No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to Queen Sirikit museum of textiles.( At least not the visit of a textile lover!) It seems that the Queen of Thailand has a deep love not only for her people but also for the Thai traditions of making textiles.
“The museum’s mission is to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a center for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, with a special emphasis on the textiles of, and related to, the royal court and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. Additionally, its goal is to create public awareness of Thai identity and culture, and the beauty of Thai traditional textiles, through research, exhibition, and interpretation.” – See more here.
In the museum you can watch a beautiful short documentary on the full process of making Thai silk, from the harvesting of the mulberry leaves used to feed the silkworms to the dyeing, spinning and weaving of the cloth. There is a demonstration of how the silk is woven on a wooden loom that is given by a Thai woman in the downstairs area of the museum. After the demonstration the museum attendant was quite excited at the prospect of dressing me up in Thai silk and a traditional hat! I happily agreed to wear one of the beautiful silk pieces as a sarong. In the upstairs area of the museum you can see many of the Queen’s garments on display as well as some more traditional pieces woven by the ethnic minority tribes: Karen, Lisu, Hmong and Mien.
For me the most touching part of visiting this museum was to watch the videos of the women of different Thai minority tribes who previously had no way to support their families, now making cloth for the Queen’s Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques, SUPPORT, founded on 21 July 1976. Her majesty said the following after a visit to a rural part of Thailand in the 1970’s:
“I noticed that wherever I went with my husband, I saw the Northeasterners wear their mudmee (ikat) silk sarongs so elegantly. So I asked them if I could have one, too. They said they didn’t see the point of my wanting the ordinary stuff; no well-to-do people would ever think of donning such material.”
“Well, I reassured them that the clothes really looked splendid, and I was not putting them on by false praise, as the clothes were very beautiful. They were delighted to hear it and said that if I would wear it they would be happy to make some for me. I told them to go ahead and I would definitely wear them. They did exactly that. I gave them an incentive payment, as they were quite poor. Totally devoid of greed, they said these things were their gifts, and they didn’t want any money in return. I told them this money was going to be their starting money meant for their future prosperity, as well as an encouragement. At this they relented. Otherwise, they would be upset.”
“I had the fabric made into dresses and wore them in public. They were very encouraged on seeing my pictures wearing the clothes. I told them to weave more and I would buy them all and do marketing for them. That was the beginning of the SUPPORT Foundation.”
It makes my heart so happy to learn about stories like this. If you ever find yourself in Bangkok in the future, you can find the museum on the grounds of the Grand Palace, it really is worth the visit. Its cool interior is also a wonderful escape from the oppressive Bangkok heat!
Photography of the Queen’s clothing is strictly forbidden. Click here for official photos of the upstairs section of the museum.