Tag Archives: weaving

Assemblage by Basketry SA

007This is one of those cases where I don’t need to say much – the pictures speak for themselves.

Assemblage brought together all the strands of experience, skill and creative energy of the members of Basketry SA. It was held at Urrbrae House on the Waite campus of the University of Adelaide from 14-28 February 2016.



Rebecca Edwards

Rebecca Edwards

Liz Yates

Liz Yates

Laima Guscia

Laima Guscia

Laima Guscia

Laima Guscia

Ira Grunwald

Ira Grunwald

Gem Congdon

Gem Congdon

Gem Congdon

Gem Congdon

Deb Cantrill

Deb Cantrill

Christine Ford

Christine Ford





Lao-Tai Textiles by Patricia Cheesman

The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan by Patricia Cheesman
Published by Studio Naenna Co Ltd, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
ISBN: 974-272-915-8

Lao-Tai Textile book coverPatricia Cheesman has spent the past 30 years conducting in-depth research on Lao and Thai textiles. She is the author of several books and articles on the subject and has contributed to many international exhibitions.

Born in Singapore and educated in the UK, Patricia lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she teaches at the Chiang Mai University in the Thai Art Department. She works with the Weavers for the Environment Group and owns the Studio Naenna Textile Gallery where she conducts workshops in natural dyes and design.


The book measures 210mm x 285mm is bound in soft cover and has 297 pages.

This book contains everything I expect from a good textile book:

  • Maps to put the information into geographical context
  • Lao-Tai Textile book pages 3Loads of photographs. A few in black-and-white but mainly colour photographs which include detail shots of the textiles and designs, photos of the local people wearing, making and caring for the textiles, as well as lovely story pictures – photos of the community in which these textiles are made, loved and used.
  • Diagrams and sketches showing the construction of some of the garments as well as some of the weaving equipment.

All in all, this book is comprehensively illustrated and contains valuable visual documentation of the Lao-Tai textiles.

“My deepest thanks go to all the weavers, villagers and shamans who have patiently answered my enquiries, received me in their homes and guided me in my search for information.”

This opening sentence sets the tone of the whole book. Patricia shares her vast knowledge of the textiles, the history, and the people of this remote part of the world, with a tangible measure of respect, gratitude and humility. It is obvious that she not only loves her subject but that she has an affinity for the whole culture and lifestyle surrounding it.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 2The book starts with the author’s acknowledgements and background notes on how her research was conducted, how she set the parameters for the book, and how the fact that she grew up in Asia and is fluent in the Lao language informed her research. Maps showing the current and historical ‘lay of the land’ further aids the reader to understand the subject matter.

The first three chapters of the book look at the geographical and historical setting of the Lao-Tai culture as well as how these factors influenced the different classifications of textiles in the region.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 1Chapter 4 gives background information about the Lao-Tai culture. The different gender roles, religious ceremonies, wedding and burial ceremonies, as well as the role of local food and architecture, can be seen to influence the different textile designs.

Chapter 5 to 7 give detail insights into the different garments worn by both men and women of the different clans. These chapters are beautifully illustrated with photos and diagrams.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 8Both the Shamanic and Buddhist religions had a great influence in the design and use of textiles and Chapter 8 goes into great detail describing and illustrating each piece of textile used during religious ceremonies.

Household textiles holds a special appeal for me and Chapter 9’s descriptions of the pillows, blankets, curtains and other household items used by the Lao-Tai people, must be my favourite part of the book.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 10Chapter 10 is all about technique, showing detailed photos of the dyeing and weaving processes used by the artisans. It also shows how both silk and cotton are cultivated and prepared for dyeing and weaving. I love how the background colour of these pages add to the lush feel of the natural dyes.

Lao Tai Textile book pages 12Chapter 11 describes the different symbols, designs and motifs depicted in the textiles. Again beautifully illustrated with detail photographs.

The book concludes with three Appendixes explaining the intricacies of the Lao-Tai languages. Essential information in understanding the names and descriptions of the different textiles.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 9This is a beautiful book with loads of photos. It shows the textiles from a technical point of view as well as a cultural point of view. It puts the textile in the context of its origin. The place, the people and the history. But that is not all. This is not just a look-book – it is a read-book. It is beautiful and you can keep it on your coffee table, but when you go to bed, take it with you and actually read it. It is rich in information and beautifully written. It is obvious that Patricia loves her subject matter. Both the textiles and the community form which it comes.

If you love textiles, books, travel, culture and beautiful pictures – this is your kind of book.

Order your copy today.
Read more about my visit to Studio Naenna



Studio Naenna

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.

Studio Naenna Winding Cotton ThreadWe 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.

Studio Naenna Natural Dyes





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.

Studio Naenna Natural Dyes EbonyIt was the first time I saw what Ebony seeds looked like, and I learned that if you want to know which colour to expect from a plant you have to look at it in a dried state.

Studio Naenna Jungle Indigo

Jungle Indigo






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.

Studio Naenna Field Indigo

Field Indigo

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!)

Studio Naenna Indigo Dying




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.

Studio Naenna Indigo vat


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.

Studio Naenna Ikat in processStudio Naenna’s main focus is, of course, traditional Thai weaving and supporting local weavers, to not only keep the tradition alive but also to earn a living wage from their trade.

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!

STudio Naenna Ikat dyingThese 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…

For more information:
Studio Naenna website
Video of Patricia Cheesman talking about her work
My review of Patricia Cheesman’s book on Lao-Tai Textiles

Have you visited Studio Naenna before? Please share your experience in the comments. I would love to hear your story.

My visit to a bedouin weaver

It is a windswept Saturday morning.

 The Weather Bureau warned about cold winds blowing across the Gulf from the snow covered mountains of Iran. As the sand billows across the road and the driver cling to the wheel, I peer at the desolate and featureless desert landscape passing by the car window. “Who would want to live here?” I wonder. 

I am on my way to Sila, a small village in the Northern part of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; about 3 hours drive from the city and the last outpost before the border with Saudi Arabia.  There is nothing here. Not even dunes. Just flat stretches of coarse, colourless sand as far as the eye can see. 

I am accompanied by Leila Ben-Gacem, the project leader of the Sougha Project. We are on our way to visit Bhkita and Hamama, a Bedouin mother-and-daughter team who are part of Leila’s team of traditional weavers. They graciously opened their home to me to introduce me to the art of Sadou weaving.

Leila with bag

Leila showing off one of Bhkita’s bags

Sadou is a traditional Bedouin form of weaving.

The women, working on ground looms, produce long narrow strips of patterned textile using yarn spun from camel and goat hair or sheep wool. These textile strips are then sewn together to make the walls of their traditional tents, camel bags and other utilitarian items.

 These days, however, things look a bit different. With the rapid economic development of the United Arab Emirates, the Bedouin’s nomadic lifestyle has all but disappeared.  The government has built houses for the nomads and settled them in formal villages where they have learned to live with electricity and other modern conveniences. The children go to school and move on to careers in the city.  It is a wonderful privilege and opportunity their parents never had, but it means ancient Bedouin traditions are fast dying out. 

One of these traditions is Sadou weaving. A craft which were passed on from mother to daughter and which were done in communal settings where folklore and female wisdom could be passed down from one generation to the next. Now only the older women still know how to do it and their daughters are in general not interested. 


A close-up of the tent-wall

Enters Leila and her Sougha Project.

It is an initiative launched by the Khalifa Fund aimed at preserving local heritage by developing traditional artisans. The women are taught how to adapt their products to the current market and trained to create opportunities for themselves. 

Leila is a petite Tunisian woman with short dark hair and a big smile.  What she lacks in stature she more than makes up for in energy and enthusiasm.  She lives for this project and these Bedouin women. I’ve met Leila last summer. She showed me the products for sale at their kiosk in Abu Dhabi, told me about the Sougha project and invited me to visit the Liwa Date Festival where I would see the ladies working.  

I visited the date festival later in July 2011 where I observed some of the ladies do their telli embroidery (that’s a different story…) and weave palm fronds into baskets, mats and other household items.  The weavers were displaying their wares but obviously not doing any weaving on the show.  I bought a small woven carpet from Bhkita’s stall.  Her work mesmerised me. It was obvious that here was a very talented woman. Her designs and quality of craftsmanship were a step above the rest. The language barrier (my Arabic is as limited as her English) meant that it was not possible to ask her about her work but I wanted to know more. Leila obliged and organised for me to visit her home. And here we are… 

As we arrive at Bkhita’s house we are welcomed by her daughter Hamama

and invited into a Bedouin tent erected right next to their brick and mortar house.  The inside walls of the tent are made from traditional woven wall panels, the floor is covered in carpets. Big pillows are set around the edge of the tent as floor seating. A low wooden table is laid out with Arabic coffee, dates, fruit and pastries.  The only reminder that we are in the 21st century is the big TV screen against the one wall. 

Enjoying coffee and treats with Bhkita and Hamama

 As soon as we are seated on the carpet, Hamama serves us small cups of coffee and dates.  It is obvious that both women are delighted to see Leila. They chatter non-stop updating Leila on all the latest gossip in town.  Leila tells me they are very honoured to share their craft with me and I must please show the world the beautiful things they make. I am happy to oblige. 

Admiring Bhkita’s work

Bhkita shows me some of her finished work

in between telling me about her children and grandchildren (Leila has to translate very fast, as Bhkita never stops talking!), .  She uses the woven cloth to make bags in different sizes – from handbags, laptop bags, pencil cases, makeup bags and more – to coasters, table runners and other household goods.  She not only weaves but also sews the bags all by herself.  She buys camel leather from the tannery in Al Ain (another Khalifa Fund initiative), the cotton she uses for the lining as well as the thread and fasteners she buys in Abu Dhabi or Doha. She uses a modern, electricity-driven sewing machine. 


A Sadou laptop bag

Bhkita’s age is a mystery but I guess her to be in her late sixties. She never went to school. Her childhood was spent roaming the desert with her family. According to her daughter, she attended an ‘illiteracy eradication programme’ provided by the government. She can write her name and she ‘knows numbers’.  But don’t be fooled – this is a very smart, intelligent woman. And immensely talented.  The woven strips she makes as inserts to her leather bags are narrower than what she would normally make for a tent wall.


Bhkita’s latest design.  She is very proud of this one.
Can you see all the counting going on here?

The patterns are intricate and delicate.

The colour combinations are inspirational. The quality of craftsmanship is exceptional.  Bhkita is very proud of her work and her designs.  She makes sure I notice that there are no flaws in the textile or pattern.  She doesn’t make mistakes. 

Bhkita has an amazing instinct for colour

The ‘workshop’ is in the house.

When we had enough (too much) to eat and drink it was time for her to show me how she works.  As we enter the front door, the floor loom is the first thing I see.  It is set out on the carpet in the reception area of her house. In a traditional setting, the loom would be made of split palm tree trunks held together with palm fibre twine. The single heddle would be held in place with wooden stakes.  The ‘modern’ version I see in front of me is made of galvanised pipes held together with nylon rope. The piece of pipe holding the string heddles is kept in place with bricks. 

Bhkita with her floor loom

I am not a weaver. When I look at woven textile I look at the colours, the patterns and the texture. I don’t pay much attention to the technicalities of the weaving process. The little bit that I do know about weaving is that the warp yarns are the strong ones which are strung across the loom and keep the textile intact but are usually not visible in the finished product.  The weft yarns are softer, thicker and of different colours. They determine the design. 

At work

I was therefore quite surprised when I realised that with the floor loom things work the other way around.  The warp yarns, strung across the loom in a figure-eight, hold the pattern and the weft yarn provides the strength. Therefore the warp yarns are the coloured ones and are strung onto the loom in a predetermined order. The weaver has to work out the pattern before she sets up the loom. This sounds easy if you have a graph or a pattern to work from, but these women are illiterate.  They don’t have paper patterns to work from.  It’s all in their head. No wonder Bhkita ‘knows numbers’ – counting is what she does! 


The warp yarns determine the pattern

Bhkita sits on top of the woven part of her textile, facing the heddles. Her hands seems to work effortlessly, but I soon realise weaving on a floor loom is a physical job.  She has two sword beaters or el haifs (flat pieces of wood with pointed ends and bevelled edges) set into the warp yarns in different configurations, as determined by her pattern. By turning one of them on the side she opens up the shed and increases the tension at the same time.  After she passed the shuttle or el masr (a stick on which the weft yarns has been wound) through, she beats the weft into place with a hook beater.  In traditional times this used to be a gazelle horn but now it is an iron hook or a bent screw driver. Beating every row is very important to keep the textile tight and to ensure an even tension throughout.  

The string heddles and the sword beaters

Bhkita enjoys demonstrating her work to me. 

Every now and then she makes sure that I understand everything, that I have good enough photos of every step and whether she can tell me anything more… And if I’m satisfied she carries on talking about her children and their families and about their winter camp-outs in the desert. 

She tells me about harvesting desert truffles(“faqah”).

When the desert had good rains in December but stays dry during January, the Bedouins go truffle hunting in March. It’s a treasured delicacy, difficult to find but oh, so delicious to eat. 

On our way back to the city I look at the desolate landscape with new eyes. It is still harsh and barren but now I see colour and pattern. And now I know who wants to live here – people who see beauty in the landscape; people who love their children and family.  And people who can find truffles in the sand.

*This post first appeared on my personal blog in December 2012