Cultural heritage of traditional crafts preserved by international fashion design project

13 May 2019

Fashion researcher Alison Welsh has collaborated on the British Council project with rural Thai weavers

The role of fashion design in revitalising traditional textile crafts under threat by mass production is examined by a British Council creative exchange in rural Thailand.

Fashion designers and Thai fashion brands have collaborated with weavers from the Tai Lue community to protect the future of their traditional hand-woven textiles through the making of clothes.

The aim is to enhance weavers’ understanding of how design thinking can integrate their cultural identity into cloth and raise awareness of sustainable and eco-friendly crafts processes to combat the ill effects of mass production on rural heritage.

image: Korn Creative Agency Co.Ltd

A series of beautiful garments showcasing the quality and design potential of Tai Lue textile design have been produced, which are being exhibited internationally to raise their cultural and commercial profile. Pieces including menswear, womenswear and scarves will be exhibited at BUNKA University in Tokyo from May 13-17.

The Tai Lue Project is part of the British Council’s international Crafting Futures programme, creating new networks for research and education in craft to support its future across the globe. The Tai Lue project, based in Thailand, also acts as an example of how craftspeople can both maintain their heritage and support the fashion industry sustainably and ethically.

Alison Welsh, Head of Fashion Research at Manchester Fashion Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University and academic lead on the project, said: “This has been a personal journey for me over the last two years, during which I have been absorbed by the intricacy of these exquisite Tai Lue textiles. Finding methods of making contemporary garments in collaboration with the weavers from these traditional hand-crafted fabrics has been a voyage of discovery.”

image: Korn Creative Agency Co.Ltd

The Tai Lue community is based in Nan province in Northern Thailand, having migrated from southern China 200 years ago.

Alison Welsh and fellow designer Jasper Chadprajong-Smith spent four creative residences working with 52 female weavers based in the villages of Ban Hia, Ban Donchai and Ban Sala in Pua District. They immersed themselves in the culture of the villages, observing the weavers’ working practices and how their cultural heritage is embedded in the traditional textiles they produce.

The women weave complex fabrics made from natural dyed yarns on hand-built looms using patterns that are passed down without written documentation from one generation to the next. These intricate and delicate textiles can take weeks to produce, and are used for both personal consumption and for sale locally.   

Working with the weavers, and the young Thai fashion brands Krit Boutique, Ruayboon and KRAM-HUG, Welsh and Chadprajong-Smith helped to produce garments from these hand-woven fabrics that celebrate the qualities of the cloth, natural irregularities in the weave, variety of colour shades resulting from the natural dyeing process, and an experimentation with different natural fibres.

One significant challenge for the project is to find out if the next generation can be encouraged to follow in their mothers’ footsteps and take up hand weaving themselves. 

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