Lotus Weaving of Inle Lake Myanmar

Oct 2014

The image of the lotus is everywhere in Burma. It holds the basis for untold powers of healing and is the source of much folklore. I was thrilled to learn that during my trip we would be visiting the Khit Sunn Yin Hand Weaving Center to see the lotus weaving of Inle Lake Myanmar.

healing power of lotus

I had previously thought rare silks or threads of cashmere were the most labor intensive and luxurious of fibers. Little did I know that another fiber really set the gold standard.  While visiting, we had the opportunity to watch the entire process of lotus weaving and learn of the incredible workmanship that goes into each and every textile piece.lotus-weaving-inle-lakeResearching the traditional weaving process is a favorite activity when I travel. You might remember my fascinating trip to the village of Ponchampally, outside Hyderabad, India, where I was able to observe a traditional dying process using only natural ingredients. The weaving in Burma is filled with that  same labor of love.

DSC_0126Each scarf has over 3000 lotus stalks woven within. To prepare the threads, spin, thread the loom and weave will take an artisan over two weeks. I wondered how they could sustain such a process, both in terms of the life of the lotus, and the hourly wage of the weavers.  Luckily, the villagers are aware of the rare beauty and exclusive nature the finished fabric; prices reflect that uniqueness and lotus fabric is one of the most expensive in the world.

inle lake weavingApparently the flower will only grow in the most pristine of waters. It thrives in the freshwater Inle Lake. This pure quality is carried through the threads of the woven cloth; that is why it is used for the robes of Buddhist monks. The calm, peaceful and meditative characteristics the plant is said to bring, are certainly words I would use to describe the monks I’ve observed and spoken with on my journey.

The villagers also believers in the healing powers and many wear the fabric themselves. In different instances, I heard claims of relief of asthma, heart conditions, lung and headaches. In any case, it is a beautiful fabric, and I am happy to join the villagers in wearing this distinctive cloth {by way of a scarf} and supporting an indigenous craft. The texture of the fabric is similar to a raw silk or linen, and has an incredibly soft hand.

myanmar lotus weaving

Just a short boat ride from our sanctuary on Inle Lake is a over the water workshop filled with activity. As you approach the building in your dug out boat, a strange clack, clack overwhelms any other sound in the area. The looms are busy at work. When we first arrived, we were treated to a demonstration of how the lotus fibers are harvested. After the rains of the monsoon, the lotus flower is in its glory. Bright pink flowers apparently indicate the best fibers. The time consuming stripping of the stalk of the lotus takes place when the stems are freshly picked.

lotus weaving of Inle Lake Myanmar

lotus weaving of inle lake Myanmar

Porous fibers are twisted and rolled together with water, spun, and then washed again. The original color is a beautiful earth tone with subtle variations throughout the threads. Natural dyes are made from the bark of a tree, flower petals, leaves and fruit. A primitive stove cooked the spun fibers in many different dye baths, pieces of wood keeping the vats boiling and smoking. The effect in the dark building was quite surreal as brilliant sunlight flooded in through some of the windows. Fabric and skeins make dramatic visual drying outside.

lotus weaving burma

lotus weaving inle lake myanmar burmaThe talented weavers also make fabric from cotton and silk at the Khit Sunn Yin Hand Weaving Center. This provides a more affordable and sustainable option for retail shoppers. It was encouraging to see this thriving cooperative promoting the artisans and keeping so many women employed in one of the poorest countries in South East Asia. As the doors to tourism open even wider, this traditional craft of the Myanmar people won’t be a secret for long. Italian and Japanese designers are already incorporating the luxury fabric into collections and finished goods are selling for thousands of dollars. Is the craft part of a Fair Trade and sustainable system?

DSC_0264I’ve written before about the lake’s fragile eco-system and wonder how the production will be able to keep up with demand. The rapidly changing times will need additional lotus growth in other parts of the country in order to sustain this unique craft and harvest the threads in an environmentally friendly way. Let’s hope the process can keep the calm and meditative traditions of  Buddhist thought respectfully in the forefront of Inle Lake’s culture.

Pin Me ♥ Lotus Weaving Inle Lake Myanmar

Lotus Weaving Inle Lake Myanmar

Yes there’s more to read about Inle Lake:
Instagraming the Markets of Inle Lake
Delicious Fish Curry from Inle Lake (and a recipe)

  1. How fascinating. I’ve never heard of this cloth before. Wonderful to hear about such a unique cooperative thriving.
    As you say though, I do hope that the response to increasing demand can be managed in environmentally sensitive and sustainable ways.

  2. anna parker says:

    it is incredible how much care and work goes into the process, each must be totally unique too which is a great memory to take away and wear at home

  3. What a lovely age-old craft! It’s nice to hear the weaving cooperatives are helping to support the ongoing viability of lotus weaving… And it must have been quite special to see the weavers :-).

  4. Donna Janke says:

    A very interesting post. I’ve never heard of lotus fabric before. Perhaps that is because of its rarity and its price. It looks like a beautiful fabric.

  5. Leigh says:

    What a beautiful, educational post. Isn’t it interesting to see the high prices this material can command in the right markets. I wonder how long it takes for lotus to grow. Such patience to make such fabric.

  6. I didn’t know about lotus cloth. We are hoping to get to Myanmar in 2015 and would like to check this out!

  7. What amazingly beautiful textiles! It looks like they are made so lovingly.

  8. It is interesting how weaving developed all over the world. So similar from place to place, yet so different.

  9. This is a fascinating art. Your images are spectacular.

  10. The scarf with its subtle hues pictured at the top of your post is absolutely beautiful. What an interesting and fascinating post and we can’t wait to visit this amazing country in 2015!

  11. jan carp says:

    Hi! Just back from Myanmar, where we were taken to Mya Setkyar at No 131B Shwe Wah Str, Nyaung Shwe Haw Gone Qtr. I wanted to find Khit Sunn Yin and our guide told us it was too far away. When we were leaving, I saw Khit Sunn Yin painted on the side of the building right next door. Don’t know if they have moved, but wondering if you can find me an address for them. If they really were right there, and I was mislead, I am going to ask someone from the tour company to go back and purchase what I wanted. Thanks for any help you can give. Jan

  12. I visited Inle Lake a few years ago and was able to purchase an orange lotus scarf. I wear it often and it is very special to me.

  13. Denis Kinsella says:

    They are very protective of their craft. You can only by the fabric from them and no one else.

    • alison says:

      They are Denis and I think that is a good thing. So many artisans are “discovered” and then someone adapts their craft for production. This is such a labor intensive process I hope they can continue to thrive.

  14. Svenja says:

    Great report! Does anyone know whom to contact to obtain a few gram of the raw material (untreated)? Thanks for your help!

  15. Luigi Bianchi says:

    I was in Myanmar 4 year ago and I bought a sharf in Lotus at Mya Setkiar Silk. It was very nice and now I would like another one so I need to know their e-mail address. Will I find a nice peaple who send to me it ? Have a nice day! Luigi. 04.03.2017

  16. jennifer says:

    This is absolutely fascinating and has made me that much more excited for my trip to Myanmar in November!

    • alison says:

      Great to hear Jennifer. I’m excited for you and think you’ll love all Myanmar has to offer. If I can answer any other questions, just let me know!