Comparing Local Silk Textiles: The Thai-Lao Matmii and the Japanese Tumugi Kasuri

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Asian textiles are extremely powerful and exciting art forms. The spiritual and ritual importance that they have held in ceremonies of state and religion is enhanced by their splendour and the mystery that surrounds them (Maxwell 2003, p. 9). Textiles have played such a vital role for so many centuries that they can be studied as basic material products of their societies (Prangwattanakum 1993, pp. 24-26). Nevertheless, it is not commonly known that different textiles express different needs, uses, and meanings that stem from the process of producing and the background of producing.

Silk textiles were such a luxury in Japan during the Tempo period (1830-43) that no commoner could afford them (1) (Tsunoyama, 1965, pp. 158-68). Today, silk textiles are still commonly used for special occasions as upper class or ceremonial dress throughout the world.

This paper focuses on local silk textiles. These tended to bear images that persons in high social positions put on them, or display the natural lustre and characteristics of the material, designed to express beauty, quality, and cultural orientation. Nevertheless, some silk textiles were created, developed and worn by and for locals engaged in sericulture production. These still exist and reflect the changes in meaning and social roles that they had had throughout history. Two local silk textiles are selected for comparison: Thai-Lao Matmii, (2) which is found in Maha Sarakham Province, Thailand, and the silk tumugi (3) Kasuri (4) also called Ushikubi Tumugi, (5) from Japan's Shiramine Village Ishikawa Prefecture. We examine the social and cultural indigenous knowledge of Thai-Lao Matmii and Japanese tumugi Kasuri society and determine how such knowledge is transferred to the new generation that is imbued with its own set of cultural and social standards.

The Thai-Lao people living in the northeastern regions of Thailand call their silk technique "Matmii". This technique involves small bundles of yarn being tied and dipped into a dye bath before weaving. The Matmii is commonly produced by women on the farms, and it has become so popular that the term is now a common pronoun for Thai silk.

In Japan the technique used in making Kasuri (Tsunoyama 1965, pp. 158-68), a textile woven with dyed yarn, is similar to that used in making Matmii. This technique is commonly referred to as "ikat". (6) Although there is evidence that Kasuri existed in ancient times in Japan, it seems that the technique of ikat did not (Tsunoyama 1965, pp. 181-86). It was in much later years that an uncomplicated technique of ikat, which still exists, emerged, and Kasuri was used in men's noshime, a formal kimono worn by the samurai, and woven in the Nishijin district of Kyoto (Okamura 1993, pp. 181-86). In addition to Kasuri, there is "Tumugi", a hand-spun floss for silk clothes. In the past, commoners in Japan were prohibited from wearing silk clothes, but were permitted the use of Tumugi. Tumugi developed as a plain-weave Kasuri in local communities, and while modern customs prohibit the wearing of Tumugi as full dress, it can be used as everyday clothing. Not only is the method for producing "Tumugi" very similar to that of the Thai-Lao Matmii, it also uses spun hand-reeled silk yarn. Moreover, both are produced by locals, and their materials are representative of local life. Local weavers with knowledge of community customs and traditions use these techniques to create various patterns through a process developed over centuries.

There are three main types of ikat: warp ikat, weft ikat, and warp and weft ikat. The Thai-Lao developed only the weft ikat. Seen historically, the development of weaving techniques universally exhibited a marked tendency for the warp yarn technique to develop before the weft yarn (Tsunoyama 1965, pp. 158-68). In the Thai case, it was probably extremely difficult for warp ikat technique to develop because it was impossible to adjust the tension of the warp on the type of frame loom used by the Thai-Lao. …