Cambodian Dyeing Traditions

by - Thursday, May 14, 2009

2009 Maiwa Textile Symposium

Instructor Morimoto Kikuo

Under the Khmer Rouge almost all of Cambodia’s traditional culture was wiped out. A great poverty of information resulted – everything from basic farming to textile dyeing and weaving techniques was lost. Yet, at one time Cambodian textiles were the envy of Southeast Asia.

It became the goal of Morimoto Kikuo to search for the last seeds of knowledge and to replant them. The result is a revival of Cambodian traditional knowledge and the founding of a self-sufficient village where all dye and weaving resources may be found on site. This workshop provides an opportunity to meet and work alongside Morimoto Kikuo as he instructs the class in the use of natural dyes and their application to Cambodian silk ikat. Students will gain direct technical knowledge but also learn some of the history and philosophy behind the remarkable Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles. Morimoto Kikui joins us from Cambodia.

Morimoto Kikuo

Morimoto Kikuo was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1948. In 1975, after a five-year apprenticeship, he started his career in yuzen, the Japanese textile technique of painting and dyeing kimono fabric. In 1980 he made his first visit to Bangkok where he discovered Khmer traditional silk ikat textiles at the National Museum.

In 1983, Morimoto moved to Thailand to serve as a volunteer in refugee camps in the northeast. In the following years he worked encouraging natural dye traditions and in 1990, as a collaborating researcher for The Textile Museum (Washington, DC), he compiled a report entitled “Traditional Dyeing Methods in Northeast Thailand.”

In 1995, Morimoto was asked by UNESCO Cambodia to serve as a consultant for the revival of traditional silk weaving. He remained in Cambodia where he started another project, this time to raise silkworms in Takaor village, Kampot province.

In 1996, Morimoto founded IKTT (the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles) in a suburb of Phnom Penh. Four years later the Institute moved to Siem Reap and added a workshop for weaving and dyeing with the goal of enabling elder craftspeople to hand on their skills to younger generations.

In 2002, Morimoto purchased five hectares of land north of Angkor Wat to begin his next project, the establishment of a self-sufficient weaving village. He now lives and works there as he oversees a project named “Wisdom from the Forest.” The village grows locally everything needed (dyes, cotton, silk) to create traditional Camodian Ikat. In 2004, Morimoto received a Rolex Award for Enterprise.


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