“I don’t know any other male weavers, it’s very rare to find one. I make good quality traditional Inthar style fabric in the old designs that aren’t that popular anymore, mainly because they require a lot of patience and skill on the part of the weaver. To ensure we remain true to our traditions, everything is done by hand. There is no electricity involved in the process and the whole village pitches in. I started working on it seriously when I was 18, just because I was naturally interested and I guess I had some skill. I learned how to weave from my parents who were both very skilled weavers themselves. It’s a shame the traditional methods are slowly dying out. I hope that by continuing this practice, we can preserve our heritage and pass it on to the next generations.
It is a tradition in this village for households to have their own looms, to make their own fabrics. Some households will be responsible for dying the fabric, another households may be responsible for spooling the dyed fabrics onto yarn and spools. And then my household might be responsible for weaving the designs. In fact there are only two households left here who even know how to weave in the traditional Inthar style. I now make designs to order and they are usually very traditional designs for lungyi fabric. It can take me a month to finish one design.
We buy the raw cotton from Taungyi, once a month. We also buy the dyes from Taungyi but the dyes are brought to Taungyi by merchants from Mandalay. To make the fabric, you first get the raw cotton and soak in water for three days to soften. Then you soak it in the dye and to make the colour stick, you have to soak it in a mixture of natural glue, which we make from Shan sticky rice. The process is very natural. Then you dry the cotton in the sun until dry. It feels rough at first but once you spin it on the loom and make it into a fabric, the cotton starts to soften.
I never thought what I was doing was important but I realise that it is unique and important to my culture and my people. We are living a way of life that has not changed so much our forefathers. I live in the house that I was born in and I have never left the village to live elsewhere. My parents built this house when they got married, more than 60 years ago. They are now in their 80s and they also live here with me. We are a very close knit family.”
Ko Myo Thet Khaing, 34
Si Sone village