Buying Fabric in Bangkok

Bangkok is so far the best place I’ve been to buy fabric. Better than Hong Kong, better than Sydney, better than Melbourne, better than San Diego, better than Singapore and better than Auckland.

There is the possibility of civil unrest or terrorist activity in Thailand but these things can happen in our home locations, too, so keep an eye on your country’s travel advisories, the Bangkok local media and do your best to anticipate if there might be trouble ahead. We did those things, but no-one can predict an unpleasant event like the Erawan shrine bombing that happened on our last night in Bangkok. It was very distressing to hear of the loss of life and injuries, not too far from where we were staying. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

Street view over Sampeng Lane from the local overpass.

The start of Sampeng Lane from the local pedestrian overpass.

I heartily recommend Jills Quilt Site for its excellent Sampeng Lane map and her general advice on buying fabric in Bangkok. I printed out her Sampeng Lane map and brought it with me but sadly didn’t consult it until I was well past China World Mall.

I did go to Phahurat Market though and loved every minute of the fabric shopping there. They had a good selection of upholstery and dress fabrics and plenty of notions. Unexpectedly, we even stumbled upon a stall of Swedish collectibles and bonded with the Thai Muslim proprietor over our shared love of flea markets, known as loppis in Swedish. We didn’t share too many words, but loppis was one we all know.

Getting to the Phahurat Market and Sampeng Lane using Public Transport

We took the underground train to Hua Lamphong station (3 Baht for a visit to the rest room there and BYO paper, by the way), then the the number 7 bus to Phahurat Market, which is right next door to a Sikh temple. If the bus goes over the river and you haven’t got off yet, you’ve gone too far. The bus conductor was apologetic when this happened to us but it was easily fixed by boarding the next bus going in the opposite direction. No harm done, except for 20 Baht worth of additional bus fares. Which is nothing when you get paid in dollars.

Phahurat Market is a building, not a street market. It has four levels of clothes and fabric mostly, and a tasty food court on the fifth floor. I can recommend the chat samosa, a vegetarian samosa accompanied by a chickpea (garbanzo) curry. In a tropical country, if in doubt, go vegetarian. That’s my advice for maintaining stomach stability. It worked on this trip.

I bought some beautiful blue linen Phahurat Market, a bargain at 200 baht for 2 metres (and yes, I bargained, just gently, to get a small reduction.) We then headed back towards the station along Sampeng Lane, where I bought a sarong, something that is a holiday ritual for me. Every trip to Asia brings a new sarong for the collection. My beloved picked up a seam ripper on Sampeng Lane for literally pennies and we both enjoyed the adventure of exploring this part of town. The Sampeng Lane shops have home shrines within them, which was an eye-opener.

Here’s the loot:

A scarf, some linen fabric and a sarong.

A: Handwoven cotton scarf (180 Baht.)Purchased at Central World in support of HM Queen Sirikit’s birthday.

B: 2 metres of shirt weight linen fabric (200 Baht.) Purchased at Phahurat Market.

C: Cotton sarong of approx 1.8 metres length (250 Baht.) Purchased at Sampeng Lane. Probably Indonesian origin.

Put on your walking shoes, pack your fan and your water bottle and go have some fabric fun on Sampeng Lane. You’ll end your day hot and tired, but happy.

Celebrating Traditional Weaving in Bangkok

Budha Inmages at Wat PhoWe have just returned from a vacation in Bangkok, designed as a break from the pressures of work and the cold of winter.

We arrived on the national holiday to celebrate the birthday of HM Queen Sirikit, a strong supporter of textile crafts. Her Majesty is regarded as the mother of the nation, so conveniently her birthday is also treated as Mothers’ Day. It makes the holiday seem so much less commercial.

Sales of textiles from the provinces were held in major shopping centres to celebrate the event and to allow the Thai people (and tourists) to support the craft-based initiatives that HM the Queen supports herself. I came away with a haul of handwoven towels and a handwoven scarf.

We also went to a display of silk waving using the Isaan technique, known also by its Indonesian name, Ikat.We had spotted the display as a coming event in the weekend section of the English language Bangkok Post newspaper which gave the location as the Thailand Cultural Centre, MTR underground station exits 2 and 3. So we went to that station, exited at exit 2 and went looking for the Thailand Cultural Centre building. After much searching up and down the road we failed to find that building and returned into the station to try the other exits. It turns out the display was being held within the station itself.

There was only one loom working, but we got to see the precision of the weft tying, which was done on a wooden frame.

Tying the Weft in Preparation for Dying

Tying the Weft in Preparation for Dying

I need to research this some more but I assume the cloth must be a standard width and the tying frame designed to exactly align to that width, or the pattern would be all over the place. It really is quite miraculous and no doubt reflects hundreds of years of trial and error. After tying and dying the weft, the pattern makes itself. Here’s some of the cloth on the loom.

Issan cloth on the loom

Isaan cloth on the loom

This picture shows the weaving in progress.

Silk weaving with a dyed weft

Here you can see the coloured weft

The loom itself was quite simple, with just two shafts, but what more do you need when you have a technique that creates such a beautiful fabric with plain weave.

Japanese Triangle Bag – Sankaku Bukuro

Just for fun I thought I’d make a Japanese Triangle Bag this weekend. CocoStitch has a tutorial for a single thickness bag and Burda has instructions for a reversible bag. I chose to make the reversible bag.

I’m not sure this one’s a keeper for my own use. The handles are too short for me to find useful and the width height ratio doesn’t work for me. It would make a great knitting bag but I don’t knit.

I might try a tote next. This shopping tote pattern from Earthgirl looks promising. 

triagle knitting bag 

Book Review: Learn to Weave by Anne Field

Anne Field learn to Weave Book

Highly recommended!

I borrowed Learn to Weave by Anne Field from a Melbourne library and I am impressed. I wish I had had this book when I did my first learn to weave class because it is particularly specific and useful. It covered a few basic items I wondered about at the time such as how to join weft threads. It also described different shuttles and what uses each is best for, something I don’t recall seeing in other beginners’ books. The projects step you through the weaving a plain weave scarf, adding patterns in a set of place mats, and some lovely dish towels, plus some wearable projects. I’m personally less enthusiastic about the garments, though I’m impressed at how quickly the concept of double weave is introduced, as part of a wrap project. The projects are very well described and give you the specifics of the materials, to the level of how many grams of each yarn you require. There’s a lot to learn from those details as a new weaver. Sadly, Anne Field passed away a few years ago. She had a fine reputation as a spinner, weaver, teacher and author and was greatly admired. I plan to buy this book.

Queen Victoria’s Undies

girdles at teh Powerhouse MuseumIt’s hard to imagine the horror and outrage Queen Victoria would feel at the thought of her undies being on display, but on display they are, at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.  I went to see them at an exhibition called Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion, described on the Powerhouse web site as:

this exhibition features more than 80 garments from the V&A’s extensive collection of underwear, many which have never before been on public display.

The exhibition is fascinating in terms of the garment construction and design but there was a slightly voyeuristic feel to looking at garments that were never intended for public view. Not only would Queen Victoria be horrified at us looking at her undies, undies that have an open crotch seam  but she would be further outraged at our reaction to that open seam, which in her day was considered a healthy approach and a practical one, when dealing with massive skirts and layers of petticoats. At the Powerhouse I learned that knitted rather than woven underwear was considered a great innovation, something I think we can all agree with. What I hadn’t realised was how early this innovation occurred. A set of Machine Knitted Mens’ Drawers from the 1851 Great Exhibition was one of the items on display. Bonds Underwear at the Powerhouse Museum As photography was not permitted for the V  & A items I took photos of the associated displays of 1950’s foundation garments and modern Bonds brand underwear.

Inkle Weaving Progress

Jean Williams, who blogs as Jean Weaves was kind enough to leave a comment on my blog post about inkle weaving. It’s great to have guidance from a more experienced weaver. Thank you Jean, for suggesting I try working with some smooth cotton instead of sticky linen.

Inkle weaving on the loom


The photo to the left shows the progress I’ve made since my first experiment.

I heeded Jean’s advice and took myself off to my least favourite yarn store, Spotlight, to buy some cotton yarn. Spotlight being Spotlight the best I could find was 50% cotton 50% acrylic, but they had a 30% off promotion running, bringing the cost of my next experiment down to single digits.

The other thing I did was check in with the inkle lady at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild weaving open day a couple of weeks ago. The event was a huge success, drawing all manner of people off the street to come in and have a go at weaving on the range of looms they had set up. Good on the organisers for having the passion and drive to try an open day. I hope they felt the planning effort was justified.

Here are the results of my latest efforts. The blue toned one is the Spotlight yarn, the pink one is made using crochet cotton.

Two bands woven on an inkle loom

Crochet cotton, top  garment weight cotton and acrylic blend, bottom.

Next step, pick up.

Volunteering at Miss Fisher’s Costume Exhibition

This week I had the opportunity to spend another day greeting visitors to the National Trust Property, Rippon Lea. This year the exhibition was of costumes from the popular ABC television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

While I was there I had the honour of meeting Marion Boyce, costume designer for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  She was every bit as vibrant and pleasant as this video indicates and was happy to answer my questions, even though I was just a lowly volunteer.

I spent part of my volunteer day in the accessories room, guarding Miss Fisher’s pearl-handled pistol which was required to be under supervision at all times there was a visitor present, even though it was secured in a glass case. The rest of my time was spent out with the garments, mostly in the room set up to look like Marion Boyce’s work room. She told me that each episode must be put together in 16 weeks, so her work room must be a busy one. The exhibition work room was a popular part of the exhibition that inspired many of the visitors to remember the hat boxes and dresses in their own family histories.

Here are a few photos of the costumes. All were constructed to a very high standard. Godets and bias cuts featured strongly in the dresses and boas and scarves accentuated most garments.

Photography was permitted (no flash) so I took may chance after the exhibition closed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.