cloth for everyday and occasional use
Origin: Tai Phake, Assam, 2005
Material: Cotton
Technique: Plain weave


Shoulder cloth for festive use
Origin: Tai Ahom, Assam, 2005
Material: Cotton, metallic thread
Technique: Plain weave


Women’s tube skirt for festive use
Origin: Tai Dam, Northern Vietnam, ca. 1994
Material: Cotton
Technique: Plain weave and embroidery
Symbolism: Too Luang (water dragon), stars, diamond, flowers


Top of a protective suit for a medium (moo/ mau) for ritual use
Origin: Shan, Shan States, ca. 1960
Material: Silk
Technique: Plain weave with drawings in ink and natural colours
Symbolism: Yantras for protection, with kathas


Top of a protective suit for a medium (moo/ mau) for ritual use
Origin: Shan, Shan States, ca. 1960
Material: Silk
Technique: Plain weave with drawings in ink and natural colours
Symbolism: Yantras for protection, with kathas


Shoulder cloth for ritual use
Origin: Tai Dam, Northern Laos, ca. 1990
Material: Cotton
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Sihoo (a mythical lion), Naak (Naga)


Shoulder cloth for ritual use
Origin: Tai Daeng, region Sam Neua/Northern Laos, ca. 1995
Material: Cotton
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Naak (Naga), ancestral figures, kai (fowl, usually given as an offering during a suu khwan ceremony), diamond


Woman’s inner waistband
Origin: Hua Yao Tai, Upper Red River/Vietnam, ca. 1960
Material: Cotton
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)


Phaa biang, women’s shoulder cloth for festive and ceremonial use
Origin: Lao, Luang Prabang, ca. 1990
Material: silk, metallic thread
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: diamond, stars, hook


Phaa biang, women’s shoulder cloth for festive and ceremonial use
Origin: Lao, Vientiane, ca. 1980
Material: silk, cotton
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: diamond, stars


Phaa sin, women’s tube skirt for festive and ceremonial use
Origin: Lao, Vientiane, ca. 1998
Material: silk, metallic thread
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: diamond, stars, Naak (Naga)


Phaa sin, women’s tube skirt for festive and ceremonial use
Origin: Lao Phuan, Vang vieng, ca. 1995
Material: silk, cotton, metallic thread
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: diamond, stars


Shoulder cloth for ritual use
Origin: Tai Dam, Northern Laos, ca. 1990
Material: Cotton, silk
Technique: Khit and Chok (continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft)
Symbolism: Naak (Naga), ancestral figures, kai (fowl, usually given as an offering during a suu khwan ceremony), diamond, Sihoo (a mythical lion)

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