Among our meandering travels into and around Chiangmai, we’ve passed several “silk factories.” Not every one is an actual factory on site. More like a vendor selling both raw fabric as well as handmade and factory made apparel. But we did find a location, Jolie Femme, that had the actual factory in a large backroom area and they were only too happy for us to browse and inspect.
A silk factory is not exactly what you might imagine. Hordes of silkworms spinning out fine strands of raw silk? Well, no. Hordes of silk moths laying hundreds of eggs daily,
silkworms growing into the larval stage,
spinning their cocoons,
followed by the boiling of the cocoons (ouch!) to separate the intricate web of thread. From there, each strand is meticulously pulled out from the cocoons by hand. In order for silk to be high-quality, strands from several cocoons must be pulled out simultaneously so that they will entwine to form larger, stronger threads. This, in turn, results in silk that reflects light and has a high sheen. It can take as many as 2000 cocoons to produce a single yard of silk.
Next, the threads are placed on a wheel and made into spools in a process called Grew Mai. While the threads are being spun, warm water is used to increase their elasticity. Strands that have passed the Grew Mai step should be smooth, straight, and continuous throughout.
Raw fiber is then dyed. The dyes themselves at this factory were imported chemical dyes, but there are locations that tout their use of natural dyes.
Taw Mai, or the weaving, is the climax of the silk production process for it involves incorporating hours of painstaking preparation into a highly varied, often stunning beauty of artistic expression.
Two types of silk are used in weaving. ‘Yim silk’, is used for background and ‘Pung silk’, is used for designs. Instruments used in weaving are the Hoog and the Gi Gradook. Both require craftsmanship, knowledge, and experience on the part of the weaver in order to produce the design and pattern desired.