Handmade in Time: A Different Kind of Art

November 08, 2016
Hilary Kilpatric


f2f2It’s an art museum — but there are no paintings, sculptures or photographs. The Fibre2Fabric gallery is different kind of art: one of textiles, fabrics and dyes.

Recently, the Fibre2Fabric gallery closed to the public (if you haven’t seen the current exhibition, Woven Universes: Women’s Creativity in Cloth, then be sure to stop by soon!) for some R&R — recording and restoration.

A big “thank you” is owed to the team who came to Ock Pop Tok to continue an ongoing project to better preserve the Lao Heritage Collection housed in the F2F gallery: three international textile restoration experts, Jacinta Brown, Tracy Hudson and Sarah Benson, alongside our own Sengchan Chanthavong. This would not have happened without their determination and generosity. 

Why is it important?

These pieces tell a story and a history. With 49 recognized ethnic groups in Laos, historically tribes could tell which group a person was from based on their dress, despite language barriers. Those that were the same tribe could recognize one of their own.f2f8

Ock Pop Tok weavers and designers use the collection as inspiration. They take highlights from antique and heritage pieces — colours, motifs or patterns — and recreate them in new ways. Pieces like the Organza, Jao Say and Tai Houn wall hangings have drawn inspiration from the collection.

Some textiles in the collection are more than 100 years old…and they are showing their age.

How does it work?

The restoration process involves:

  • Cleaning the piece — but never washing! Simply air drying and vacuuming.
  • Documenting for the digital archives.
  • Repacking it in a special process to aid preservation — along with the correct light and humidity.

How can you see them for yourself?

Whether you’re a history buff, textile junkie or simply appreciate the quality of a handmade piece, it’s hard not to be inspired by these amazing fabrics. The colours, patterns and textures of each are so different — representing how different each ethnic group is, as well.

f2f13With around 1000 pieces in the collection, most of them remain packed away. Exhibitions give the public the chance to see collections as they rotate. In the future, you could even browse the digital library yourself!

This project has been ongoing for three years — but the ultimate goal is two-fold. First, to provide a digital archive that is available to the public. This ensures that people can view all of the pieces without having to disturb them, which can cause further damage. This is important to be able to show the people of Laos the beauty and history in their traditional weaving. Also, it will allow researchers throughout the world further insight into the country’s cultural pieces.

Second, to clean and repack in a way that will better preserve the textiles for the future. While not a state-of-the-art location, by any means, the current holdings are kept at a better humidity and light level than if they were left on their own. In the future, there are hopes to upgrade this to something that will do these textiles better justice.

Your favourite?

When asked whether they had a favourite piece, and the restorers pointed to a digital photo (it had already been packed away securely) of a pa bieng, an intricate cross-body scarf worn on special occasions. It was worn by Luang Prabang royalty and estimated to be around 100 years old with real gold-wrapped threads. While there are some tears due to folding, the bright colours remain intact — a testament to the quality of the dye.

Ock Pop Tok recently hosted a group of Lanten women from Bokeo. Upon seeing the collection, one woman recognized her own piece!

I couldn’t help but be in awe of each and every piece. See photos of just a few of them below. Which is your favourite?

Stay tuned for updates in the future, and visit the current exhibition, Woven Universes: Women’s Creativity in Cloth.

f2f6   f2f9f2f10   f2f12  f2f11  f2f4