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Lanna Textiles

LANNA TEXTILES are a specialized group of fabrics and designs created in northern Thailand. This textile category is rich in Tai fabrics and styles with a wholesome variety of symbolic motifs and traditional techniques. The styles of Lanna textiles include those of the three major Tai groups living in northern Thailand. These are the Tai Yuan. the Tai Lue, and the Lao groups. Within each of these three groups there are individual styles which may indicate a village, a large area or the individual talents and creative drive of the weaver.

The Tai Yuan are the major Tai group living in northern Thailand and they have been here for many hundreds of years. The Tai-Lue too have been here for centuries and according to some sources were the original Tai group in Lanna: but their numbers are smaller than those of the Tai Yuan. The Lao groups who live in northern Thailand are mainly the Tai Phuan and the Tai Neua, and these are as much a part of the northern landscape as the other two. The textiles of these three groups are interesting not only for their beauty and color and pattern and weave, but also because through their textiles the people and their origins can be traced. This is particularly true of the Tai Luem whose roots are in Sipsong Panna, China, and the Lao, whose textile patterns can also be found in their places of origin in Laos itself.

TraditionaI Lanna fabric and clothing are much different from what we see in the West. Lanna garments are not cut and seamed, but rather they are squares and rectangles of fabric that are folded, tucked or joined in other ways. Within the squares and rectangles are various designs, borders and embroidery.

Pictures are taken from "Lan Na Textiles"
by Songsak Prangwatthanakyn, Patricia Cheesman

pha zin
Pha Zin

The reason for this somewhat flexible style of fabric making was the traditional body decorations of the people of Lanna. The men wore many tattoos and they did not wear shirts but rather carried weapons and tools as decoration. These included knives. swords. sling-shots, crossbows and various types of water containers and bags. Women, although devoid of tattoos and the accoutrements of the men. also dressed in the square and rectangular fabrics. The most common of these were the Pha Zin, a sarong, and a narrow cloth running over their breasts. Bracelets and other jewelry were the main features of bodily adornment.

All the various Tai ethnic groups took great care in designing and weaving their fabrics. Variations on a motif easily identified a clan and village, and the parameters for making each different woven design were relatively set. These people worked according to guidelines, but there was still much room for individual creativity. The different designs and patterns, with their varied colors, depended a lot on the weaving techniques; and as every woman had her own loom, the varieties in technique broadened even further.


Mudmee, a woven fabric pattern almost exclusively associated with the Northeast of Thailand. is also a part of Lanna textiles as it is made by the Tai Lue in Naan Province near the border of Laos. The Mudmee of the Tai-Lue is similar to that of the Tai-Nuea group of northern Laos near Luang Prabang, but the Tai-Lue use horizontal patterns while the Tai-Nuea use vertical patterns in their work. In Mudmee the patterns are formed by tying strings to the woven yarn in places where the weaver wants the yarn to be die-resistant Using this process, all areas of the fabric not ''tied'' are dyed, leaving the motif in the natural color of the yarn.

Jok is a technique much different from Mudmee and Jok is found mainly in Chiangmai Province among the Tai Yuan. This technique is used to make the elaborate dress garment for women, the Dteen Jok, which is a sarong (Pha Zin) for special occasions. The Dteen Jok was most important for the status of a woman not only because of its beauty but also because the intricate weaving work displayed the talent of the weaver. The technique used in Jok is to apply a secondary pattern within the main one and to do this the weaver uses a stick, a quill or fingers to pull out certain yarns and thread smaller, more intricate patterns while the fabric is still on the loom. The Jok technique is popular among an the Tai groups and is used in both cotton and silk.

The Khid is another weaving technique and one that is very popular with the Tai-Lue people on both sides of the Mae Khong River near Chiang Khong In Chiangrai Province. The Khid technique involves a double repetitive pattern done by manipulation of the sticks in the loom. The khid fabrics are most often geometric designs. Because of the use of sticks inserted in the weave on the loom, very complex patterns are possible in this type of woven fabric.

A simpler weaver. although no less attractive or interesting than the khid and the Jok. is the Yog Dorg. These are patterns done without supplementing yarn and often they appear in herring-bone or basket-weave patterns in some Yog Dorg fabric. Sometimes a variety of colored thread are used and the appearance is similar to that of the Khid or the Jok: However, no overlays, no separate weft. and no separate threading is involved. The Yog Dorg weaving is done by nearly all Tai groups and a well-known example is the diamond pattern done chiefly by the Tai Yuan people in the town of Mae Jaem In Chiangmai Province.

The Yog Dorg, the Khid and the Jok are often used together in one fabric design. This is a very compilicated process and it results in one of the most beautiful of Lanna textiles. Interestingly, this combination of weaving techniques and patten types is seen most often among the Tai groups both from and in Laos.

The Tai weaving pattern known as the tapestry technique is called the Goh or the Luang. This is a technique used by the Tai-Lue in many parts of northern Thailand. These include Chiangmai, Phayao and Chiangrai; the tapestry weave is also popular among the Tai Lue of both Laos and Naan. In this fabric many colors are used. but unlike techniques used in the other fabrics and patterns. goh

In the tapestry weave as many as ten colors are used and all of these are woven into the complete fabric piece as part of the whole. These are woven like plain weave and hooks and dove-tails are used to bond the yarns tightly at junctures. Many complex and intricate patterns are created using this technique.

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