Tisseuse de soie

Scarves in Cambodia, an overview

This year for my holiday I traveled to new country, Cambodia, for its food and culture only and take rest from my business. In my line of work, it means to stop thinking about scarves.

But this was a mistake, as Cambodia has its rich culture in handwoven textiles, both in cotton and the very precious golden silk. 

 

Crab market

 

My vacation

First I didn't notice any scarves. I was coming back from Malaysia where all the muslim women wear in a very fashionable way the headscarf, the Hijab. So here I only noticed that women seemed quite free spirited and some wear a traditional style floppy hat. It is only after two weeks, at the end of my trip, that i had a revelation.

 

Riding bicycleon silk island

 

Escape from Phnom Penh

I was in Phnom Penh, totally distraught from being back in a big city after spending almost two weeks in idyllic Kep area. I was looking for something to do, an activity out of town. I looked up on Internet for visits to do. The killing fields, I didn't. The guided visit to ex-headquarter turned museum was enough overwhelming. Then I find that there is a silk community about 17km from town, that I can reach renting a bicycle for 3$.

 

Golden cocoons

 

Cambodia makes the best quality silk

It didn't even dawn on me that Cambodia would be a silk producer! Yet silk from Thailand and Vietnam is already well known. It turns out that Cambodia used to be famous for its high golden cocoon silk. But the Khmer Rouge in their destruction spree of anything not useful to the human survival and productivity, destroyed all the silk worm farms and the mulberry fields on which they feed.

 

Hand loomed silk

 

Restoring the tradition of silk weaving

Now the silk industry is slowly rebuilding itself, but at very small scale. Incentives to rebuild this industry is struggling because of lack of mulberry leaves, skilled workers dedicated to this dying art form. Yarn is imported from neighboring countries as weavers produce slowly and painstakingly quality textile products that can only be sold to the upper scale market. They can not yet export at a large scale (or any at all) and local market is already full of the cheaper commercially produced textiles from Thailand and Vietnam.

 

Silk like cardboard

 

Visiting the silk community center in Silk Island

This Community center is mostly like a museum than a production center. Interesting to learn how silk is made. But at the shop I could find only one silk scarf made in the center. It was hard as stone and kind of ugly. Look at the photo above; the end part is so rigid it doesn't even fold at the edge of the table. Being more used to cashmere,  I guess I still have a lot to learn about silk. But I would expect silk to be somewhat a little bit more fluid! In the store there are many other kindw of scarves. Including plain silk, which the seller assured me they made in Cambodia, and modal and acrylic mix, also sold in Cambodia silk. I lost faith at that point

 

Artisans d'Angor shop

 

Artisan d’Angkor

Next day I visited The Artisan d”Angkor association shop which restored my faith in Cambodian products. This organization aims at reviving and promoting traditional cambodian arts, and has a whole department in Siem Reap for silk production. I was most impressed with the scarves, nothing to do with the paper feel of the one from the center, nor the satin fake feel of many so-called silk products. These are fluid and soft like cashmere. But the prices are fixed and very high.

 

Kramas

 

And then there are the Kramas

In community center shop they also displayed many Kramas, the traditional Khmer scarf. This is where I saw them for the first time, but later I noticed how common they are in every cloth market. These are stole size, checked, and made of heavy duty cotton or silk cotton mix. The common traditional colors is red and white check or blue and white check, and it is mostly by the locals used as a head wrap, like a turban. But it is not exclusively a turban, can be worn over the shoulders and has many other uses. I noticed how in almost every home, in the bottom part, there was a loom. Families traditionally weave their own clothes and textiles, including the Krama. There are so many regional varieties, in the pattern, colors, material and quality, that I will return to Cambodia to specifically research the Krama.

 

Kramas

 

Conclusion

This was just an overview of the scarf world in Cambodia. I will return to this country and explore in depth the world of silk and Kramas. And share my photos and discoveries in my blog. I decided there's no point taking a holiday from my job which is also a hobby and a passion. Next time I visit a new country, I will keep scarves in mind. They are literally everywhere in the world, in one form or another.

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