HIRSCHSTEIN, Joshua and Maren BECK (2017). Silk Weavers of Hill Tribe Laos: Textiles, Tradition and Well-Being, Loveland: Thrums Books. ISBN 978-0997216899, soft cover, fully illustrated in colour, short bibliography, pp. 224. Price: USD 34.95. eBook formats available.
In 2007, on another backpacking trip in Asia, the two authors and their two young sons visited Laos’s northern Houaphan Province. They were looking for textiles and handicrafts for their business back in the USA. The area has a reputation for fine weaving. They visited the small village of Xam Tai, where a loom can be found under the traditional stilt house of almost every family. Cotton and silk are woven here: women raise the silk worms, hand spin or reel the fibres, and use local natural dyes, and then women weave intricate, supplementary patterns on complex looms (made of a non-splitting wood like teak). This first visit has led to a decade-long relationship which involves both business and friendship. It is an enjoyable read, part travelogue, part ethnographic study. There are chapters devoted to profiles of specific weavers; to natural dyes (with a separate chapter on dyeing with indigo); to the loom and other weaving tools; to specific textiles and to raising silkworms. The Xam Tai weavers are able to support their families by their work, balancing maintaining traditional skills with twenty-first century trends. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Joe Coca.
Recommendation: This book will interest curators, collectors and anyone interested in the role weaving and textiles play in society.
Shelley Anderson, November 2017