What is the definition of luxurious hand-woven fabric and how is the fabric made?
When I started Soie de Lune in 2004 I knew as much about fabric as the next person, which is precious little. I could differentiate cotton from polyester and I knew that rayon and silk was not the same thing. When I looked at my first piece of hand-woven silk, I fell in love and I knew that this was what I wanted to do.
What drew me in initially was observing the threading of a handloom with fine yarns and noticing the wonderful results of this painstaking work. Moreover, when a loom is set with thousands of threads of silk, the fabric produced has more of a shimmering effect. This helped me to piece together the puzzle of what makes the fabric luxurious and this is what has taken me on my journey with Soie de Lune.
In one square centimeter of woven silk, there are more threads than in any other woven fabric. Not only is silk very fine but it is a very dense fabric. Silk also reflects light more than any other yarn and that makes for the sparkle. A quality fabric takes time to make and our complex woven silk also takes tremendous skill. I am passionate about preserving these skills for generations to come but more on that in a later post.
Where is luxurious hand-woven fabric made and who makes it?
In a fascinating book, I am reading entitled Cloth and Human Experience edited by A.B. Weiner and J. Schneider it says: “cloth helps social groups to reproduce themselves and to achieve autonomy or advantage in the interaction with others”. Once upon a time, our ancestors made their own clothes, spinning the yarn, dyeing it and weaving it into cloth to be made into garments.
There is still a thriving hand-weaving industry in Laos and our workshop in the capital city of Vientiane is one of many home-weaving establishments. The weavers weave mainly for the local population but the woven fabric is also popular with the Japanese who hold artisan work in high esteem. Laos is one of many countries in the region that hand-weave, although in some areas this craft has died out through lack of demand and from cheap machine production replacing traditional cloth.
There are other pockets in the world where they hand-weave fabric such as Central America, India and Africa and it is usually the poorer people of the regions that weave. More about this subject in a later blog.
Why is hand-woven fabric so expensive and where can it be used?
I think we all know that if you use an automated process to thread a huge loom in a factory and push a button, it will weave thousands of meters of fabric at a very low price, especially if you use man-made fibers on the loom. If you were to use expensive yarns on the loom, such as good quality Thai or Italian silk like that which Soie de Lune uses, the price would rise in proportion to the quality of the raw materials. If you take those expensive yarns and have a skilled hand-weaver weave them, not only do you have the high raw material costs but also the weavers’ production level is far lower compared with a machine.
One extreme example can be found in our own weaving workshop. If one of our weavers weaves an intricate pattern with multiple colors, she will not be able to use a shuttle to throw the threads binding the warp with the weft. She has to pull the threads through by hand to create the design. In this case, our weavers will only produce up to 20cm of silk fabric in one day!
Looking at the image, you will see how one of our creative customers has used our hand-woven silk for the curtains in this spectacular room. We are, however, able to weave many different types of natural yarns, such as cotton, hemp, and linen for various types of use, such as upholstery, curtains, and soft furnishings. Our next project is weaving British-grown and spun alpaca yarn. It’s so exciting to imagine what our Lao weavers will make from it.
The meticulously woven fabric we offer adds something special to a room and enables our customers to differentiate their work by using small batch-woven fabric rather than a mass-market alternative.