The Cham Silk-Weavers of Bangkok
ASIAN Geographic|AG 04/2021 - 149
Colourful silk fibres ready to be woven into cloth
Ana Norman Bermudez

In Bangkok’s leafy riverside neighbourhood of Baan Krua, there is a small community of silk weavers belonging to the Cham ethnic group.

Their delicate silk-weaving tradition is passed down matrilineally from generation to generation and has been an integral part of their way of life for centuries. The craft was brought to Thailand when the Cham community migrated from Cambodia centuries ago. These women have perfected the art of turning the unassuming cocoons of Thai silkworms into spectacular lengths of soft fabric that is now coveted across the world and synonymous with luxury.

Their climb to international prominence started in the 1950s, when their masterfully weaved silk pieces sparked the interest of American businessman Jim Thompson. He began to export their products to the West, ushering in the golden age of Thai silk. At its peak, the Cham’s silk weaving businesses employed upwards of 50 people and produced thousands of metres of silk every month.

However, after Thompson’s mysterious disappearance in 1967, his company’s silk production was relocated to factories in the northern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. Today, Jim Thompson’s name remains synonymous with high-end Thai silk, but time has not been so kind to the Cham community and only two silk businesses remain afloat in Baan Krua.

One of these businesses belongs to Khun Loong Aood. Now in his eighties, he has been dyeing and weaving silk since the age of 15. He humorously recounts a story about his mother refusing to sell a family heirloom to Thompson, who collected antiques in his spare time. The businessman would visit the family’s house daily with his translator to place orders on their silk products. Khun Aood still occasionally dyes silk with impressive dexterity and a cigarette perfectly pinched between his lips.

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