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Making a Trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

We had heard through the grapevine that Cambodia has some of the most beautiful silk in the world. But we had also heard that, like many southeast asian countries, most of it is made in sweatshops, which made me a little hesitant to buy the cheap stuff here (Despite the fact that most my H&M clothes are probably made in a sweatshop in Phnom Penh).

Then we heard about Artisans D’Angkor, which is an NGO that started in Siem Reap. It’s main purpose was to provide young Cambodians, mainly from rural areas, with free vocational training so that they can obtain decent-paying jobs. Most of the training is in silk weaving, stone or wood carving, or silver painting. Unlike other places in Cambodia, the employees who end up working here have protected work time, with limits to an 8-hour day and mandatory breaks, which is not the case in the sweatshops.

We decided to visit the silk training factory, which is on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Our tour guide showed us the mulberry trees which they grow for the silk worm food, and then baskets of the little silk-pooping creatures.

The silk comes from the cocoons that the worms weave. The outside fuzzy stuff is used to make the raw silk, while the actual inner cocoon part it used to make the fine silk. A woman sits in the hot heat all day, boiling these little suckers so that she can get all the silk from the cocoons.





Once the silk is made into thread, it is bleached white, and then dyed to be the color they need for the cloth. Then the women literally weave the silk by hand, with foot pedal-operated looms. The amount of patience, coordination, and focus that this requires is amazing, and they have to remember what stitch they are on, or else they have to start the pattern all over again. I think both Mike and I agreed that neither of us would have the dedication to do this work. This is a picture of the base-threads the women have to place into the machine, one by one, before they start weaving.



At the end of the tour was a dress made of silk and cocoons:

Lady Gaga would be proud.