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As most of you know, silk weaving has been part of Cambodian culture for centuries. Women have weaved on huge wooden looms beneath their stilted homes using the same methods seemingly forever to bring extra income to their children and families when the rice harvest ends. The art of silk-weaving used to be passed down from mother to daughter. Unfortunately, however, the ancient craft is dying out as the cost of imported raw silk continues to climb while the price of finished textiles drops.
from the blog of Khmer Trading, a group working hard to support the revival of Cambodia’s hand-woven silk:
Did you know that the price of raw silk thread has gone up by more than 60% in the last year and at the same time the price for the finished products has dropped by 56%. Many of the 20,000 estimated weavers in the country are trying to find other work. The Khmer Rouge era decimated the mulberry tree population, the only food source of silkworms, all but wiping out silk production in Cambodia. Since this period, weavers must import the thread from neighbouring Vietnam or Thailand. Before the Khmer Rouge took power, Cambodia was producing an estimated 150,000 kilograms of silk per year, which dropped to just 800 kilograms after years of political and civil unrest.
Considering how labor-intensive silk weaving is, this is especially tragic. We watched our producers tieing the warp (the warp is the long thread on the loom through which the warp thread is woven) of a huge wooden loom for an order of hand-woven organza silk. The delicate fibers looked like spider webs, almost invisible, shimmering in the still afternoon light. Such patience and fine craftsmanship has brought economic stability to this fair trade weaving village, much as it is at odds with the fast pace in the rest of the world today.
Lotus Jayne is working hard to support the fair trade silk-weaving communities in rural Cambodia by sourcing these ever-rarer treasures. As weavers work on our current order of silk scarves, we are doing our best here at home in New Jersey to find markets for these splendid items and get the word out about this amazing and endangered tradition.