The Renaissance of Cambodia's golden silk

Cambodia, still scared by its recent civil war, is reinventing itself through its traditional ancestral weaving crafts. Going far beyond Krama, the emblematic piece of checked cotton worn by all Cambodians, the textile craft Khmer is in the middle of a renaissance and is defined by its fine silk work.
Since the 13th century, the glorious era of the Angkor kingdom, Khmer silk was considered to be the most beautiful in all South East Asia. Going beyond its spectacular colour, this rare, gold silk held exceptional qualities – it was more resistant and softer than white silk and held heat controlling properties.
After the regime of the Red Khmers, the women stopped weaving and the cultivation of the precious silk worm was practically stopped: only 15 hectares of mulberry trees were grown in the country.
The political appeasement of Cambodia opened up tourism and in the international markets a certain interest was regained for this unique material. For the past ten years, a number of local organisations have taken on the challenge of relaunching the craft.
It is the case, for example, of the project Golden Silk by Pheach Oum, a Cambodian woman who returned to the country and set up a workshop at the foot of the Angkor temples at Siem Reap. Or also of IKTT, The Khmer Institute for Traditional Textiles, also in Siem Reap, established by Kikuo Morimoto, a Japanese man who has lived in Cambodia for the past twenty years.
Similarly, theses two initiatives develop all aspects of silkworm farming, from the planting of the mulberry trees, the cultivation of the worms, the thread work up to the weaving, all the while, re-establishing ancient techniques such a the traditional Ikat.
There is however, still a great deal of effort needed to give the golden silk the standing it so enjoyed in the past. In Cambodia, most of the silk is imported from China or Vietnam. Currently, of the 400 tones used in production the local gold silk represents only 5 tonnes.
We count around 20000 weavers in the country who practice their craft, mostly independents or working in small structures, for the most part in rural areas.
Giving value to this legacy and encouraging the renaissance of this golden silk represents an important issue which is at one both cultural and economical, offering the potential for astounding growth in the country.
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