Cambodia’s traditional textiles are a source of pride for its people, and efforts are being made to preserve this unique craft.
The MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum has partnered with schools to provide students with a hands-on experience in the art of dyeing, a crucial technique in textile production.
Through this partnership, students are gaining a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s textile traditions and developing a sense of appreciation for this ancient craft.
“We want our students to learn more about Khmer textiles, which have unique characteristics compared to textiles from other countries,” said Kim Monyrothana, head of the Khmer language programme at GO-GLOBAL International School in Siem Reap, who brings his students to visit the museum.
His fifth-grade students from the school recently visited The MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum to study and discover traditional textiles from Cambodia and other countries such as India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This captivating journey has allowed students to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Cambodia and gain valuable knowledge about the art of textile production.
“The hands-on experience of dyeing provides a deeper understanding of the textile-making process, surpassing what they can learn through classroom theory alone,” said Monyrothana.
The collaboration between the school and the museum was facilitated by the museum’s staff, who acted as instructors for the programme.
Dyeing was chosen as the focal point due to its accessibility and its crucial role in textile production, according to Sen Kimsun, acting deputy director of the museum.
“The dyed fabrics created by the students can be cherished as souvenirs, representing their newfound knowledge and skills,” he said.
The choice of dyeing is based on the fact that it is the simplest textile production process that children can engage in, according to Kimsun.
Dyed fabrics can be used as souvenirs, showcasing one of the key techniques in textile manufacturing. Weavers have the option to dye before or after weaving, yet both children and adults often lack awareness of these textile procedures.
In addition to the student programme, Kimsun has plans to establish a dyeing workshop sponsored by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). This initiative will allow guests interested in practicing dyeing yarn to gain valuable skills and a deeper understanding of the textile production chain. The anticipated launch of the project is by the end of 2023.
Welcoming students to engage in dyeing is a new activity complementing existing ventures such as learning fabric design and decoration.
“Initially, we will prioritise teaching children, and once our team is trained, we will extend the opportunity to students and visitors, including domestic and international tourists,” Kimsun told The Post.
By combining theoretical knowledge with hands-on practice, he says, students develop a comprehensive understanding of textiles, moving beyond mere familiarity with finished garments to appreciating the intricate production processes. Dyeing plays a pivotal role in enhancing the beauty of textiles.
“Cambodia has a rich history in the textile industry,” emphasised Kimsun.
“We aspire to raise the value of weaving, particularly in the silk sector, among people, especially the younger generation who may not be well-versed in the cultural significance of textiles,” he added.
In the Khmer tradition, Kimsun said that knotting is highly regarded as it contributes to the soaking process. Before weaving fabrics into skirts, scarves, or other creations, weavers meticulously tie intricate details to enhance the final outcome.
Kimsun further explained the museum serves as a repository of knowledge, sharing information with visitors about the textile production process and the historical significance of textiles.
By showcasing the production techniques and exhibiting relevant artefacts, the museum bridges the gap between past methods and the present, enriching visitors’ understanding of this ancient craft.
As part of the study tour program on May 15, 40 students were introduced to the world of textile production, with a particular focus on the dyeing process.
“It’s a memorable experience for our young learners, and we hope it instils in them a passion for further exploration as they progress to higher grades,” said Monyrothana.
Students had the privilege of exploring a collection consisting of eleven remarkable pieces, comprising four exquisite silk towels, five intricately woven sampots (traditional long skirts) featuring the traditional Cambodian ikat pattern, and two magnificent pidans—elaborate decorative panels used for adorning pagodas or homes during special ceremonies.
These extraordinary textiles were meticulously crafted using exclusively traditional designs and equipment, including the renowned traditional Khmer looms.
During the visit, the students were also given a comprehensive explanation about the rarity of pidans, shedding light on the reasons behind their diminishing availability.
The dark era of the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime dealt a devastating blow to the preservation of cultural knowledge tied to these exquisite textiles, leading to a significant loss which still resonates today.