Ms. Mae Mai

Cotton artisan and indigo dye expert,
Savannakhet Province, Age 48

Forty-eight year old Mae Mai is an expert on all aspects of cotton processing – from ginning to spinning, indigo dyeing, and “mutmee” – a tie-dye weaving technique that is so special to her people of the Phu-Tai ethnic group.

Mae Mai learned to make indigo and use it as a dye at age 15 years. Today, the 48 year-old mother of four is a valuable resource to her community and loves passing her skills on to the younger generations.

Making indigo dye is an ancient art and steeped in myths. Menstruating women are kept away from the indigo jars for fear of upsetting the “indigo spirit” and rendering the dye useless.

Indigo dye is made from the leaves  and shoots of the “kharm” plant, which grows in many areas in Laos. Getting the raw materials for indigo may be easy, but making it is an art.  It involves fermentation of the “kharm” and keeping the mixture in air-tight jars at the required temperature. Natural indigo contains no chemicals or toxic metals and wearing fabrics dyed with indigo is believed to be good for the skin.