Moh Hom Textile: Origin, Production and Application
Dr. Disney Singhawuarasate
Rajamangala University of Technology Krungthep (RMUTK)
A Moh Hom textile is made of woven cotton threads dyed with an indigo dye gained from plants which yield blue colours, including Hom, Kram, and Boek, until all parts of the fabric are the same color. Indigo hues can range from dark blue to light blue. To dye the Moh Hom cloth, the fabric has to be submerged into a jar containing an indigo dye which is made of different ingredients.
The Origin of the Moh Hom Textile
A Moh Hom cloth is dyed with an indigo dye. Indigo dyeing has been well-known all over the world for thousands of years. The dyeing methods are similar elsewhere. The art of Moh Hom has been passed on in Phrae since more than one hundred years ago. It is believed that Moh-Hom came with the people who were forced to migrate to Phrae as prisoners of war and became labour slaves during the time referred to as “putting vegetables into basket, putting slaves into town”, though some migrated voluntarily. Moh-Hom was first produced at the Thung Hong village in 1797-1807. According to elders who were more than 74 years old (in 1991), the Tai Puan people from the Thung Hong village migrated from the city of Puan in Xieng Khoung province, in present-day Lao PDR, during the reign of King Taksin. Chao Muang Jai, the ruler of Phrae, captured some Tai Lue people from Chiang Saen, who settled in the Phra Luang village. During the Rattanakosin period, the Siamese army went as far as Xi Xuang Banna (Sib Song Panna) and placed the Tai Lue people at the Ban Tin village. Later on, the Siamese army also captured the Lao Puan and moved them to the North of Phrae in the neighborhood of the Wat Sawankhaniwet temple. These people moved to the Thung Hong village (the original name of the village is “Tang Hong”. Tang means anvil and Hong is a Tai Puan word meaning a place which is hollowed out, similar to a well-used anvil. The name refers to the fact that in the past the people here were mostly blacksmiths who used their anvils everyday.). Later the name of the village was changed to Thung Hong.
The Tai Puan from Thung Hong speaks a dialect and holds a big festival called “Kam Fa” annually. Their traditional skills of Moh-Hom art have brought revenues and fame to Phrae.
Art and Wisdom of the Moh Hom Textile
In the past, Moh Hom textile were made for domestic use only. Firstly, one had to grow cotton trees which took about 120 days before the fruits could be harvested. The cotton fruit would then be sundried and seeds taken out. This process is known as “Eed Fai”. After that the cotton would be fluffed with a tool called “Aloon” until it resembled candy floss. The fluffed cotton was to be rolled into long round sticks and twisted to create yarns using a tool called “La”. The yarns would be used for weaving on the loom. The woven fabric would be handmade into clothes. It is owing to the dedication of the Tai Puan ancestors that their descendants are living happily nowadays.
The use of Hom for dyeing was begun in Phrae in the PhaeMuang Phi area. After that, people started to grow the Hom plants, which are annual crops, in nearby areas which marked the widespread use of Hom for dyeing.
The dyeing process done in Northern Thailand comprises of different steps. First, soak Hom leaves in water until they are rotten and smell and the water turns green. Then, remove the rotten leaves and put in the fresh leaves and leave them to ferment until the water smells stronger and turns blue. Next, discard the leaves and put some lime in the water. Stir until the water becomes bubbly and turns dark blue or other desired hues. Filtrate the water and pour it into a big earthen jar known as “MohHom”. Before dyeing, certain ingredients such as turmeric, burnt Som Poi (Acacia concinna), and base water (gained from mixing ashes with alcohols), need to be added to the dyeing jar. In order to achieve a beautiful colour, the fabric or the strand need to be dyed several times a day. Normally, the dyeing takes place twice a day for three consecutive days. In some places with meticulous dyers, the dyeing takes place twice a day for five days. Mo Hom cloths will gradually fade when used for a long time. In ancient tradition, once the cloths started to fade they would be re-dyed until the fabrics are worn out. This is an ancient Thai wisdom that has been continued for a long period of time. The dyeing method is evolution which is gained through experiencing with nature. In the past, since there were no chemical dyes, all the colours were taken from nature, such as from parts of plants, animals, and minerals, which were tried and tested by weavers until they became a set of knowledge.
The Importance of the Moh Hom Textile
Moh Hom cloths are an expression of the Phrae identity. The Phrae people like to wear Moh Hom clothing. In the past, they were worn as working clothes since they were dark colored. Men wore short sleeved collarless Moh Hom shirt with buttons or strings, which was similar to a kind of Chinese shirts, together with long trousers and PhaKhao Ma (long multi-purposed cloth) tied to their waists.
Women wore long sleeved collarless buttoned-up blouse and tube skirt known as “Sin Lae” which had some red stripes at the foot of the black skirt.
The Uses of Moh Hom Textile
Moh Hom clothing is a Northern styled dressing identity. During New Year, most people wear Moh Hom clothes. At present, Moh Hom clothes are made into varied designs and styles. Apart from the classic round necked shirt, there are the Moh Hom Chinese collared, scarves, tube skirts, and Batik clothes similar to the textiles from the South. In ancient times, Moh Hom cloths were used as wraps for traditional herbal compresses. People in the North like using Moh Hom products from Phrae and when talking about authentic Moh Hom, only Phrae Moh Hom products are counted on. The quality of the Moh Hom products from Phrae is well accepted since they are usually of good quality, durable in terms of fabric and dye, and easy to wear in different occasions.
MohHom clothes can be divided based on their production methods as follows:
1. Traditional hand woven products: This product group employs the traditional method using Kram and Hom to dye cotton strands which then are woven at local looms before being hand-sewn or made into different products such as shirt, blouse, scarf, place-mat, and handbag, by hand or sewing machine.
2. ChokMohHom: Also known as MohHom tube skirt made with the Chok weaving technique, the making of this fabric employs the traditional weaving and dyeing methods which use natural ingredients including Hom and Kram plants. This fabric is made into tube skirts to be worn during important ceremonies and festivals.
3. Applied Moh Hom products: This type of products uses natural dyes from Hom, Kram, and HomKhrua plants. It may combine screening technique and can be made into various products such as bed sheet, pillow, bed cover, curtain, lamp, wall hanging, carpet, place-mat, etc.
The Source of Production of the Moh Hom Textile
There are four main Moh Hom production places in Phrae including the Ban PhraLuang village, the Ban Wiang Thong village, the Ban Thung Hong village, and Ms. Pranom Tapaeng’s house. The first three places employ the “Jok” technique (Jok refers to the way the fabrics are submerged into the dye in the jar) which gives dark blue colour, but since the dyes used in these places are chemical indigo, the Moh Hom textile from there are not colourfast since there are too much colour residues left on the fabric. MohHom products from Ms. LuangThongsuk’s house from Thung Hong use the Batik technique to create patterns on the products by drawing designs on the fabrics with white candle wax before dyeing. MohHom products from Ms. PranomThapaeng’s house are natural starting from the growing of Hom, the preparation of dyes, the dyeing process, and the Chok and Madmee weaving techniques. MohHom products from Ms. Pranom’s are colourfast.
Apart from these, Kaewwanna natural indigo gallery also produces all-natural products which come from natural production methods.
The Inheritance of the Moh Hom Textile Wisdom
Moh Hom clothes in Phrae were originated from the Lao Puan or Tai Puan people who were captured by the Siamese army from present-day Lao PDR and settled in the North of Phrae or the Wat Sawankhaniwet temple area. These people later moved to the Tai Puan’sThung Hong village. They were adept in making indigo dyes from plants and passed on the art of making indigo cloths which can be summed up as follows:
Preparing cotton yarns:
- Grow cotton trees after finishing harvesting other crops
- Collect good quality cotton fruits
- Take out cotton seeds using a roller gin called “Eew Fai”
- Fluff the cotton – known as “Ying Fai”
- Roll fluffed cotton into small rolls which are 7-8 inches long – known as “Loh Fai”
- Twist cotton strands into yarns
- Wound yarns into different small sized skeins and soak them in rice-soaking water.
After this, the yarns can be used for weaving which will produce cotton white fabrics. Next step is to prepare the dyes.
Making Indigo Dyes from Hom and Kram
After growing the plants for three months, leaves and small twigs can be reaped at the tips.
- Tie up the twigs and leaves into a bunch.
- Soak the bunch in water for one day until it starts to disintegrate. Turn up the bunch and leave for one more day. While soaking, one needs to “jok” the water by scooping water in a scoop and pouring it back to the fermenting jar until the water becomes bubbly in order to create more oxygen for better fermentation. The “jok” should be done every morning and evening.
- Squeeze and discard the bunch.
- The water in the fermenting jar will turn green with a strong smell.
- Put lime into water – the process is known as “SuakMohHom”- until bubbles appear on the surface. This is to change the condition of the water into base. The smell will turn from pungent to fragrant. After this the water will turn dark blue.
Leave for sedentation and filtrate the liquid with white filter cloth. The filtered mud can be used as the colourant for making dyes all year round.
- Mix the colourant mud with base water (gained from soaking ashes in water) and lime in a jar. Practice the “jok” every morning and evening.
- Clean the fabric which will be dyed by boiling the fabric or by soaking it in water for two days in order to remove dirt and flour.
- Submerge the fabric into the dyeing jar. Squeeze the fabric well for 10-15 minutes.
- Air-dry the fabric.
- Repeat the process for 3-4 times in order to achieve the desired colour.
- Wash the fabric before use.
Main Materials and Tools for Making Moh Hom Textile
1. Hom, HomKhrua, and Kram plants. Hom and Kram are of two different families. Hom (Baphicacanthuscusia Brem.) is a shrub or subshrub up to 0.5-1 m. tall with elliptic – ovate leaves and usually purplish flowers in panicles. This plant belongs to the Acanthaceae family. It usually grows in cold, damp place especially on the banks of a stream. At present, there are not many of the Hom plants because of the decrease of forest and the growing demand for indigo clothes. Kram or Indigoferatinctoria Linn. likes sunlight and grows well in warm climate and acidic soil. It with stands heavy rain and is considered a kind of weeds. It is a shrub 0.50 to 1.50 meters high and lives for 1-3 years. It may be an annual, biennial, or perennial, depending on the climate in which it is grown. It has light green pinnate leaves and sheafs of pink or violet flowers. The plant is a legume, and seeds can be used for planting.
2. Unbleached or cotton cloths – woven fabrics from cotton, traditionally means hand-woven cotton fabrics.
3. Dyes from Hom, Kram, and HomKhrua plants
Making Colourant Mud
- Hom, Kram, and HomKhrua (Boek) plants
- Rice-soaking water
- Tamarind-soaking water
- Ashes from banana tree
- Roots of banana tree
- Tamarind trunk
- Jars for fermenting and dyeing
- White filter cloth
Making colourant mud
- Collect 40 kilograms of fresh Hom leaves in the morning no later than 8.00 am or in the evening after 4.00 pm since the leaves will be fresh and yield more colour than the ones collected at anytime else. Tie the leaves and twigs up in a bunch and place it in the fermenting jar.
- Pour clean water on top of the bunch and leave to ferment for 48 hours.
- Take out the leaves and twigs which are not yet fermented.
- Pour in 2 kilograms of lime and stir the water till bubbly. Leave for 2 nights.
- The colourant should be sedented. Pour out clear water leaving only the colourant mud.
- Scoop the colourant mud into a white filter cloth and squeeze out the water. The mud is ready to be made into dyes.
- Put 5 scoops of colourant mud into the dyeing jar.
- Mix well 5 scoops of base water and 2 scoops of tamarind-soaking water with the mud. Leave for 2 nights.
- Wash the cotton fabric to be dyed in clean water to remove dirt.
- Submerge the fabric into the dyeing jar and squeeze well.
- Squeeze dry the fabric and air dry in shade.
- Repeat the process. In natural indigo dyeing process, the dyeing can be done twice a day in the morning and in the evening. The dyeing can be repeated every 6-8 hours for 10-15 times until the desired colour is gained.
Materials and Tools
- Hand loom
The weaving of MohHom cloths in Phrae is done through weaving basic thatched motifs. The woven cloths can later be made into different products.
Distinguishing Features of the Moh Hom Textile
Moh Hom art is a way of life of the Phrae people which should be preserved. The making of Moh Hom cloths require a complicated dyeing process which takes more time than other kinds of natural dyeing methods. The dyes are made from locally available plants including the leaves of the Hom, Kram, and Hom Khrua plants, so it is not needed to collect the bark or the whole plant for making dyes. The dyed colour stays attached to the cloths until the cloths are worn out. The MohHom dyes are lightfast, unlike colours from other natural dyes. The preparation of dyes and the dyeing process are also more special than those of other natural dyes. The process begins from the reaping of Hom leaves, which should be 3-4 months old, in the early morning before the dew dries out. Authentic MohHom cloths which have deep colour are usually dyed repeatedly more than 20 times. The indigo hues need to be bright and clean, not dull, and the colour should be durable.
The bright indigo colour is one of the oldest colours in history and is dated back to 6,000 years ago. It is considered the king of dyes and has been known in ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Africa, and Asia. MohHom cloths have a distinct fragrant scent which can drive away ants and insects from wearers. They also protect wearers from excessive ultraviolet rays.
The The Distinction of Patterning in MohHom Textiles
A piece of MohHom cloths is woven by using warp and weft yarns to create a basic thatched pattern, and then the piece will be dyed with an indigo dye from Hom or Kram plants. The design is a basic thatched pattern. Usually a woven thatched pattern is comprised of two warp yarns and two weft yarns or more, and the thatching is clearly visible when comparing to other patterns with the same number of yarns.
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