Completed – October 2019
Shimmering Splendour: Silk in Southeast Asia
In October, Denise Heywood took members of Stradfas on a journey back in time to the origins and ancient uses of Silk. In 700 BC Lady Xi Ling was supposedly sitting under a mulberry tree when a silk cocoon dropped into her tea and the silk then unravelled from the cocoon! This may have been the start of silk being found first of all in China but the craft of producing it quickly spread to places such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
In Thailand, weaving silk was regarded as a gift from the gods and we were shown one image of two Thai women weaving silk wearing silk sarongs themselves as a mural in one of the temples. Another showed the weaver as a god which emphasised the sacred act of weaving. In Hinduism, the universe is envisioned as a fabric woven by the gods and so silk is seen as a fabric of knowledge woven and then handed down to subsequent generations. It can incorporate various symbols such as a river flowing indicating the flow of knowledge and life. The textile is used for ceremonies such as weddings or by dancers performing for other religious celebrations. The shimmering silks give the dancers themselves an ethereal look, inferring divinity.
When war spread to Laos, the people were so impoverished that they had to sell the secrets of making this ancient textile to travellers so the art was lost for a while. Fortunately, a man called Jim Thompson had parachuted into Thailand in 1940 and seen all the silks there so he returned to learn about the processes of producing it and revived the craft. In the film “The King and I “ Yul Brynner wears costumes made of Jim Thompson silk and this set a new trend in fashion and interior design where silk is used. It is still a fabric symbolising wealth and is worn by kings, queens and princes all over the world.