THAILAND: Learning to weave with the Karen people

Karen People, Thailand, Travel, Chiang Mai, Northern Provinces, Alternate TravelYuki had not been seen since John’s 48 hour rice whisky bender with the men from the village. A distant trundling the day after signaled her return; baby Misato is being towed in a pushchair with mud-caked wheels, and another woman is carrying a bundle of weaving implements. The men had disappeared after spending the afternoon throwing homemade clay firecrackers and drinking more whiskey/surgical spirit. John would eventually return with a cow ‘s head and a bag of meat (by the way- the meat was delicious, the head not so much).

Karen People, Thailand, Travel, Chiang Mai, Northern Provinces, Alternate Travel, Back-strap loom,
A Karen villager weaving on a traditional back-strap loom

Back at home, the weaving bundle was unfurled, the kettle was put on the fire, and order was finally restored to the homestead. You watched the woman twisting the wooden sticks and pushing the shuttle through, effortlessly doing something you would later conclude required three hands.

Stella being taught to weave
Stella being taught to weave

She points at her work and beckons you over. There’s a hide strap that goes around your back and a plank of wood to press your feet against to help you control the tautness of the thread. She taps the backs of your hands and indicates which parts to pull on, but even with her help you’re weaving at a speed of about one row per minute. Baby Misato would graduate high school before you managed to finish anything.

Thailand, Back-strap loom, Karen people, Hill tribe, weaving, loom
It’s going to be a bag, and would have been a very nice one if Stella and I hadn’t dropped  a couple of threads and made the pattern go wonky
Back-strap loom, weaving, Karen people, cat, thailand, travel,
The foreman inspects one of the loose threads
Weaving, thailand, cat, karen people, traditional weaving, back-strap loom,
The back-strap of the back-strap loom. Foreman is on patrol in the background.

She takes over again after a while, having patiently watched you both fumble with her work. She chats to Yuki and entertains her four children while her fingers fly over the loom. You decide to start writing up your post. She takes a break from her weaving and watches you touch-type with mild interest.


  1. Wow, that looks so beautiful and intricate. Was it as difficult as it looks? What a cool experience!

    • It was difficult- the pin/stick things kept falling out at inconvenient moments and the weaving went wonky after a few rows. All the same, it was a cool little surprise and still good fun despite my lack of talent!

    • This turned out to be a bag. They sell them incredibly cheaply to people who then sell it on for a premium in Chiang Mai. I think this one was for a villager though!

      • Wow! I love how handicrafts are such a huge part of life in South East Asia. It’s so sad that in the West we have little time for that now

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