Silk & Cotton

The North and Northeast are home to Thais of different ethnic origins, each with their own styles of weaving and dyeing. Over the centuries they have cultivated cotton and silk to make their own clothes, utilizing traditional designs and patterns fashioned after everyday sight, coloured by natural local dyes. Regions have their own styles, finely patterned and colourful, often with silver and gold threads for special occasions.

The Northeast is the largest cultivator of mulberry and silkworms, producing a golden to pale yellow silk unique to Thailand. Yellow silk yarns are shorter, enabling them to be hand-woven into silk fabrics that are softer, shinier and nubbier than other silks. Various weaving techniques - mudmee (ikat), khid (continuous supplementary weft) and jok (discontinuous supplementary weft) - coupled with soft natural dyes and a multitude of patterns have gone into making Thai silks that are renowned around the world for their appearance and skin-friendly properties.

Cottons are prevalent throughout the North, with weaving techniques, patterns and colour similar to silks. There are some famous differences, such as mor hom - deep blue cottons, favoured as working clothes for farmers - and striking hilltribe costumes. Hilltribe females must wear clothes they have made themselves, and are taught weaving skills from a very early age, using age-old tribal patterns embellished by intricate embroidery. To keep up with fashion demands, however, many communities are now producing silks and cottons following patterns created by professional textile designers.

In southern Thailand, brightly coloured, hand-painted batiks reflect the influences of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia. Here the predominantly Muslim communities have created their own industries for beautifully embroidered head shawls for ladies and kapi yor hats for men.