A Thailand Vacation With A Bit Of Textile Shopping And Research




Hello all and happy spring!

     Last week I returned from my much needed spring break trip to Thailand and I am just now settling back into the swing of things. I always forget how bad the jet-lag is coming back. Before I left, I was tired of staring at the same walls in my house and needed to get away (working from home will do that to a gal). Now I'm just tired from traveling but I am also refreshed and ready to get back to work.

     Anyhow, we had a great trip this time. When I say this time I admit that we are a bit decadent as we were just in Thailand last year. We try to go once every three years because my husband was born in Thailand and lived there the first ten years of his life and he gets a bit homesick for it. We went last year partly because it was a big birthday for me and we had enough frequent flyer miles to go first class. I didn't blog about last years trip because well... to be honest it wasn't that much fun. Without oversharing too much I'll just stay that I was feeling quite hormonal, I was stressed from working two jobs (I hadn't gone to full time Sew House Seven yet) and my husband was stressed as well. To make matters worse, we went to the most touristy area of Thailand during a busy time of year and we all got sick consecutively so it added up to a week of sick time laying on bathroom floors. This year we planned on mountain biking in Moab with friends during Wylan's spring break but when they cancelled, we started rethinking the trip. My son was already starting to complain about camping by ourselves in the cold and the thought of paying for hotel rooms for a week made our heads spin. In short, we ended up finding cheap airfare to Thailand (once you get there, it's cheap) so I can't believe we went again but I'm glad we did. 

     This time I decided that I was going to go up north by myself and try to fabric shop and visit some weaving and natural dying operations. I would then meet my husband (T) and my son (Wylan) at the beach later. Well as it turned out, rain was predicted at the beach for most of our trip so my husband decided to come to Chaing Mai with me. We have been to Thailand five times and never been up north. My husband loves the beach where he can kite surf and snorkel and has had no desire to venture anywhere else. I love the beach too but I wanted to see more of Thailand and I'm glad we finally did it this time.

     I loved Chaing Mai. Yes it was a bit touristy with the more tourist driven night markets and what not but the vibe and the people were wonderful there. It was much more slow paced than the craziness of Bangkok. After some quick research on fabric weaving and dying, I found that most of the places were further north and closer to the border of Laos. I didn't have time for that this trip (next time I will venture into Myanmar, Laos and Northern Thailand). For this trip, I did find a place called studio Naenna  on the outskirts of Chaing Mai. We flew to Chaing Mai from Bangkok on a Friday and immediately went to Studio Naenna before they closed because they aren't open on the weekends.

     Patricia Cheesman (an art historian from the U.K. I believe) started Studio Naenna in 1988 as a place to preserve the local art of complex weft ikat weaving and indigo dying as well as support master weavers, train young weavers and promote fair trade ethics. I wasn't able to meet Patricia but I did meet her daughter Lamorna who designs clothing for the business as well as oversees some of the business. Everyone there was so kind and they showed me around the lovely grounds and explained to me how the dying process works.


I was fascinated to learn that they keep the indigo dye baths for years - like around 10 plus years. It kind of reminded me of sour dough starter in that you keep it for a long time and just add to it. 

Here I am looking haggard but I am wearing my Penny Raglan by Grainline studio.

     This lovely woman (I've forgotten her name) was dying strands of cotton and she wasn't happy with the color but I thought it was gorgeous. Apparently, you don't just leave the cotton or silk in the dye bath too long or it gets weak. To make it darker, you re-dye it and dry it over and over again to achieve the deeper indigo colors. 

      I love the stained gloves on the fence post.


Here is an indigo plant.

Here are some of the sources of natural dye colors.

This woman is spinning the cotton while she sits with her baby. 

This woman is weaving up an amazing ikat design.


Inside the shop - sorry for the blurry photo.

     Here is what I bought. They had some other really pretty ikat designs that I was coveting but they weren't naturally dyed. I really wanted something that was naturally dyed indigo.

     I really enjoyed my time in there and wished I had arranged to visit more weaving places up north. I decided to take a half day to fabric shop around Chaing Mai next. T and Wylan insisted on coming with but I knew how that would end. I wasn't really in the mood for fabric shopping anyhow. Can you imagine that?! I'm always up for fabric shopping but I think I was just so overwhelmed by the amount of fabrics and I wasn't finding the high quality goods that I require. It was still fun to spend some time there and walk the crazy crowded streets. 

 Part of the Wororot district with many fabric shops.

This is only one of the many reasons why I didn't shop too long here. I don't blame him as I remember those days with my mom.

      We did happen upon an amazing shop that sold local, traditional textiles from the surrounding Hill Tribes. I don't have any photos of that. And... we also stumbled upon this great display of textiles at a hotel in Chaing Mai.



This last photo is of the textiles offered in the gift shop.

     O.K. so just a warning that there are a lot of photos in this post. If you don't care to see any photos that aren't textile or sewing related, you may want to skip this.

Here are some more things we did around Chaing Mai.

 We gave two elephants a mud bath. 

     I have a difficult time seeing these beautiful animals in captivity. There are several businesses in Chaing Mai that rescue elephants from trick shows and logging or working operations. I'm not always certain how valid some of them are but I'd rather see them in these kinds of places for tourists than the ones that offer rides. I knew Wylan would love to see the elephants and this place that was run by a Hill Tribe was recommended as being very humane. It was about an hour north of Chaing Mai and we spent all day feeding and bathing the elephants.


Below are a few photos or watts around Chaing Mai.

Wylan fell asleep while getting a foot massage at one of the watts.

The best meal of the entire trip was here at this food cart. We had khao soi a red curry noodle soup that is from Northern Thailand. It cost under $1 and we would have eaten here every day if we had known it would be difficult to find khao soi once we left Chaing Mai.

The half eaten khao soi.

I purchased a natural dyed indigo t-shirt as a gift for a friend from this woman. She was selling them at a night market and she was so nice, I couldn't leave without supporting her.

     Also at the night market - fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet. Wylan insisted that I try it too and I reluctantly loved it. They did wonders for the poor circulation in my toes.

One of the many great small hotels we stayed at. While this one wasn't my favorite, this photo reminds me of how relaxing it was and how great it was for Wylan to swim every day.

     We rented mountain bikes and went on a crazy down hill ride outside of Chaing Mai. Wylan wasn't too happy about how long and difficult it turned out to be.

A coffee plantation we came across on our ride.

     One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we paid a taxi driver to take us to this waterfall recommended by someone I met in Bangkok. It's known as the sticky waterfall because you can walk up the limestone surface of the rocks without slipping. The real name of the waterfall is called Bua Tong.

     The water was the perfect temperature - not too hot or too cold. It came directly from an underground spring too so it was clean (a rarity in Thailand).

There were butterflies everywhere. What a perfect day!

     Then it was off to the beach! We headed to Pranburi - a sleepy fishing town where Thai people vacation but not too many other tourists. It was very slow while we were there but the rain let up for us during the day thankfully.

     We found all of this crazy, funky exercise equipment on the beach there.

     We rented a scooter at the beach and took it up to Sam Roiyot national park.

 On our way back, we saw all of these monks frolicking in the ocean.

Our hotel at the beach.

Wylan's swimming improved so much while we were there. Swimming every day in warm water sure beats being a skinny kid taking lessons in cold water and having to wait your turn for instruction.

     Here we are back in Bangkok at one of our fancy hotels. We can't afford to stay in places like this but T got a handful of free 5 star hotel stays through some credit card offer. 

     I have so many more photos but I won't bore you too much more. I will leave you with a shot of this beautiful textile. I wanted to buy another fabric like this at another market but didn't have enough cash with me. When I went to the ATM to get money for my gorgeous fabric, my card went into the machine and never came back. I was so distraught and left empty handed. I was redeemed with this beauty that I found at the airport for half the price can you believe it? The queen of Thailand has designated funds towards preserving and promoting their native textiles and so they were offered and reasonably priced at the airport. 

Thanks for reading!