Last month we had a short period of time without much pressing work and so decided to visit neighbouring Laos for a few days. We had both wanted to see this dreamy land of misty mountains and rivers for a long time and the city of Luang Prabang proved the perfect introduction to this beautiful country. We also wanted this trip to be a learning experience that would benefit our understanding of textiles and so the Ock Pop Tok textile centre naturally took its place on top of our “go-to” list.
Ock Pop Tok (translated as East meets West in Lao) was started by two women (one Lao and the other a Westerner) as a way to help the survival of hill tribe village textiles through appropriate marketing and education. The brand now has three stores in Luang Prabang and stocks fabrics from many different hill tribes (all with their own unique patterns and characteristics) as well as textiles woven by the onsite weavers group. They have expanded their facilities to include a cafe featuring delicious Lao and fusion dishes, a small range of onsite accommodation options with rooms that are all uniquely decorated in their own particular theme (ours was the charming indigo room with blue walls and cushions) and workshop facilities open to anyone who wishes to take weaving or dyeing classes ranging from half a day to three days in length. We were interested in trying out the village looms and went for a half day weaving workshop where we wove two placemats with different patterns using botanically-dyed silk.
Having studied weaving in England using dobby looms, my experience and technical knowledge of traditional looms and weaving techniques in my own and neighbouring countries are very limited. Seeing the mechanism of simply interlacing threads through the warp as a way to store and enable elaborate lifting patterns on a simple loom is truly fascinating. The complicated warp preparation process takes a long time and a skillful weaver. Having been away from hand weaving for quite a while, the experience of weaving with these traditional yet ingenious tools and methods is immensely inspiring.
Feeling the deep resonating thuds of the looms and watching the pattern emerge line by line as the Mekong river carves its way through the nearby hills is a magical experience. If you are interested in learning more about hand-woven textiles or just want a quiet place to stay at just outside of town on your visit to Luang Prabang then we wholeheartedly recommend you to check out Ock Pop Tok.
It just so happened that our coming coincided with the end of Buddhist lent festival. The city was alight with millions of candles and lanterns as a cheery procession of families carried their fiery hand-made dragon boats through the streets before letting them all float down the Mekong. Further downstream were scores of people adding their own little lights to the grand river in the form of Kratongs: small elaborate round floats made of banana leaves and adorned with flowers, candles and incense that get floated off with a wish. Overhead the sky was dotted with paper lanterns that rose higher and higher until they were out of sight. It was a joyous event with much music, laughter, smiles and fantastic displays of colour that left us mesmerised and feeling that all the vibrant textiles we had seen in the last few days were reflections of the lively celebrations of life itself.