Visit to: Pa-Da Textile Museum, Thailand
Words and photos by Sali Sasaki
Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand - The Pa-Da Textile Museum is tucked behind a long and impressive row of bamboo trees, a couple of hours south of Chiang Mai.
The actual building structure used to be the residence of Chao Kavinawong, the former ruler of Chiang Mai. It was later transformed into a weaving centre by Saeng-Da Bunsiddhi (1919-1993), a Thai National Artist for Folkcraft who spent her life supporting the development of Thai handwoven textiles and women-led enterprises. While she never went through formal education, she learnt the craft from her grandmother and the many hill tribes living in the area.
It is at first striking to see the looms and working tools at a standstill in the main workspace. The tranquillity of the place is also a reminder that the traditional weaving practices have been diminishing and fading in recent years. There is an air of nostalgia that can be sensed on site: from the silent weaving studios to the dust and spider webs caught on the warps, the dark wooden rooms from which emanates a faint fragrance of burning incense, long gone perhaps.
During the second world war, Saeng-Da Bunsiddhi started her trade by making textiles for her husband and his friend’s military outfits. Then, she collected weaving equipment and grew cotton plants in the surrounding fields. She established a cooperative of housewives and encouraged local farmers to produce more cotton to cater for her textile production. The high demand came from Japanese buyers and the business grew subsequently larger. Her business motivation was strongly linked to the idea of supporting nearby communities by increasing work opportunities and identify new sources of income for local women.
However, Bunsiddhi’s deep passion was to promote natural dyes and weaving techniques from the north of Thailand. She was particularly fond of cotton products, including the making of religious temple banners (“tung”) and the intricate craft of “teen chok”, the Tai skirt borders made with discontinuous supplementary weft.
Today, the museum and weaving facilities are managed by Bunsiddhi’s daughter, Saowanee Bunsiddhi who continues to share stories about her mother’s work with students and other visitors.
By displaying Bunsiddhi’s legacy and love for local craftsmanship, the Pa-Da Textile Museum still holds a little hope that its presence will encourage young Thai women to weave or at least have them appreciate the patience and skills of the traditional weaver. Rather than a typical museum, it is an intimate place to reflect on traditional weaving practices and reminisce the slow lifestyles that gave local textiles their original identity.