Her face and hands are full of lines and wrinkles, but her memory is still sharp. Nguan Sermsri, of tambon Ban Puek in Chon Buri province is still teaching others how to weave the rare Ang Sila cotton textiles at the ripe old age of 93. Six months ago, she was the only Ang Sila cotton weaver in Thailand. But since then, the ancient art has been revived and passed on to a number of local women.
The 93-year-old Nguan Sermsri.
"I started weaving when I was 12 or 13 years old. I learned from my mother about the technique to knead cotton threads with cooked rice to make fabrics durable," said Grandma Nguan.
The unique technique practised only in Ang Sila, the matriarch says, is to pour water into a bowl containing a mix of cotton yarns and cooked rice (a litre of cooked rice is used with about 4.5kg of cotton threads) and knead well together. Next is to dry the threads for a day and remove the small pieces of rice with combs made of coconut shells. The threads are then ready for weaving.
The wisdom of Ang Sila cotton weaving will be featured in the fashion reality TV programme Tor Fah Pha Thai (The Modern Legacy ) next month.
The reality show is a search for best Thai designers using Thai fabrics, as part of the HM Queen Sirikit’s royal initiative to keep alive the heritage of Thai textile and weaving techniques.
The programme visited Ang Sila in Chon Buri and followed the life of Grandma Nguan Sermsri, the matriarch of hand weaving in the area. The show will present a quest for the finest Thai fabric for contestants to design and create fashion items.
Tor Fah Pha Thai will be aired on Channel 9, from 9.50pm to 10.50pm every Sunday from Aug 4 until Sept 22.
The weaving of Ang Sila cotton fabrics dates back more than a century, says Grandma Nguan, because she remembers seeing women in Ban Puek weaving when she was a little girl. Her family wove when they had free time after the rice planting and harvesting seasons.
Local villagers did not grow cotton plants and produce thread themselves, but bought the yarn from a local market for dyeing and weaving.
Popular colours for Ang Sila fabrics are white, bright red, dark red, deep purple like eggplant flowers, blue, yellow like ripe betel nuts and yellow like Champak flowers.
In the past, there was no specific motif or pattern for Ang Sila fabrics. Later, the villagers adopted certain motifs from outsiders and Grandma Nguan created some other motifs and is still the only one to start each pattern.
Malin Inthachote, leader of Ban Puek Women's Group, whose five members have been learning the art from Grandma Nguan, said: "Years ago, Grandma Nguan created a new motif for Ang Sila textiles after seeing a pattern on trousers worn by His Majesty the King during his visit to Chon Buri."
Grandma Nguan teaches a local woman and star guest of Tor Fah Pha Thai TV show Sunny Suwanmethanon how to knead cotton thread with cooked rice.
According to her, Grandma Nguan also knows how to weave the phikul worasa (bullet wood flowers) motif believed to be taught to local villagers by Queen Savang Vadhana, the wife of King Chulalongkorn, who sometimes stayed in Si Racha district.
Malin claimed that HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn recognised this special motif when she received a piece of Ang Sila cloth from villagers during her visit to Queen Savang Vadhana Memorial Hospital earlier this year.
She later encouraged them to revive and conserve the weaving art in their community.
Grandma Nguan says that all families in Ban Puek in the past used cotton that they bought at a local market, but that all ended during World War II due to shortages.
Before World War II, Grandma Nguan would have woven three to four pieces of 3m-long cotton fabric for sale at Ang Sila Market every fortnight. A sarong required 3m of fabric and a pha khao ma needed 1.5m.
"During World War II, there was no cotton thread for sale, so I stopped weaving. After that, I cooked and sold khanom jeen nam ya and khanom jeen nam phrik, but still wove textiles for my family. Two women later came to learn from me how to weave," she recalled.
To earn extra money, she hired a few local women to weave Ang Sila cloth for sale at local markets until she was 70 years old. The price gradually rose from 28-30 baht to 130 baht per piece, while the wages accounted for 30% of her income.
Grandma Nguan has two sons, two grandsons and a great-grandchild, but none of them are interested in weaving. Fortunately, she taught two local women, including a relative, Sai Sermsri, how to weave Ang Sila fabrics. Sai passed away three years ago after she had taught a number of local women and school students, so there is still hope for the art to be carried on.
"If there is no more weaving, I feel sorry because I like to weave. In the past, all families in this village wove textiles for use as pha khao ma, sarongs and shirts. Recently, Kamnan Sem Inthachote and his wife who leads a weaving group sent their members to learn from me and will weave textiles for sale," Grandma Nguan said.
According to Malin, leader of Ban Puek Women's Group, every woman in Ban Puek wove in the past. But most women there did not have weaving machines. Instead they wove in a local style by weaving between two pillars under their stumped wooden houses. Later, old-style weaving machines were introduced to the community.
Although weaving was a dying art at Ban Puek, the late Sai regularly taught it to a number of students at Wat Mai Ket Ngam School for five years. It has become a practice for all students to wear shirts tailored from Ang Sila cotton once a week. However, after Sai died three years ago, the art was almost forgotten.
Fortunately, the princess' words of support inspired the Ban Puek Women's Group to conserve the art of weaving. The group gathered six weaving machines in their community, and for more than six months about five local women have been learning how to weave from Grandma Nguan.
"We use old Ang Sila fabric woven by Grandma Nguan and her student Sai as samples," Malin noted.
When these women are good enough, the group plans to weave cotton textiles and produce related products such pha khao ma, shirts and dresses for sale. They aim promote the wearing of Ang Sila shirts among all officials in Chon Buri once a week.
"It would be a shame if there was no more weaving here. I want to see people conserve hand-weaving, but very few people do. Doing other jobs earns more money than weaving," Grandma Nguan said sadly.
Some Ang Sila cloth.
Related search: Chonburi
About the author
- Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer