CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Lao Weaving in Napa

Barbara Stafford of Silverado Guild acted quickly when she saw the notice on WeaveTech (an internet list).  On May 29, Deb McClintock posted that Kongthong Nanthanvongdouangsy of Phaeng Mai Gallery in Vientiane, would be available in early July for teaching and lecturing on traditional Laos weaving.  On July 6 and 7, Kongthong was in Napa explaining the vertical storage of pattern that distinguishes Lao weaving to a small group of weavers.

Barbara and Kongthong set up a Lao loom on the bones of Barbara’s Harrisville rug loom.

The original plan called for active participation.  After a brief introduction, each of the attendees was to copy a pattern onto graph paper from one of the exquisite Lao textiles available.  Some of the tiny patterns were doable but several of us became very involved and developed more elaborate designs.  We found that knowing the right place to start was important and it was not always at one edge or another.

Once the design was in hand we would each take a turn at the loom, picking the pattern, and weaving the motif.  Learning by doing is most effective!  The actual picking was not easy with the very fine silk thread warp.  Then, Kongthong had to cajole us into using the discontinuous supplementary weft as our tendency was to use one color across the whole warp—just not traditional!  Once the picking of a row was done, and the pattern weft laid in, Kongthong demonstrated the transfer o the pattern to the vertical heddles.  The process had to be repeated several times before we completely understood.

Just as instructive were the attempts to do supplemental warp and discontinuous weft style weaving on table looms (Lao style).  It was not successful because of the rigid nature of our looms compared to the Lao loom and thus, we gained a more intense appreciation of the Lao techniques.

Kongthong , herself, has an amazing story.

She was taught weaving, starting at 6 years old, by her mother.  The family was forced to leave their home in rural Laos during the war in the mid ‘70’s and move to Vientiane.  As the country recovered from the war and commerce was encouraged, Kongthong was asked by the government to help promote Lao weaving.  She and her sister now head a company, Phaeng Mai Gallery, of 500 employees. Visit their web site to learn more.
If you would like to further explore Lao weaving, the San Francisco Folk and Craft Museum published a wonderful book Weaving Tradition: Carol Cassidy and Woven Silks of Laos. 2004, by Dorothy Twining Globus and Mary F. Connors.   Also, there are several videos demonstrating Lao Weaving on YouTube (just type in “Lao weaving” in the search bar) — but the hands on experience for me was far superior.

Oh, you didn’t know about the workshop or you would have come?  Subscribing to the RSS feed for could have solved that problem!

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