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1. Tai Daeng mosquito net from Xam Tai
2. Detail of Tai Daeng mosquito net from Xam Tai
5. Tai Daeng mosquito net Xam Nuea style from Hou Phan province
8. Lao-Tai mostquito net heading band from Xam Tai
9. Lao-Tai mostquito net heading band from Xam Tai
12. Lao-Tai mosquito net heading band
13. Lao-Tai mosquito net heading band
The domestic textiles of several Lao-Tai groups include blankets, mosquito nets, curtains, bed covers, towels, pillows and baby carriers and may be found by collectors. It is the mosquito nets and curtains which are the subject of this particular article which illustrates, via the photos to the right (including the associated linked details and enlargements), these textiles and their construction.
There is information about the individual thumbnail photos to be found by hovering your mouse over each photo. Click a thumbnail to go (where available) to an enlargement or, in some cases, a small photogallery - with associated enlargements - of the textile.
The top four photos to the right show two complete mosquito nets illustrating the structure and dimensions of Lao-Tai mosquito nets. Photos 1. and 2. are of a mosquito net in the collection of Pamela Cross and photos 3. and 4. are of a mosquito net in the collection in Chiang Mai. Both were photographed by Susan Stem in 2005 and 2003 respectively in the porch of her Chiang Mai home. Click the photos of the complete nets to go to mini-photogalleries of each mosquito net. Photos 8. and 9. and 10. and 11. are of twodecorative heading bands for mosquito nets in the collection of Pamela Cross (with enlargements and further photos in a linked mini-photogallery. Photos 12. and 13. are of two mosquito net heading bands in a collection in the USA.
There is some, relatively limited, information about Lao-Tai mosquito nets and curtains in various books and articles. Following are some quotations from certain of the available literature which describes their use and puts them in the context of the domestic and ceremonial life of the Lao-Tai peoples. The term 'Lao-Tai' used in this article is as defined by Patricia Cheesman in her book 'Lao-Tai textiles: The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan'. The references cited below are linked to the bibliographies for Laos, Thailand and Vietnam which give full details for the references. Also see links for booksellers, publishers and textile dealers specialising in the literature of southeast Asia.
Patricia Cheesman's recently published book (2004) 'Lao-Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan' has three pages of informative text and photos on late Sipsong Tjao Tai style curtains and mosquito nets and Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan style mosquito nets which are similar in design to those shown here. See pages 218-220. On page 219 Cheesman says: "The mosquito nets in Xam Nuea style were called poei by the Tai Daeng and suut by the Tai Nuea and Tai Moei. The Xam Nuea style mosquito nets were adopted by the Tai Khang who moved into that region except those living in certain muontains that did not need mosquito nets, the areas are mosquito free. The mosquito nets were made from indigo dyed hand-spun cotton fabric, which protected the people from tiny blood-sucking insects called maeng lort as well as mosquitos. Today white or other coloured commercial mosquito nets are used but these do not keep out the maeng lort as successfully because theyare more openly woven. The dark, dense mosquito nets provided privacy and warmth in the communal sleeping areas shared by the whole family. Each end of the top of the mosquito nets was sewn with a sleeve, through which a bamboo pole was placed for hanging. It was taboo to hang the mosquito nets with string as this was only used to cover the dead prior to placement in the coffin. The top edge on all four sides of the mosquito net were decorated with a narrow red silk fabric with bands of discontinuous supplementary designs and coloured stripes. Popular motifs were stars, moons, hooks and mythical creatures. When woven the decorative textile was approximately 40 centimetres wide with supplementary weft designs on each side of a plain section, which ran down the centre lengthwise, where the fabric was cut into two long strips. the decorative strip was then sewn onto all four sides of the mosquito net with two strips of applique in plain whte, red or green silk bordering on both sides. See photo 5. of a Tai Daeng poei cotton indigo mosquito net with red silk decorative band attached around the upper section, Xam Nuea style, Houa Phan province (Fig 9.31, page 219). On page 218 under 'Late Sipsong Tjao Tai style curtains' she says: "The Tai Dam and Tai Waat made plain cotton indigo curtains and decorated the top with band of applique designs. These were made in geometric patterns in red, indigo and white cotton. Sometimes a large dividing curtain was made to separate the whole sleeping area in the house instead of a wooden wall..." 15. These curtains were made from several pieces of plain indigo fabric sewn together and decorated in the same way as the door curtains. They also sometimes embroidered animal motifs in the top decorative border.
'Textiles of the Daic Peoples of Vietnam' by Michael C Howard and Kim Be Howard (2002 p83) refer to to the textiles made by the Black Tai (northern Black Tai) of Lai Chau and Son La Provinces as including "blankets (pha), mosquito nets (dzan), curtains (man), bed covers (phai lot sua), face towels (khan suoi na), bath towels (khan ap), decorated pillows (mawn), and baby carriers (nah da). Many of these cloths are made by a woman prior to marriage and are brought with her to her new home".
Thus, (p85) "when a woman is preparing to marry she will make two or three curtains (man) that are used to separate the sleeping area in her new home. The body of the curtain is often plain cotton cloth, although now patterned cloth and usually there is a short fringe with appliqué patterning dangling from it. It is now rare to use locally made decorative cloth for these upper strips. Instead patterned commercial cloth is used." See examples of such curtains in use in Black Thai houses in villages in the Dien Bien Phu district, Lai Chau province with both woven and pieced work bands, 14., 15., 16. as photographed in October 1995 by Pamela Cross.
Howard and Howard (2002) describe (p 86) how "a woman may spend two to three years to prepare the clothing and other textiles for her dowry. It is customary to select the nicest blanket, mosquito net, mat and pillow to use in the su pha ceremony, which takes place prior to the wedding."
Howard and Howard (2002) refer in p107 of their text under the group they call the Southern Thai of Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa provinces (the Tai Mai Chau of Hoa Binh Province and Tai Dam of Thanh Hoa Province) to the "decorative strips of cloth attached across the tops of mosquito nets are known as cha poy or "heart-neck". Such cha poy are rarely used any more and decorations are usually made from commercial cloth."
On page 113 Howard and Howard (2002) include an illustration (the line drawing 6. shown to the right) from Robert (1941:plate 19)." Figure 1 depicts a mosquito net. Robert refers to the mosquito net as a "fun puoi". Figures 2 and 3 [not shown in this web article] are details of the woven patterns (he refers to these as "xeo") on the decorative band across the top of the mosquito net." (Robert, R., Notes sur les Tay Deng de Lang Chanh (Thanh-hoa - Annam). Institute Indochinois pour l'Etude de l'Homme, Memoire No.1 (Hanoi: Imprimerie d'Extreme-Orient, 1941). Although Roberts refers to 'Tai Deng' i.e. Red Tai Howard and Howard (202) refute that there are any Red Tai in Vietnam........................
Howard and Howard refer under the Tai Muang (p118) to "Domestic textiles of the Tai Muang include blankets and decorated mosquito nets. Strips of decorative cloth for mosquito nets (cha poy or chuh poy) traditionally were made by the bride's mother for her daughter to take to her new house. Such decorative strips are no longer commonly made or used."
In the Textile Museum Journal of 1995-1996 in the article 'Textiles and Textile Customs of the Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, and their Neighbours in Northern Laos' Mattiebelle Gittinger, Karen Anderson Chungyampin and Chanporn Saiyalard describe the Basic Tai Daeng Textile Forms for life (p103)
"The Tai Daeng enjoy an inventory of textiles that shares forms with the Tai Dam and Tai Kaw. The Tai Daeng assemblage, however, reveals a more exuberant sense of patterning and in many instances and higher degree of craftsmanship. An examination of the gifts a bride takes to her marriage, known as krung ka, illustrates some of this repertory (fig.17).
The gifts are prepared over the preceding months in measured steps leading to the wedding day. For instance, when viewing a set of gifts prepared for a wedding approximately a year away, we were told that the sitting pillows, now woven, would be assembled and stuffed by the time of the final marriage negotiations two months before the wedding. Other gifts in a typical Tai Daeng wedding set include sleeping pillows, mattresses, skirts, mosquito net, blankets, sheets, and one or more door curtains. In January 1995 a young woman in the Tai Daeng village of Baan Kaw in Muang Xam Tai who was to marry in February reported she had prepared six each of these plus two woven mats, a bamboo stool, and one mosquito net."
In 'Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast Asia' by Mattiebelle Gittinger & H Leedom Lefferts, Jr. there are various references to the role of weaving and the production of domestic textiles.
On p69 they say "As a girl matures, the signs of her eligibility for marriage begin to proliferate. To be seen weaving industriously is itself a mark of a properly disciplined woman; a young woman also begins to amass textiles which she will use to establish a new home, pending a willing man and a marriage settlement .
Among many Tai, a prospective bride's "hope chest" includes mattress covers and pillows - to be stuffed with kapok or cotton - sheets, blankets, curtains and mosquito nets. Amongst most Tai, those consist to some extent of supplementary weft (and sometimes warp) designs .."
On p72/3 they say "Finally, prior to marriage, some of the more accomplished young women may produce cloth that they will keep for several decades, intending to present it at an appropriate time to their daughters or other relatives. These textiles are not to be confused with textiles presented at marriages to a bride's new in-laws. Rather, they are pieces which a marriageable woman will weave as an investment in her future. She expects to marry and have children. She expects her daughters will themselves marry. With these hopes she weaves a complete warp, consisting of from two to six pieces of phaa khit. Two of these pieces may then be sewn along the selvedge and worn as shoulder cloth or shawl, phaa hom, Figure 2.21. The phaa hom may eventually be used for the woman's own funeral, as the cloth that will cover her corpse or coffin. To have foresight before marriage to plan for the marriage of her daughters and even for her own funeral is a matter of considerable pride for a Tai woman.
As she acquires proficiency in weaving, the young woman begins to take on the mantle of a mature woman; her next step is to transform this production into extra-familial exchange, the context in which she will be recognized as an adult. This she does by engaging in the formal exchange of textiles with the set of people who become newly related to her through marriage."
"The presentation of textiles by the bride to the parents of her new husband and to his relatives represents the consummation of a young woman's weaving skill .."
Further on p74-75 they refer to "The bride's gifts of textiles are not usually a matter of negotiation - that is, rather than being given in exchange for the bridegroom's gift, they are complementary to it. The bride's presents show her ability to command and provide for the more private sphere of household. . A woman presents cloth, showing her ability to establish and maintain a domestic economy for her husband and the children to come. In many Tai cultures, she also presents both bedding and clothes to her husband's nearest relatives.
In a village near Muang Sam Tie, Houa Phan Province, Laos on the actual day of the marriage in 1979 the bride presented samaa of cloth for eight people (khrunang baet), as follows: eight mattresses, eight pillows, eight embroidered sitting pillows, two-three blankets, one mosquito net with supplementary weft upper border (to her husband's parents), and five phaa sin.
A Phuan marriage taking place in 1987 in Xiang Khoung Province, Laos . for herself and her husband she provided two mattresses, two commercial pillows; two quilts with covers; one mosquito net; and things to wear."
On p117. the caption to Fig 3.27 says "This woman holds two strips of cloth. In her right hand is a strip meant as covers for sitting pillows. In her left is a strip used as decoration for mosquito nets and other items. Currently 80 years old, the woman wove those when she was 17. Laos, Houa Phan Province, 1991.LL" (See Black Thai photogallery for photos from 1995 of an example of the latter length of cloth being woven and a roll ready to be cut up for use.)
In 'Thai Textiles' by Susan Conway under 'Ceremonial and Household Textiles', 125-6 she mentions that "In a traditional Thai household the women of the family weave all the items required to make the family comfortable at home. They make mattresses, bed-linen and mosquito nets, as well as triangular pillows which support the back while sitting on the floor and square pillows used for sleeping. These household textiles are exchanged at important family occasions such as weddings and house blessings, and are presented to the monks at temple ceremonies."
The nineteenth-century traveller Carl Bock (1844, repr. 1986) described the preparation of his bed when he visited a Thai dignitary: His wife I observed quietly spoke to two of the servants who at once set to work to prepare a bed for me in the corner of the room. This was neither a long or a costly operation, a couple of mats with pillows were laid on the floor and a cotton curtain hung round as a screen and I was without ceremony informed that my sleeping quarters were already at my service of bedsteads there were none, the people sleeping on home made mattresses stuffed with cotton wool and surrounded by a mosquito curtain."
In 'Lao Textiles and Traditions' by Mary F Connors under 'Textiles for Daily Life' (p24) she describes: "A typical house has a large, covered veranda at the front and an open veranda at a lower height on one side. Bathing and laundry are done on the open veranda. Most activity takes place either under the house or on the covered front veranda. Inside the house is a living area and an area for receiving guests. Separate from the living and work space is the family's communal sleeping room. Visitors are excluded from this area. The sleeping room is usually located on the east side of the house. The head of the house sleeps in the north-east corner, nearest the family altar. The Lao believe it is bad luck to sleep with the head pointing west, the direction of the dead. The communal sleeping room is partitioned off by curtains and mosquito-nets.
On p25 she refers to "Household items made as part of a dowry or reserved for special guests are woven and decorated with special care. Traditional motifs which the weaver believes to especially auspicious or protective are included. Textiles woven for everyday use are also decorated. The amount of decoration and type or motif indicate the purpose."
And on p38 "As a girl reaches marriageable age, she starts to prepare items which she will bring to her new home as part of her dowry (Plate.17). These include handwoven mattress covers, sheets, blankets, flat pillows, curtains to separate the newlywed's area, and a mosquito-net with a specially woven decorative band."
Further on p44 "Given the antiquity of many of the motifs found on cloths used in ceremonies surrounding the various rites of passage, their meaning and use vary not only from group to group but sometimes within a group as well. However, there are some motifs which all Lao groups include on ritual cloths because of their ability to protect individuals, aid them in their transition from one role to another, and express wishes for an auspicious future. For example, protective designs containing diamond shapes are often found on baby carriers. For her dowry, a Lao girl will weave pillows, curtains, and decorative bands for the special wedding mosquito-net with auspicious birds, butterflies, deer, flowers, and diamond-shaped motifs. Projecting her wish for children, she may incorporate mythological animals done X-ray style with human figures or small animals visible inside the animal (Colour Plate 10.). For all transitional ceremonies, especially weddings and funerals, motifs of mythological animals with human riders are common, especially on women's skirts, the ceremonial shoulder cloth worn by both men and women at such occasions, and the long cloths screening the coffin (Plate 19). The nak is also a benevolent motif found on a variety of ceremonial textiles."
In 'The Peoples of Laos: Rural & Ethnic Diversities' by Laurent Chazee, p41 fig 33., he shows a 'Tai Dam mosquito net in Namo Tai village, Namo district, Oudomxay province' - photo 7. In his proforma outline for Tai Dam (Black Tai) on p41 he refers to the"originality of mosquito nets" but without further comment.
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this page last updated 20 March, 2007