It was a day of many firsts for me. It was late November 2015 and I’ve just arrived in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand via Singapore. I came here to visit my brother and to experience some of this area’s famous textile culture.
We arrived at Studio Naenna shortly after breakfast – just in time to see the studio coming alive. We were greeted at the gate by Lamorna Cheesman, studio manager, designer, and daughter of Patricia Cheesman, author, academic, artist, and the driving force behind Studio Naenna.
The studio is located in a traditional Thai house on a big property at the end of a narrow winding road. On the front porch, a lady was sitting on the floor mat, winding cotton thread onto skeins ready for dying. Next to her, a display of threads and dyes showed the origin of each colour – leaves, bark or seeds – next to the coloured fibres.
Lamorna took us to the back of the house where their indigo plantation grows. Another first for me. At Studio Naenna they cultivate two types of indigo: The local broadleaf, jungle variety as well as the field or Indian variety.
Lamorna explained how they make the indigo paste and then took us to the other side of the house where the indigo vats are located. We were just in time to see a dying session in progress. (A first again!)
The resident indigo expert was dipping several skeins in the vat. Some were dipped several times for a darker colour, some stayed light and some were layered to produce an ombre effect.
The main indigo vat at the studio has been alive for 20 years and are treated with great respect. I felt very honoured to see it in action.
Once inside the cool of the house, Lamorna introduced us to ikat dying and weaving. Ikat is an extremely intricate method where the warp threads are coloured and patterned using a resist dying method before the master weavers turn it into finely woven textiles. More firsts for me!
These weavers work at their homes in the surrounding local villages. They are all part of the Weavers For the Environment Group, founded by Patricia Cheesman. The aim of the group is to improve the lives of the women and look after the environment while protecting and documenting the women’s indigenous knowledge of plants, weaving, traditional costumes and textiles. Studio Naenna help develops designs suitable for export while maintaining the knowledge of traditional design.
I loved every minute of our visit to Studio Naenna. Lamorna was an excellent and most gracious tour guide. My only regret was that my visit did not coincide with one of the studio’s regular indigo workshops. I will just have to go back for that someday…
Have you visited Studio Naenna before? Please share your experience in the comments. I would love to hear your story.