Thursday we spent the morning at Studio Naenna in Chiang Mai. We had read about the gallery in our guidebook and it was recommended to visit their appointment-only studio where traditional weaving and dying is done to make their artisan pieces.
I was surprised when the lady at the other end of the phone offered to pick us up. Caught off guard, I told her the name of our guesthouse. At this point, I wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into. This was free right? Was there going to be a timeshare presentation at the end? When she arrived she asked how we had become interested in textiles. To her credit, she didn’t react negatively to the dumbfounded looks on both of our faces as I mumbled something about reading about the gallery in the Lonely Planet. I guess they don’t get a lot of backpackers headed their way. What could have been an uncomfortable situation actually turned out to be enjoyable and educational. The studio is run by Patricia Cheesman and her daughter, Lamorna. Ms. Cheesman is an internationally known expert on Thai and Laotian textiles. She’s written several books on the subject and now works with local villages to design and produce hanging pieces as well as clothing. All the cotton and silk used are organically and sustainably produced and they are dyed using traditional methods. It was amazing to see what plants are used to produce a rainbow of different thread hues.
We also learned about the process of dying with indigo. It is a complex process of soaking the plant, which draws them out of the leaves. Oxygen is then removed so the dye will adhere to the fabric. The final step is stirring so oxygen goes back in and sets the dye. During this process, the dye turns from green to blue to green and then back to blue again. It’s pretty complex and I hope what I’ve written is fairly accurate!
We also got to watch one of the women do weaving on a backstrap loom.
I was relieved that there was no hard sell when we browsed the gallery. The pieces were beautiful and the quality was evident. I ended up purchasing a thick, soft scarf dyed with indigo. Pat also offered to send her photos that he took of the weaving process and the gallery so hopefully Lamorna didn’t think her morning was a complete loss.
In the afternoon, we caught a public taxi bus to Doi Suthep, a wat on a mountain outside of Chiang Mai. It is located about one mile above the city and has 309 steps to reach the actual wat. The story goes that the location for the wat was selected because an elephant who was carrying an important religious article walked up the mountain, turned around three times and died, marking the site. The wat is incredible. It is almost entirely gold plated. There were many visitors and monks paying their respects with candles, flowers and prayers.