Nam Cao silk weaving springs back to life

February 11, 2024 - 11:50
Nguyễn Thị Bốn, one of artisans of the centuries-old tussore silk weaving craft, does not remember exactly when she started engaging in this craft.



Silk weaving artisan Nguyễn Thị Bốn of Nam Cao Village in Thái Bình Province. VNS Photo Tố Như 

Tố Như

THÁI BÌNH – A traditional silk weaving village in Nam Cao Commune of Thái Bình Province, after a period of "hibernation", has now been transformed thanks to silk sheets that are not only exported but also help attract tourists back to an area known as “rice land”.

Nguyễn Thị Bốn, one of artisans of the centuries-old ư weaving craft, does not remember exactly when she started engaging in this craft.

Bốn said: “Since I was born I heard the sound of weaving. When I grew up, I saw my parents weaving silk every day, and I gradually did too.”

“Up to now, I am still passionate about my profession and want my children and grandchildren to continue the profession,” Bốn said.

For Bốn, doing this craft is not only about income, but also about happiness.

Nguyễn Thị Mùi, a weaver, said that like many other weavers, she is happy that the traditional craft has revived because she can continue to be attached to her ancestors' profession.

“In my 60 years of life, I have never seen the village as prosperous as it is today, and weavers are also respected as artisans,” Mùi said.

The word "happiness" is mentioned by not only Bốn and Mùi but also many other artisans and weavers who were born, grew up and were attached to the Nam Cao silk weaving craft. Because for them, it is not just a job or an income, but the revival of a craft village that was once eroded and seemed to be completely lost.

This revival makes most of them at the age of 70 or older feel more in love with the professional and love themselves, and want to contribute to keeping the traditional craft for the future to see their hometown become a more livable countryside.

According to the artisans, Nam Cao Silk Weaving Village was formed 400 years ago and is famous throughout the country for its silkworm production and tussore silk weaving.

Nam Cao silk is famous throughout the country thanks to its handmade products that feature many stages from choosing raw materials to finishing the finished product that require diligence, meticulousness, and refinement.

To get silk cloth, people have to go through many steps. They have to go through hard days of planting mulberries, raising silkworms, taking the cocoon and silk and then getting the yarn to weave.

The worker puts the cocoon in a pot to boil and incubates the cocoon pot in rice husks for four to six hours until the cocoon's silk is soft, then soaks it in cold water to spin it into silk yarns.

After being pulled and rolled into balls, the silk yarn has water squeezed out of it, put on a spinning wheel and dried, then sent to winding and finally weaving.

Every day, a person who works hard from early morning until late at night can only weave 5-7m of silk fabric.

Nam Cao's silk is mainly made with handlooms.

Previously, Nam Cao silk and linen products were mainly sewn into clothes for domestic consumption and then exported.

And just 20 years ago, the craft village was still very prosperous. Products were regularly exported to Laos and Thailand. The villagers were very rich.

However, from the 1990s to around 2010, Nam Cao Craft Village operated moderately because the market narrowed and the products could not compete with industrially made fabrics and clothes. Many Nam Cao weavers switched to other jobs.

The tsunami in Thailand’s Phuket in 2012 swept away all the houses, goods, and assets of the silk businesses who were Nam Cao's customers. They stopped importing Nam Cao silk products and paying debts. So Nam Cao weaving households lost customers and money.

The traditional craft gradually faded away, causing artisans who had been associated with silk all their lives to sadly give up the profession.

Meanwhile, young people left their hometowns and did not come back.

From a craft village more than 400 years old, Nam Cao weaving was gradually disappearing, with only three households remaining.

Hundred-year-old looms were suddenly abandoned and covered in dust, even destroyed to make firewood.


Young people of Nam Cao Village are learning silkworm and yarn spinning. VNS Photo Tố Như

Facing the risk of being wiped out, the village suddenly became "happy" again when Nam Cao Silk Weaving Co-operative was established.

And the story of rebuilding a craft village begins with Luong Thanh Hạnh, the co-operative director, owner of the Hanhsilk brand.

"I never thought that one day I would be involved in growing mulberries, raising silkworms, spinning yarn and spinning silk. However, the profession came to me like fate," Hạnh said.

Hạnh said that in the midst of industrialisation, machines gradually replaced people, and it was difficult for silk products on the market to maintain their original "quality".

“Therefore, I appreciate handmade products and wish to preserve the soul of silk,” Hạnh said.

She started everything from zero: people’s trust, money, land and technology. But with her sincerity and enthusiasm, Hạnh mobilised and persuaded weavers to join the co-operative.

From the first three households participating, currently the co-operative has grown to nearly 300 participating members.

“I saved a loom made of ironwood that was hundreds of years old that was almost the first weaver of Nam Cao Village. It was abandoned in a cowshed and covered with spider webs and tiles,” Hạnh recalled.

“If I was just five days late, this loom would have been used to cook bánh chưng (sticky rice cake)," Hạnh said with feelings of happiness and luck because she saved the hundred-year-old loom that produced pieces of silk with exquisite details.

Along with this ancient loom, the co-operative also collected and bought dozens of spinning frames.

It can be said that the appearance of Nam Cao Silk Weaving Co-operative is a lifebuoy to help the traditional craft village revive and begin its second journey more strongly.

Previously, Nam Cao silk and linen was only ivory white or dyed brown, without variety in designs. But now all hand-made products are dyed with many natural colours of red, purple, green and yellow.

The co-operative produces a variety of products such as silk fabric, scarves, clothes, bracelets, hand-embroidered bedding, and face and bath towels.

With a strategy of "quality" and "authenticity", the co-operative has formed a value chain of raw material area - production - consumption - export with 16 stages, while the silkworm farming area is located in Vũ Thư District.

Cocoon raw materials are purchased, then delivered to households to process production stages from spinning, reeling, winding and weaving under the co-operative’s support and organisation.

Thanks to meticulousness in every step and greenness from production to customers, while considering customers as brand ambassadors, Hanhsilk is qualified to meet the export standards of many strict world markets such as Europe, and has been well received by domestic users.

The co-operative not only creates a variety of products but also promotes the development of craft village tourism.

The co-operative expects to receive hundreds of domestic and international visitors to the village to talk with artisans to further understand the famous traditional craft of Thái Bình Province.

According to Hạnh, the silk products are very environmentally friendly.

“Because scarfs are woven from silk, when not used anymore, they can be cut and fertilise the soil. After a few months they will be absorbed into the soil, while with regular fabric, it takes 200 years to decompose,” Hạnh said.

“The natural things go back to nature," she said.

"To make craft villages revive, we contribute a small part. The artisans are the ones who breathe life into the silk and truly revive craft villages," she said humbly.

To further develop the village’s craft, the cooperative regularly organises skill contests, especially for young people who are the next generation to continue the silk spinning and weaving profession in Nam Cao.

This is also a way for the co-operative to preserve and spread love for the traditional craft. VNS