Kieng grew up in Pakse city, the main city of the southern part of Laos, before she decided to move to Luang Prabang. This welcoming 39 year-old Laotian woman is considered to be one of the most talented weavers of the Ock Pop Tok workshop, founded in 2000 by Joanna Smith and Veo Douangdala, which employs ethically hundreds of Luang Prabang local artisans.
Like many Lao girls, she started weaving at a very young age, at seven, learning simple techniques for basic weave such as canvas, checks and stripes. She then developed much more complex know-how of jacquard and brocade weaving to create beautiful Lao-Thai traditional patterns on silk, hemp or cotton bases.
The textile culture is still very strong in the Lao culture. People use traditional fabrics on a daily basis and also for various ceremonies (wedding, engagement, funeral) both for clothing and for home use. Young girls design pieces which will become their dowry destined to their future husband’s family. And it can take them up to a year to complete the trousseau.
Cover, curtain, handkerchief, scarf, wrap skirt, religious cloth… Patterns can vary by ethnic communities and can also include different textile techniques such as horizontal stripes, ikat and tapestry.
Kieng comes every day at the workshop to weave on her loom. I am watching her working so methodically. Her virtuous hands perform precise and fast movements. She has begun by weaving plain canvas and then start the brocade process with an impressive geometric motif which is emerging progressively. You work line by line, pick by pick, by lifting up each thread one after another, before passing silk yarn in weft. You repeat the exercise until the drawing is complete in a 3D relief giving the final fabric its exceptional character so typically Lao.