History of Thai Silk.
Empress Si Ling Chi of China is credited with discovering silk. While sitting under a mulberry tree in a palace garden having tea, a silkworm’s cocoon reportedly fell out of the tree into her cup. While removing it from her tea, she discovered the fine silk filament of the cocoon beginning to unravel.
The Chinese guarded the secret of silk for millenniums by putting to death anyone found guilty of smuggling silkworm eggs, cocoons, or mulberry seeds. Silk became the cloth of emperors and royalty and a great source of wealth. However, about 1900 years ago a Chinese princess who married an Indian prince is reported to have succesfully smuggled silkworm eggs out of China in her headdress and then fed them with the leaves of Indian mulberry trees.
Since then, silk production has spread to other Asian countries and archaeologist have found silk 3,000 years old in the ruins of Baan Chiang, Thailand, which many of them consider the earliest civilization in Southeast Asia. Thais have developed a type of silk that is considered one of the finest fabrics in the world. They use a unique manufacturing process and have unique patterns and colors.
What is hand woven ikat silk fabric (mudmee)?
Hand woven Mudmee Thai silk (also know as “ikat”) comes from the northeast of Thailand which is called “Isan” and comprised of 17 provinces and situated on the Khorat plateau. The Mekong River borders the whole region on its eastern and northern frontiers with Laos. Its western and southern frontiers are mountain ranges that form the rim of the plateau.
The intricate traditional geometric and zoomorphic motifs of mudmee Thai silk have been handed down for centuries. The designs and patterns in mudmee are created primarily by using various colors in the weft (left to right threads) of the fabric. The people who migrated into the central and Mekhong River Basin area of northeast Thailand from Pakse and Savankhet Laos brought their weaving skills with them. In the 19th century, Thailand’s King Rama V introduced advanced technology which created the foundation of the country’s large silk industry.
Mudmee fabric is usually half a solid or two-tone color and the other half the mudmee pattern.
Thailand’s northeast was not always the arid area that it is today. As recently as 1960, forests were lush and abundant and natural resources for dyes were plentiful. Jim Thomson introduced the permanent chemical dyes that are now so common.
Traditionally, everyday dress was practical and usually quite plain. However, a great deal of time and expense was spent to weave the fabric for weddings, temple ceremonies, funerals, meeting high ranking officials, and spirit appeasing ceremonies, resulting in spectacular quality as well as complex techniques and designs.