I was introduced to Jim Thompson silk some 35 years ago.
In those days his fabrics were well above my small purse.
At the same time I was introduced to quilting… yes, the two are entwined and it occurred here in Thailand.
My friend, an English lady went to the Jim Thompson factory and begged for the scraps on the floor.
Given huge bags of scraps she taught the women residing in Soi 24 (a slum at the end of her rd) how to make hexagons over paper with the scraps of fabric.
I had never seen anything like it in my life. The women made huge bedspreads, floor cushions and with the pieces left over they made silk flowers. The bedspreads were hand sewn in 1000's of tiny hexagons. Our daughter, Suchada, was 10 years old and assisted her Mother to make and sell the pieces.
Susie was almost blind and came to Australia for surgery and eventually stayed and we adopted her.
Her Mother gave me one of the huge quilts… it was yellow and brown. I thought it was incredibly ugly until I began to quilt myself and then I realised the gem I had been given.
I gave it to Susie when she turned 21.
Today we visited the house Jim Thompson built in Bangkok in the 1950's
It was really interesting learning about this adventurous and entrepreneurial man.
With his natural flair for design and color, and driven by his single-minded dedication to reviving the craft, Thompson soon gained worldwide recognition for his success in rebuilding the industry, for generating international demand for Thai silk and for contributing to the growth of the silk industry.
During the Easter weekend in 1967, Thompson disappeared while on holiday with friends in Cameron Highlands, a northern Malaysian resort. An extensive and extended search failed to reveal any clues about his disappearance.
By then, Thompson had been in Thailand for nearly 22 years.
Thai silk is produced by Thai caterpillars raised on Thai mulberry leaves by Thai weavers in Thailand, primarily on the Korat Plateau in the country's northeast region. Chaiyaphum is just north of Korat province.
Raw silk is bumpy and irregular. The completed cocoon is pulled from the mulberry bush and placed in a vat of boiling water, which separates the silk thread of the cocoon from the caterpillar inside.
The silk from Thailand's caterpillars varies in color from light gold to very light green. A cocoon is comprised of one thread that is 500-1,500 meters long. A single filament is too thin to use alone so many threads are combined to make a thicker, more practical fiber.
The weavers wash these raw silk threads, bleach them, then soak them in vats of hot dyes. Afterwards, they wash the silk thread again, stretch it, and put it through a final dying process. When that is finished, they wind the threads onto spools or drums in preparation for weaving using traditional hand operated looms.
Empress Si Ling Chi of China is credited with discovering silk. While sitting under a mulberry tree in a palace garden having tea, a silkworm's cocoon reportedly fell out of the tree into her cup. While removing it from her tea, she discovered the fine silk filament of the cocoon beginning to unravel.
The Chinese guarded the secret of silk for millenniums by putting to death anyone found guilty of smuggling silkworm eggs, cocoons, or mulberry seeds. Silk became the cloth of emperors and royalty and a great source of wealth. However, about 1900 years ago a Chinese princess who married an Indian prince is reported to have successfully smuggled silkworm eggs out of China in her headdress and then fed them with the leaves of Indian mulberry trees.
Since then, silk production has spread to other Asian countries and archaeologist have found silk 3,000 years old in the ruins of Baan Chiang, Thailand, which many of them consider the earliest civilization in Southeast Asia. Thais have developed a type of silk that is considered one of the finest fabrics in the world. They use a unique manufacturing process and have unique patterns and colors.
I also documented families creating silk in Mexico earlier this year.