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Silk Farm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

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The colours of the week as worn by the Cambodian Royal Family

On one of first few days in Cambodia, while we were still acclimatising to the heat (although speaking to people here I don’t think you ever get used to it) and recovering from jetlag, we spent a very enjoyable afternoon visting the Silk Farm which is just outside the city of Siem Reap. This is a initiative to ensure that young Cambodians are trained in the craft of traditional Silk Making and that the artisan hertitage is preserved.

Our Khmer guide showed us the process from start to finish. From the Mulberry Bush orchard outside where they harvest the leaves to feed to the silk worm (caterpillars).

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The silk worms eating the Mulberry leaves

The caterpillars then make a cocoon and it is this cocoon the is used to spin the silk yarn. The outer layer creates the raw silk and then the inner layer of the coon is spun to make the fine silk which is much smoother and shinier.

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 Undyed fine silk

The silk threads then undergo a dying process, using mostly natural plant dyes.

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The plants used to create the dyes
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From right to left – natural, bleached and dyed silk. All dyed with vegetable/plant dyes except the cobalt blue which is dyed with chemical dye

They use a number of different techniques for weaving the pattern into the fabric. The first that was demonstrated was tie dye. Here they tie small strings around the yarns to create the pattern, before dying the yarn. When this yarn is then woven the same pattern appears on the fabric.

Some of the patterns are woven into the silk as they weave using a complex system of pulleys and levers which the girls at the looms work in a blur so fast you can hardly see what they are doing. Common motifs used are the Rumduol (the National flower of Cambodia) or the Lotus Flower.

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Weaving a scarf in raw silk
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Rolling the twists on the end of the scarfs against their calves to create the tassels

The most usual part of the process to me was the way the girls rolled the tassels on the end of the scarfs on their calves!!

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Different silk techniques hanging in the museum

There was then a small museum room before we were ushered into the gift shop which was full of beautful silk items to purchase, for what seemed to be a really reasonable price for the level of craftmanship we had just witnessed. You could buy silk by the metre as well, which I really had to resist!

If you ever find yourself in Siem Reap and have more than a passing interest in textiles, I would highly recommend you visit the Silk Farm.

Alison xx

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