The Village of Ban Reng Khai
Ban Reng Khai is a village in the north-eastern region of Thailand known as "Isaan". Formerly silk weaving was a means to supplement the meagre income from agriculture. The knowledge and skill of preparing silk yarn and weaving fabric is a craft passed down through many generations. Economic reality and lack of work opportunities locally forced younger villagers to seek work in mostly Bangkok as unskilled workers. This cycle over several generations led to the loss of the silk weaving skill in the village, whose people survived on money sent home by the absent youngsters.
The Unique Silk Quality
The knowledge and skill of preparing silk yarn and weaving fabric was a craft passed down through many generations. The dry soil of north-eastern Thailand is excellent for growing mulberry trees. Silk worms thrive on the leaves of these trees creating the strong Sen-Hua and Sen-Lue silk yarns essential to the durability and quality of the silk fabric produced by the craftsmen of Ban Reng Khai.
In 1985 Ms. Léa Laarakker Dingjan, a Dutch artist and textile specialist, recognized the surviving potential of the villagers’ weaving skill and the commercial potential for high quality silk fabric. She devoted herself to raising the necessary funds enabling the villagers to revive their craft and then established new markets and direct sales methods for the silk in Thailand and abroad.
The high quality silk fabric produced in Bang Reng Khai, in combination with Ms. Léa's designs incorporated into the finished garment and accessory products, is marketed as Léa Silk. This organization is essentially a non-profit enterprise producing and selling a stunning array of hand made silk fabrics and silk products from the location of the foundation, in a suburb of Bangkok.
Dr Dr. Irene Subharngkasen, Pres Bilaibhan Sampatisiri & Lady Léa Laarakker Dingjan
Ekkarin Latthasaksiri, David Ligerman, Dana Whorton, Francesca Sreesangkom, Liz Lu, Dr Willem Hulscher, Ban Reng Khai Chief, Carla Faita, Sujata Bharati, Bill Whorton, Madame Freda Erismann
Dr. Irene Subharngkasen & Margot Homburg painting silk.
Francesca Sreesangkom painting silk.
Léa Silk production begins with village weavers breeding and placing silkworms on trays of mulberry leaves where the worms consume 25,000 times their original weight in leaves during a 40-day period. Then the silkworms commence spinning their cocoons. The partially formed cocoons are transferred to twig bundles where cocoon spinning takes another week to complete
Completed cocoons are unravelled in boiling water and the resulting raw silk yarn placed outdoors to dry naturally. The raw yarn’s natural colouring ranges from light beige to bright yellow. The raw yarn is not bleached to maintain its strength. When dry the yarn is immersed in a liquid made by running boiling water over the ashes of coconut husks and banana leaves. This process removes Sericin, a natural stiffening substance, from raw silk fibre. Hung and dried again, the raw silk is ready for dyeing. Colours are selected to compliment the silk yarn’s natural hues.
Solar Dyeing - Developed by Léa, this innovative dyeing process combines the dyes with a fixative which reacts to sunlight. Raw silk warp yarns are exposed under tension in direct sunlight at lengths of 20 to 40 meters from the warp comb onto which the yarn ends are inserted. A group of weavers, each with a pot of an individual dye colour, use paintbrushes to apply their dyes to the threads at random. Sunlight fixes the colour in eight hours. When dyed warp yarns are interwoven with similar weft yarns, a silk fabric with a subtle yet dazzling rainbow effect is produced. A variation of solar dyeing is where Ms. Léa applies a unique design to a length of raw silk fabric stretched in direct sunlight. After a six-hour fixing period, an original length of beautiful and unique hand-painted silk fabric is the result.
Only vegetable and non-toxic chemical dyes are used to ensure the silk fibres are not damaged or spoilt. Traditional methods of dyeing involve immersing the raw silk in a carefully prepared dye solution to ensure consistent penetration that is the hallmark of the lustrous Léa Silk colours. Once dyed, hung outdoors, and dried, the silk yarn is reeled onto spools under tension and stored until needed in the weaving process as warp or weft yarns.
When needed as warp, the dyed yarn is unwound from its spool through a warp comb which converts yarn into equal lengths of warp thread. Warp ends are then inserted into a weaving comb, thread by thread. The weaving comb is mounted on a loom where the warp is interwoven with a corresponding weft--similarly processed, but with threads being thinner than the warp. A weaver can produce half a meter of silk fabric in five hours.
Liz Lu painting silk.
Sponsored by the Ban Reng Khai Foundation.
Dr Irene Subharngkasen, Pres Bilaibhan Sampatisiri, Sujata Bharati, Francesca Sreesangkom, Lady Léa Laarakker Dingjan, Captain William Whorton, Kobsiri Trongkongsin, Kanchana Whorton, Dr Willem Hulscher, Margot Homburg, David Legerman, Madame Freda Erismann, Liz Lu, Michael Morrissey