Ever since I bought my first piece of piece of 2/1 twill ikat silk in Chiangmai in 2001, I had wanted to see it woven, and finally in 2012 I was bumping along in a tuk-tuk heading out of Phnom Penh to Phnom Chisor to visit hol weavers.
In the capital, I had asked every shopkeeper stocking hol where it was made, and Phnom Chisor was the area cited most often. One kind shopkeeper even drew me a map and wrote down the names of weaving locations in Khmer (see his shop here).
This is the kind of textile trail I love to follow!
I had long been fascinated by this fabric. You can see from the photo above how the front and back of hol fabric look different as a result of the particular twill weave used: on one side the warp colour is dominant (on left), and on the other the pre-dyed patterns of the weft show more clearly (on right). Look closely to see a strand of the pre-dyed weft yarn lying on top of the fabric (click on the image to open it at full-resolution).
My driver spoke a little English, enough for me to convey what I wanted to see, and with my repeated encouragement, he asked around to find out where the best weavers lived. We visited 3 rural weaving communities and also made a stop in a small town where I was able to buy a local-style shuttle.
The sun is pretty fierce in Cambodia, so we found the weavers working underneath the house in the shade.
Several stages of hol production were proceeding at once, in a very sociable setting. One woman was tying resists onto silk wound onto a frame so that when it was dyed, the tied areas would not change colour. Behind her, you can see another woman reeling the pre-dyed patterned weft silk.
Pre-dyed weft threads:
A pair of women were threading very fine warp threads one by one through a reed with a hook, a painstakingly fiddly task. There must be hundreds of ends here!
Two other women were weaving the hol, carefully lining up the pattern dyed into the weft threads before they beat each row into place.
Here are the reels of pre-dyed patterned weft threads waiting to be woven into the fabric shown in the image below it:
Meantime, the children and chickens ran around, the men were threshing grain outside in the yard, and the cows stood patiently looking on.