Tribal Textiles from
South East Asia

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Tribal Textiles from South East Asia

Thailand,Laos, Myanmar( Burma), Indonesia

The ancient art of hand weaving fabric has its  roots in the primary obvious purpose to cloth the human body although a need for ornamentation creeps into any clothing tradition. There is a dramatic difference between textiles woven for every day use & those woven for ceremonial use, the most common occasions for this being: weddings, births, deaths, festivals & spirit worship rites.

The back-strap loom, a conveniently portable weaving mechanism, was the earliest form of loom. To this day, some cultures in areas away from major population centers continue to produce textiles by this means. The most ancient form of weaving involved a continuous warp with patterns created on the warp threads.

While the origin of loom weaving is unknown, it is assumed to have been introduced in ancient times. Its antiquity can be inferred by the fact that some cultures possess legends about weaving.

A common theme about cloth that links Southeast Asian cultures is that woven cloth is rarely cut to the shape of the body but rather draped or folded.

Women were the weavers for home use & in the small cottage industry. Girls from an early age participated in steps of the process, starting with processing the fiber and spinning.  Older woman, were specialists in certain types of dyes, such as indigo; these women were considered to have special powers over these dyes.

Patterns were the reserve of women of the family in some areas ,Eastern Sumba, handed down from generation to generation. The patterns were preserved as examples so that each generation could copy them. If there were no more female weavers in the family, the patterns were buried with the last known weaver rather than risk having these revealed to someone outside the line of descent...Ann Wright-Parsons

The legacy of the past is brought alive in the ancient symbols that live in these fabrics as living art.

In the tapestry of life we are all connected....Anita Moorjari

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Hand Woven Silks & Cottons of Thailand

Thai silk is considered on of the the finest fabrics in the world.

Silk fabric is created mainly by Silkworm Moths called Bombyx Mori. These larvae are fed on

 Mulberry leaves to produce the only natural fiber that is a filament fiber. This means that it can be one long continuous fiber if the conditions are products needed for manufacture are endless. The worm secretes a protein like substance when it enters its pupa stage of life. This protein is called Sericin and it is wrapped around the worm in a cocoon for protection. The most common method of harvesting Silk is to immerse the pupa in worm water and then cold water to soften the gum-like protein. The silk filament can then be refined and processed ready to be wound into skeins and then woven into various silk fabrics.

There are four types of Thai Silk: Brocaded, Dupioni, Mudmee and Plain Weave. The following Thai silk pieces are all of the first three types...there are no plain weaves here.

Brocaded Thai silk is a weave that gives the fabric an embossed or raised quality. The fabric is not at all smooth, but is raised in a manner that creates a pattern in and of itself.

Weaving brocaded silk requires the most expertise and patience of all the various silk weaves.  A “sarong bolt” ,1 1/2 meters or 4' 11", of quality brocaded Thai silk may take a weaver up to a month to produce.


Dupioni silk intentionally has many fabric knots, bumps, nots, bulges and “fatties” which give the fabric great textile character. These fabric inconsistencies are called slubs and are crucial to recognizing authentic Thai silk from its counterfeits .

Classic dupioni silk is woven from silk yarns made from the dupion silk cocoon. A dupion silk cocoon is where two silkworms often jointed together inhabit a single cocoon.  Dupion cocoons produce a very rough silk filament and so yarns made with dupion are rough and uneven.

Weaving with this “rough” silk yarn will yield a wonderfully textures fabric we call dupioni.

Thai Mudmee weaving,called  Ikat weaving elsewhere,is done on old wood looms.

All Mudmee, which means tied together, fabric has a design or pattern on it...it is never a solid.

Standard woven fabric patterns are created by using different colors on both the horizontal ,weft yarns,and vertical, warp yarns, threads on a loom. The weaver can then create a desired fabric pattern from the multi-colored threads that her loom has been strung with. 

Mudmee weaving creates a fabric pattern in a wholly different way. Mudmee weaving creates a pattern with only a single thread ,almost always a horizontal weft yarn.

Mudmee yarn prior is repeatedly dyed different colors, depending on how many colors are desired for the pattern.

The exact areas of a thread that are to be dyed a certain color, are controlled by a tie-dying method. These ties prevent the dye from affecting the thread underneath them, just like simply tie-dying does.

By this method, a skilled mudmee artisan,not always the weaver, can create dyed patterns for a single weft thread. The pattern is then revealed as the vertical and horizontal threads are woven together.

Mudmee threads are not tied and dyed individually. Mudmee patterns are almost always patterns that repeat themselves across a bolt of fabric. Therefore, the mudmee thread is carefully looped across a surface or board that is proportional to the desired width of the fabric. The pattern maker then will tie together a group of threads at precise intervals to create and replicate the desired mudmee patter.

Mudmee originated Isaan,in Northeast Thailand.Mudmee weaving is the oldest form of pattern weaving in Thailand and dates back approximately 3,000 years when sericulture ,silk production,was first introduced to this area.There are hundreds, if not thousands of mudmee fabric designs. In the past, each  weaving village in Isaan would have their own patterns unique to a specific village. Mudmee fabric can be either silk or cotton.

Plain weave Thai silk is a smooth ,not soft, textured fabric, unlike brocaded silk. Shimmering, an attribute for which Thai silk is famous, is usually easily seen in plain weaves. Undulate the fabric slowly and you’ll see it changing colors. This effect is done by using different colored silk yarns for the vertical ,the warp,and horizontal ,the weft....from mythailand.blog

We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning...Henry Ward Beecher

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Naiyanee: Mudmee Pastels
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Naiyanee: Mudmee
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Malai: Mudmee Thai

Cotton Scarf

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Vintage Hem Bands, Teen Jok

These  Brocaded silk pieces are added to the bottom of Phasin Tiin Joks ,a long fabric which is often wrapped around the waist like a skirt or a sarong. They are called Teen Jok, bottom of skirt.

Embodied in every intricate weave of the phasin tiin jok is the history of the Lanna women, from the matriarchal grip they had on society to their eventual descent into the passivity of patriarchal modernity. Lanna people are the people of Chiang Mai

Every Phasin Tin Jok has its own story. Throughout the changes in Lanna’s history, it has steadfastly remained a creative and exquisite expression of these people’s identity and heritage. Every pattern represents a diversity of motifs behind Lanna culture and the phasin tiin jok is one of the reasons why the ancient northern kingdom is celebrated for its beauty in art and culture.

Designs differ widely in various regions of Thailand as well as the age & status of the weaver.

Life is a Loom, Weaving Illusion...Vachel Lindsay

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Hand Woven in Nagaland

Nagaland ,a remote mountainous country, is located on the northeastern tip of India.

Nagaland has always fascinated me. The Nagas have had a deep respect for nature & have sustainably lived off the land for centuries.These cotton shawls or throws were woven on the classic portable backstrap looms.After the hand spun cloth has been woven, small patches of embroidery are added using a porcupine needle. A number of plant extracts are used to dye the cloth including indigo, mahogany and lacquer.

Chance. It weaves through our lives like a golden thread, sometimes knotting, tangling, and breaking along the way. Loose threads are left hanging, but the in and out, the back and forth continues, the weaving goes on. It doesn't stop...Mary Pearson

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Hinggi, Antique Funeral Shrouds, of Sumba, Indonesonia

Downsizing from My Personal Collection!


Hinggi are rectangular cloths, generally 8 feet in their longest dimension, that were traditionally worn as male-exclusive formal attire at wedding and burial ceremonies and at other feasts, festivals and ceremonial events or as funeral shrouds. They are usually made in pairs; one cloth is wrapped around the hips, and the other is thrown over the shoulder. 

The Hinggis here are for wrapping the cherished dead.  They look new because they were never used. The pairs of weaving have been sewn together perfectly, you have to look closely to see this union, to create the large rectangle

Hinggi is a subvariant of ikat, a type of textile which is defined not by the method of weaving, but by the tie dying technique used to color bundles of threads for a textile’s warp,  Once the dyed threads are ready, they must be carefully arranged so that when woven they properly align and create the desired patterns. This requires an incredible degree of planning and precision for both the weaving and dying. Traditionally this work was exclusively done by women. As one might imagine, the difficulty of weaving these textiles led to a limited production of hinggi. Other considerations also limited production. Dyeing was restricted to one window per year by the growth cycle of the indigo plant and weaving could only be done during the dry season. Given all of this It might take multiple years for a weaver to create even one hinggi.

People of Sumba maintain  animistic ties to the Marapu or ancestral beliefs,still following the traditional ways of caring for the land and maintaining strong social ties. You will see these motifs in the hinggis:interlinking star motif or kandunu mapa kelung denoting social status; lions or mahang motif derived from the image of rampant lions found on Dutch coins, representing  power &  bravery; deer or ruhu pattern symobolizing high caste; horses that are the Sandalwood Ponies indigenous to the island;shrimp & lobsters symbolizing rebirth—shrimps because they shed and replace their shells, & lobsters because they can regenerate their limbs in a process of renewal; animals of ritual sacrifice, such as cocks or chickens

Weaving is found only in the far east and far west of the island of Sumba because of an ancient belief that the island is suspended in place by cosmic threads passing through the center of the island.  Weaving in the center of the island might weaken the cosmic threads resulting in the island falling to the bottom of the sea.

The weaving s in the cosmic web are not self contained. Rather, they are part of the design of pout collective humanity...Lisa Hunt

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Ruhu Hinggi
Sumba Ikat
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Creature Medley Hinggi Sumba Ikat
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Ancestor Hinggi Sumba Ikat
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Hunter with Ancestors
Sumba Ikat
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Borobudur:9th Cy Mahayana Temple
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Arenga Pinnata:Woven with Palm Bark Strips
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Sumba Weaving
Mahang, Lion Motif
from Dutch Coins