By Krista Hughes (1 week volunteer)
Weaving is a welcome source of extra income in the village that KSES is based. One of the homestays called Moo dah, 22, spends 5-6 hours a day weaving, depending on her other chores such as cooking, caring for her son and working in the fields. Her sister and mother share the work of making clothes for their 12-member family, and also make extra bags, scarves and bolts of cloth to sell to visitors and sometimes for a foundation in the city. “I like weaving and it also brings in extra money for the family,” she says, as sister Eh Chee works on a bolt of blue-green cloth on the the loom set up on the raised and roofed platform that is the family’s cooking, eating and living area.
For another homestay woman, Seevah, 36, the money she earns from weaving goes to help educate her son and daughter, who are attending high school away from the village. Growing and harvesting corn is the main income earner for the 15 or so extended families living in the village, but weaving — along with hosting homestay visitors — is a valued and useful sideline.
Most of the women learn to weave at an early age: Seevah learned from her sister at age 14, and is passing the skills on to her own daughter. Moodah laughs when asked if she plans to teach her son: weaving is only for women. While Moodah prefers to weave with coloured yarn that she buys at the village shops or Mae Chaem, Seevah also dyes some of her own yarn. Her husband Jackapong helps her gather bark in the forest, which is then boiled with mud and other natural ingredients to make muted green, ochre and brown tones.
They use a series of traditional Karen patterns, handed down from generation to generation. Stripes of varying widths, herringbone patterns, diamonds and zigzags all feature, and many items are finished with tassels. It takes two or three days of weaving full-time to produce a skirt, about one day for a scarf and maybe two days for a bag. The loom is fixed at one end and the other end is harnessed around the weaver’s hips as she sits on the floor with legs stretched out and feet pressing against a bar to keep the tension. Hands, hips, feet and back work in tandem to produce the intricate patterns. The verdict from KS intern Paris, 19: “They make it look easy, but it’s not.”