A CARPET TO DYE FOR

The making of my beautiful Lao carpet – part 3

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Lani: “We use natural dye only from trees and plants. The Burgundy color comes from the roots of the madder plant.”

The yarn for my carpet is completely transformed. The sticky stuff has been washed out, and the stiff and dull looking fibers have now  become soft and shiny.  Now they are ready to be dyed.

The co-owner of Magic Lao Carpets, Lani, shows me some samples of dyed yarn. The beautiful dark red color, called Burgundy, is going to be very prominent in my carpet.

“We use natural dye only from trees and plants. The Burgundy color comes from the roots of the madder plant,” Lani explains to me.

The madder plant has been known since ancient times for its powerful acid in the roots, which are harvested after two years in the ground.  These are the roots, which will deliver the base color of my carpet.

Honey Gold

The radiant yellow color, called Honey Gold, is made from the flowers of Dok Chan, the climbing plant which is known all over Asia. The Dok Chan is often used for hair dyeing, drinks and as a food ingredient.

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The Dok Chan flowers deliver the beautiful yellow color called Honey Gold for my carpet.

 

COLOR SHADING

Color shading is always a potential risk, when dying yarn and fabrics.

“We avoid color shading by dyeing the yarn for one carpet at a time. The red and blue colors are the most difficult ones to work with,” Lani says.

Her staff takes great care to ensure that nothing goes wrong in the further process. The water is tested for its PH value, and heated gradually to 100 degrees Celsius.

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Tan is dyeing the silk yarn into Burgundy red for my carpet.

Magic Lao Carpet’s own dyeing expert, Tan, brings out of the first batch of yarn and dips it into the steaming red water and then washes it gently to get the excess dye out. It takes lots of water – 40 liters per kilo of yarn – to complete the process. The next day the yarn is being washed again, this time with natural soap, at 60 degrees Celcius to improve fastness and the treatment of eco-friendly fixer to increase fastness ratings.

Same procedure is followed for the yarn to be dyed into honey-gold.  A total of 12 kilos of yarn for my carpet are ready for spinning.

Stay tuned for the next step on the way to producing my very own silk carpet.

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Tan and her colleagues will say goodbye soon to this magnificent carpet, which they have made for a customer in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GETTIN’ THE RAW SILK RIGHT

 

The making of my beautiful Lao Carpet – part 2. 

 

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Tan is ready to boil the first batch of yarn for my carpet.

It is a stifling hot morning in Vientiane, as I come back to Magic Lao Carpet.  The worms have delivered their cocoons with about 200 meters of thin silk thread in each cocoon. Today, I will explore the next steps the elaborate techniques in making my carpet.

Tan and Tuk is hanging up somebody else’s yarn, dyed in a dazzling yellow color, called Tuscany.  Tan has been working with silk processing for more than 20 years, she tells me.

After all the dyed yarn is hung up to dry in the sun, Tan turns to a batch of raw silk – the first two kilos for my carpet.  Magic Lao Carpet co-owner Lani explains the procedures to remove the sticky glue-like substance left by the worms:

“First, to do the degumming we boil the yarn with lye from the rice straw ashes  to make it shiny and soft.  This takes about 30 minutes at 80-90c. When the yarn has dried up, we wash it one more time with iron sulfate in the water to remove all the glue. The process is relatively easy but takes time and lots of water – about 60 liters per 2 kilos of yarn,” Lani says.

After the second boiling the yarn is rinsed with a hose, followed by thorough scrubbing in big plastic jars filled with clean cold water.  After the last scrubbing, the water is still sufficiently clean to be used for watering Lani’s garden.

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Rinse, rinse, rinse and then rinse some more.

 

The ambassador drops in

While following the procedures, I meet other people who are taking an interest in Magic Lao Carpets. The Canadian ambassador to Thailand and Laos, Ms. Donica Pottie, drops in to see, what they can do in the little workshop.  The ambassador notes with obvious recognition that Magic Lao Carpets is very much a social enterprise, offering training and jobs to disadvantaged Lao youth.

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Magic Lao Carpets – a social enterprise. 

A designer from the UK, Ms. Sophie Wright, joins us this morning to study the yarn processing and dyeing. She is impressed with the technical skills of the staff.

After half an hour in the sweltering heat of the courtyard,  we all enjoy delicious ice-tea, made by mulberry leaves from the worm farm of Magic Lao Carpets an hour’s drive from the workshop.

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Ismit brought the carpet making craft from Turkmenistan, when he arrived in Laos more than 20 years ago.

The craft of Turkmenistan

Lani’s husband, Ismit takes me to the workshop to show me how the weavers are preparing to set up the ‘skeleton’ of my carpet – soft and very strong white cotton string, imported from Thailand.  Ismit tells me that Magic Lao Carpet build their own looms based on local materials.

Ismit is a native from Turkmenistan, famous for producing handmade carpets for more than 4.000 years. He brought the technique with him to Laos more than twenty years ago.

It does not take long for my yarn to dry in the hot Lao summer sun.

Stay tuned for the next part: The secrets of the dyeing process.

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TAKING DOWN THE FLAG

FLAG (3 of 22)On the eve of the 30 April celebrations, I went to record the flag ceremony at Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. The square is named after the first three communes, who rebelled against the French.
Every evening at 20:50 the guards will ask the hundreds of people there to stop exercising in front of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and move to the back of the square to make space for the solemn ceremony.
When all looks neat, the loudspeakers will open up with Vietnam’s hymn “Bac dang cung chung chau hanh quan” (Uncle Ho is still with us when marching into battle). Then 33 soldiers, in crispy white uniforms will emerge to be led by a senior officer to the enormous flag pole at the center of Ba Dinh Square.  

The number of soldiers is a reference to commemorate a famous unit in the People’s army of 30 men and 3 women, who were led by the legendary general Vo Nguyen Giap. Ten years later – in 1954 –  general Giap commanded the Vietnamese forces in the final battle against the French in the Dien Bien Phu valley. The military defeat was a stunning blow, which resonated around the world and led to the collapse of French colonialism in Indochina.

FLAG (6 of 22)Three soldiers will then approach the pole and lower the flag.
During the ceremony last night, I was surrounded by the whispers of grand parents telling their grand children of forgotten battles, decisive victories and lost friends. Their voices was like a persistent wind somehow overpowering the loudspeakers. It was a quiet beauty beyond words.


Then the flag was down to be neatly folded and taken away and stored for the night in the army barracks.

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The simplicity of Vietnams flag – a single yellow star on red – is meant to carry a strong message of nationalism, pride and unity.


For Non-Vietnamese friends: The red symbolises the blood stained sacrifice of the Vietnamese people. The yellow 5-pointed star is showing the almighty power of Dang Cong San – The Communist Party. Each point represents the different contributors to the building of the nation: The farmer, the worker, the artist, the doctor and the soldier.
Whether you agree with the Vietnamese system or not, one thing is certain: Taking down the flag is a beautiful, simple and dignified ceremony, and it is there for you every evening at 21:00.

IT ALL STARTS WITH SOME GREEDY LITTLE BASTARDS

On the creation of my beautiful Lao silk carpet – Part 1

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It will take 20.000 silk worms to produce the yarn for my carpet.

Here is the first update on a nice little project, I just started with Lao Magic Carpet.

I have ordered a hand made silk carpet, and the entire process will take approximately six months.  I will follow the project and visit from time to time to photo/document the creation of this marvelous symbiosis of Lao traditional design and the 5.000 year old tradition of handicraft in Turkmenistan.

My carpet is also a love story – between Lao Magic Carpet owners Lani and her husband Ismit, who came to Laos from Turkmenistan more than 20 years ago. Ismit brought the proud handicraft traditions from his homeland. Lani contributed with the beauty of Lao design. Together they created Lao Magic Carpet, which is also a social enterprise, offering training and employment for disabled Lao youngsters.

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The silk worms will only eat the leaves. The mulberries are used for marmelade and tea.

Of course, the story of my carpet begins with the silk worms.  Greedy little bastards, they are, and ugly too, if you ask me!

Lani has taken over a former government research center and created her own silk farm in Hatxayfong district an hour’s drive down the dirt roads from Vientiane Capital.

The research center was established in the 1960’ies with Japanese development assistance as part of the effort to make Lao farmers abandon the growing of opium poppies in favor of other cash crops.

With expert assistance, Lani is now developing her own production of silk, based on Lao silk worms.

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Dr. Souphanthong Vilaysak has worked with silk worm development his entire career.

Dr. Souphanthong Vilaysak got his education with Japanese assistance more than 30 years ago, and he has devoted his entire career to the development of the worms – which are the basis of  high quality silk.

“The worms are greedy and extremely sensitive. They will only eat mulberry leaves of the finest quality, and they eat an enormous amount during their short life. When the worms are small, they can only eat the fine and soft top leaves of the mulberry tree, because their teeth are not yet developed,” Dr. Souphantong explains to me.

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Lani is plucking mulberries for me. She says that they will be good for my health, supporting a proper sugar balance in the body.

I ask Lani to make a quick calculation, of what it will take to produce the yarn for my carpet. She gets busy on her smart phone calculator. The numbers are staggering: It will take about 100.000 worms to produce the 15-16 kilos of yarn, needed for my carpet. To do so the greedy little bastards will consume 1.500 kilos of mulberry leaves!

“You have to be very careful with the worms in the process. It is very easy to harm them. Just a perfumed hand is enough to kill them.”

Stay tuned for chapter 2, once the yarn is ready for dyeing. 

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The small cocoons are heated up to extract the yarn. Each cocoon contains up to 120 meters.

 

BRINGING THE WAR TO AN END?

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Here is an upcoming event in my hometown Copenhagen that I am really sorry to miss.  My long time friend Tri Minh and my new friend Linh has something to tell us. You guys back in Denmark will have the first chance to be there, when Tri Minh and Linh face the darkness.    Next, I am going to push them to come to Hanoi and share their project with us in Vietnam, and meet their roots together.  For now, please check their announcement below. 

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Face the Darkness: When a child of Vietnamese boat refugees meets a child of Viet Cong

More than 40 years after the Vietnam War, the ghosts of the past are still passing through the country and dragging the border between north and south. Between the South Vietnamese government with support from the US and the North with support from the Soviet Union and China. The war ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon when the North Vietnamese army conquered the capital city. North Vietnam / the Viet Congs won. South Vietnam lost. After the war, the South Vietnamese fled and in the period 1975-1985 Denmark received a total of 3,700 Vietnamese boat refugees.

In 2018, the dancer Linh and the musician Minh meet randomly in Denmark. One is a child of Vietnamese boat refugees, the other of Viet Cong. Without even having been there during the war, they discover how many prejudices they face. Together, they decide to confront the prejudices and battle in an alternative way. To get it out of the body – to see and feel if they can get on the other side and reconcile the two oppositions.

Face the Darkness: When a child of Vietnamese boat refugees meets a child of Viet Cong is a performance battle between live music and dancing. The dancer Linh and the musician Minh are fighting each other through their art form and are confronted with the past and their knowledge that their families have fought each other in the Vietnam War. The question is whether they can understand each other through art or whether they will continue to fight their parents’ struggles?

The performance revolves around the collision of different backgrounds, the encounter with the other, and the complex process of dealing with past, memories, repressed anger, and grief. It can be experienced at Teaterhuset’s scene Vox from March 13th.

Duration: 45 min. incl. 15 min. artist talk.

PURE MAGIC BY LAO HANDS

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Ancient handicraft from Turkmenistan and the best of Lao design traditions join hands in MAGIC LAO CARPETS.  

The little workshop is so quiet that you can almost hear the fingers knotting the fine silk threads with amazing speed.  The young women are sitting there two by two or four by four focusing intently on transforming the colorful flower photos into handmade silk carpets of the highest quality.

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We are at Magic Lao Carpets a small workshop and a showroom in a Vientiane alley. Slowly, slowly the most beautiful and unique carpets are emerging to be sold to affluent customers in Laos and abroad.

“The carpets are made by up to 700.000 knots per square meter.  This means that two girls can do approx. 2 cm. per day,” owner Souvita Phaseuth tells me. She goes by the name of Lani in the local community.

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Magic Lao Carpets has been set up by Lani and her husband Ismit, who immigrated to Laos from his native Turkmenistan 30 years ago.  He brought the 4.000 year old carpet making craft of Central Asia with him to his new country. Lani on her part has brought the Lao traditional designs into Magic Lao Carpets.

Surely, you cannot fly on these carpets, but their amazing beauty does make you want to.

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“Just use your hand and feel the quality.” Lani and her husband have developed some real magic in Vientiane.

In the courtyard, two young women are giving the finishing touch to a stunningly colorful carpet made to order by a boutique in the UK.

Behind them two other women are busy spinning the fine silk thread, which is mostly produced by the company’s own silk farm. MagCarp-3.jpg

Magic Lao Carpet is not merely a business, but also an important opportunity for young disabled Laotians to develop skills and make a living.

Souvita Phaseuth: “We offer training and accommodation to our workers, who would otherwise have great difficult in making a living, being dumb, deaf or suffering from other physical disabilities.  Some choose to return to their villages and set up their own small businesses, while others continue to stay with us.”

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Magic Lao Carpet is located at Ban Nongdouang Tai in Vientiane’s Sikhottabong district.  Opening hours: 9:00-17:00 Mon-Sat.

 

 

 

 

“TO REMEMBER THEIR NAMES”

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A day at Yad Vasem, the Holocaust Memorial on Jerusalem’s Mountain of Remembrance is meant to be an unforgettable experience, and that is exactly what it is.

Israeli architect Moshe Safdie has created the sombre structures, which in their austerity amplify the bone chilling walk through the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind: The extermination of 6 million jews during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

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David (our 75 year old guide) walked us through the history from the early anti-Jewish propaganda campaigns of the 1930es, through their incarceration in ghettos and work camps, and finally the ENDLOSUNG – the systematic extermination of men, women and children in the gas chambers of Auschwitz Birkenau and other killing factories.

Now sitting in my cozy room at The American Colony Hotel, where Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen used to hang out, I realize that the strongest impact of Yad Vasem does not come from the horrible photo displays of human cruelty.

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What is still with me tonight is the dome of portraits, symbolizing the ongoing documentation efforts. Thousands and thousands of names have been entered in books, with dozens of volumes standing on black shelves under the dome. A third of the shelves are still empty, waiting for new names to be registered properly. In a small room next to the dome sits a kind elder lady with her computer. After so many decades she is still receiving incoming documentation on victims and survivors.

What is also still with me is a crude sculptural structure of broken concrete pillars, symbolizing that the lives of 1.5 million children were torn in half by the Nazi killing machine.

What is still with me most of all: David’s low voice statement that the Holocaust happened, because ordinary men and woman from all walks of life contributed to the persecution and killing of six mlllion fellow human beings. In all fairness, Yad Vasem has also registered the names of those people, who risked their own lives to assist the jews: This register of heroes totals 26.000 names.

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