Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Luang Prabang - getting all arts and crafty

Silks drying at Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang
I always like to bring home a few souvenirs from our trips, but as I have said before, it can be difficult to find things we like and can carry. In addition, whilst we don't mind the occasional bit of mass produced stuff, we do prefer to buy things that are a bit more original, and where the people who have actually made them, get the benefit.

That isn't always easy, so we were quite pleased to find a great shop in Luang Prabang, called Ock Pop Tock, which translates as East Meets West.

Master weaver, Ock Pop Tock shop, Luang Prabang
This place sells an excellent range of handmade products, mostly woven items, which are great quality, original pieces. They are a bit more expensive, but the money does go back to the people who make them and into projects in the local community.

But even better than the shop, is the Living Crafts Centre, which is a complementary jumbo ride away from the peninsula, on the banks of the Mekong. Here, you can learn about the processes, watch the experts in action, and even take a class or two.

The organisation was set up by a wealthy Lao woman, who is a talented weaver, and a British woman. They have created a place where women can come to learn to, or improve, their weaving, and where women can earn a living to support their families through their weaving. They have women, and therefore designs and products, from different tribal groups, and everything is made using good quality materials.

Silk cocoons at Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang
When I first suggested booking a weaving class, Nic wasn't entirely sure about the idea, but he decided to give it a try, and as it turned out, he really enjoyed it.

They do various half and full day classes, including hmong batik and bamboo weaving, but we booked ourselves on to the full day silk dying and weaving course.

Natural dye ingredients, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

The morning is spent learning about the process of making, dying and weaving the silk, and then making your own dyes to colour your own silks. The dyes that they use are natural, and the first task is to gather your ingredients.

So depending on the colours you choose, you might have to dig up some turmeric root, twist off some seedpods from an annatto tree, or collect indigo leaves.

Collecting ingredients, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

I chose to make a pale green - for which I had to collect and pound down a basketful of indigo leaves, a dark purple, which was easy, as they provided the required stick lac (insect resin) and rusty nails, and a red, which I think involved something with wood of some form.

Nic, on the other hand, chose to make the same purple, but then made things difficult for himself by choosing a yellow, which meant digging up and pounding down a large bunch of turmeric, and a bright orange, which meant collecting those annatto tree seed pods, taking out the seeds from their spiny cases, and pounding those down too. So of course I ended up preparing the seeds for him.

Hmong batik, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang
Once we had the skeins dyed, it was time for lunch. They kindly catered to my 'no fish and nothing spicy' request and, whilst honestly not really my thing personally, the food was good.

After lunch, we were on to the weaving. We didn't use our own dyed silks, as they were still drying. Instead, we chose one of the two available patterns, and two colours of their silk.

Spinning the silk, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

We then had to spin the silk on to bobbins, ready for use - although in fairness, we only had to do a bit of it, they had prepared the rest. They also set up the looms for us, and started off the first few rows of plain weave.

Then it was over to us. The plain section was simple enough, but once we got on to the pattern, it got more complicated, as we had to change the position of the threads, in order to create the pattern in the weave. Of course the lovely lady looking after me took me through all of this very carefully, and made sure that I didn't mess it up completely.

I later discovered that Nic didn't have to move the pattern himself, the lady with him did all of that for him. I still finished ahead of him though, so I figured that it was because he was too slow.

Our end results, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

I must say, we both thoroughly enjoyed the day, and came away with a handwoven silk place mat and a three skeins of hand dyed silk each. And actually, the place mats look pretty good I think - the ladies with us did an excellent job of keeping us at least mostly right. Mine is the red one, Nic's is the blue. I would highly recommend this to others - in fact we already recommended it to some friends, and they loved it too.

We finished the day off with a drink in their riverside bar, watching the sun go down over the Mekong.

Collecting ingredients, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

Making the dyes and dying the silks, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

Our silks drying, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

Tabitha weaving, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

Nic weaving, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

Tabitha's minder weaving, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang
Sunset over the Mekong River, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang
Sunset over the Mekong River, Ock Pop Tock, Luang Prabang

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