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Tribal Woven Textiles

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Weaving the Sacred

thai weaving spindleIn Northern Thailand we are surrounded by an incredible wealth of textiles in a variety of fibers. The women of this region are famous for their  intricate designs. I love the way that hand-woven fabrics delight my senses. I am fascinated by the sacred traditions, shamanic symbols and "magical" associations surrounding the art of weaving. And, as a holistic practitioner, textiles help me create Sacred Space in many ways.

Handmade fabrics can instantly enhance the energy and shift the Feng Shui of a room. I use exotic, tribal pieces as table runners, hang textiles on the wall (since after all, they are art) or place them over the back of a chair or sofa. Some weavings I use daily as a scarf or shawl. Other textiles with specific symbols I wear only when performing a healing or Space Clearing ceremony, or I might use them as part of a home altar.

When choosing textiles, I consider the materials (silk, cotton, hemp or a mix), the texture, the color (muted or bright, earth tones, jewel tones), the type of dye (natural sources or chemical). I note the tribal group or region the textile is from. And, I especially pay attention to the mystical symbols that a piece might have woven into the design - ancestors, guardian spirits, animal totems and other nature spirits are seen in many textiles. Two of my favorite symbols are the Frog Goddess and the cosmic Hong Bird that appears as part bird, part elephant.

hmong textile

Sometimes I choose a textile based on its history or who created it. Recently I had the chance to visit Grandma Raza, a Hmong hemp cloth weaver who’s tribal village is in the mountains north of Chiang Mai. See more photos of this trip at:

hmong weaverShe demonstrated the many steps of preparing, spinning, weaving and dyeing the hemp. It is difficult, time consuming work and truly a labor of love. Weaving hemp is an all-female endeavor, with the skills handed down mother to daughter. I purchased a long, un-dyed hemp scarf that from Raza. She explained that her own mother wove it (Raza is 86, so the scarf is quite old). The fabric is plain and rather worn, but it has a wonderful energy and a soft, buttery texture. It is a textile I treasure and wear with great appreciation.



Deb Swingholm is an author, photographer and teacher of the holistic arts.  Her soulful images evoke the beauty of ancient traditions, sacred sites and wild places. Deb currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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lamphun-wat phra that hariphunchai-01     
       ited in mid-town, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built during the reign of King Arthitayarat, a descendant of Queen Chamthewi some 800 years ago.A principal landmark is the 46-metre tall golden Chedi which contains a hair of the Lord Buddha, having nine-tiered umbrella, made of gold weighing approximately 6,498.75 grams...

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      on the bank of the Kok River within town area, contains what is believed to be the oldest Holy Relic even before King Mengrai built Chiang Rai. Doi Chom Thong has been a sacred site for aextremely long time. The site was surely reverenced as the home of local spirits before Buddhism arrived in the area.

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