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Cambodian Craftsmanship

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Cambodian Craftsmanship

Cristina Soriano

As someone who likes to work with her hands, I become incredibly inspired when I witness others create objects of art in the most traditional of processes.

On a recent mother-daughter excursion to Siem Reap, I witnessed the making of Khmer silk at the Golden Silk Pheach Preservation Center, a thirty-minute ride from the ruins of Angkor Wat.

An ornate weave I fell in love with! 

An ornate weave I fell in love with! 

Golden Silk Pheach Preservation Center is a fully integrated silk producer, striving to restore and safeguard the Khmer traditional methods of silk making. The center is home to more than twelve hectares of mulberry trees – a favorite amongst the almost disappearing indigenous yellow specie of silkworm.

Fields of mulberry

Fields of mulberry

I have been to a traditional silk factory before, but was in utter awe at Golden Silk, where they take an extremely meticulous and methodical approach to construct each weave. I learned that Golden Silk tenaciously adheres to tradition, so much so, that the center produces a mere five silk scarves per year! (They are, however, intricate pieces of art.)

The maturation of the silkworms

The maturation of the silkworms

The harvesting process takes 42 days, a month and a half comprised mostly of feeding the silk worms until plump and content. The worms will spin themselves a golden cocoon – a nest that only produces 200 meters of thread.

Once the cocoon is harvested (and the butterfly is set free!) the saffron colored pods are boiled, releasing the hair-like silk fibers.

Once the fibers are extracted, the process to create soft, refined silk thread is very disciplined and includes only work done by hand. Weavers remove impurities from the thread using small metal tools, eliminating the coarse bits, leaving a smooth thread.

Weavers removing imperfections from the thread

Weavers removing imperfections from the thread

After the spool is created and secured on a loom, artisans create patterns on parts of the silk by tying knots of plastic raffia. The parts covered by the plastic will remind the original color of silk when put into the dye.

The dye cannot touch wherever the raffia knots are tied

The dye cannot touch wherever the raffia knots are tied

Artisans must have a steadfast vision and a real mastery of the design process, as the procedure is done solely by the eye –there are no drafts, or markings on the silk, just reference photos.

If the artisan wants to have a multi-colored piece, she will create a design using two different colored plastic raffia strings, so that she knows which pieces she would like to cut off after putting the loom into the first dye.

The different color raffia ribbons represent different colors of dye

The different color raffia ribbons represent different colors of dye

Once the yarn has been dyed, it is put into a loom where an artisan weaves the pattern thread with a base thread – without cutting or knotting the thread.

I thought the scarves were absolutely stunning, especially knowing the extreme manual labor each individual piece endures. Observing a traditional procedure such as the making of silk scarves is so unique and makes me truly appreciate craft done by the pride of hands.

I'm wearing a beautiful khmer scarf outside Angkor Wat! 

I'm wearing a beautiful khmer scarf outside Angkor Wat! 


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