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  • Writer's pictureKaren Selk

1986 First Silk Sojourn

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

Silk Ikat Weaving - Thailand

A love of textiles and all things silk was the impetus for my first trip to Thailand, Burma, China and Korea in 1986. I had never travelled outside North America, but it was something I had been dreaming about for years. I let other things keep getting in the way and it never happened. I made that change not only by telling myself every day I was going, but I told all of my friends as well. Then I got a travel agent and made it real. I told my friend, Michele Wipplinger from Seattle, what I was up to and she wanted to join me. As my passion was silk, hers was natural dyes. This was the beginning of many adventures together. We were much younger and more naïve then, but we felt brave and full of anticipation knowing we would learn and see the most exotic things as well as meet wonderful people involved in making cloth. And we did, over and over again!

It was a different time then. It seemed more simple, but more difficult at the same time. We traveled armed with our film camera, notebooks, pump water filter, blue airmail envelopes, cash to trade on the black market and a bottle of Jack Daniels and a carton of Luck Strikes strategically placed on top of our suitcase which quietly disappeared when we faced the immigration/customs officers. There was no email, fax. Bottled water existed only in the cities and the telephone connection we waited for up to two days to call home, often got disconnected after we shouted the word “hello”.

That first trip was amazing, a dream almost. We endured, we laughed, we cried, we ate delicious and not so delicious food, we photographed, we sketched and we wrote. But most of all we fell in love with a place in the world, the people that live there and the colour and cloth that is made with skilled and caring hands. The warmth and attention bestowed upon us from strangers cinched our hearts and life work to Asia from then on.

We returned home full of new knowledge of dyes, silk and woven cloth. We combined our notes and slide photographs and wrote essays about our travels. We passed along our findings to other craftspeople in North America through workshops and slide lectures.


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