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A Demanding Art
Natural raw silk is either white or yellow, while natural cotton is either white or brown. Both silk and cotton and usually dyed with natural or chemical dyes. Traditional Lao weavers use only natural dyes derived from seeds, leaves, roots, flowers, fruits, bark, and insect resin.
Master dyers know which substance, or combination of substances, will yield specific colors, and have expert control over the results. The process requires great skill: the yarn must be dipped in dye and dried several times in succession to achieve the desired degree of evenness and color intensity.
The process may take two days to a week, not counting the time needed to collect, dry, and shred the roots, leaves, or fruits and then boil, ferment and rest them to create dyes: these processes can take months. Accordingly, naturally dyed yarn and woven products generally command higher prices than products made from chemically dyed yarn.
Most Saoban products are made from natural Lao silk and cotton dyed with natural dyes according to longstanding local tradition. The weaving groups which are new to silkworm cultivation and dye production, use a mixture of Lao silk and Vietnamese and Chinese silk and chemically dyed yarn.
Saoban is encouraging a resurgence in natural dyeing. Weavers working with Saoban participate in learning exchanges, enabling weavers and dyers to share techniques, skills and information. In the future Saoban hopes to produce and sell only naturally dyed products.
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.
Colours from Nature
Saoban’s artisans create colours from nature using a combination of traditional techniques, knowledge passed down through generations, innovation, and trial and error.
Download: Natural Dyes: Colours from Nature, a slideshow of where some of the Saoban colours come from.
A social enterpriseSaoban is a member of PADETC, a Lao NGO that integrates socially sustainable programs in education, agriculture, micro-finance, handcrafts and community leadership.
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Chao Anou Road, 97/1 Ban Watchan, Chantabouly, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Open hours 9am-8pm Monday to Saturday. 1pm-8pm Sunday.