The hunt for Sacred Lotus Silk…CONCLUDED!
My interest in Myanmar peaked after a meeting with their Economic Attache in Washington D.C. in August 2016. Curious to know more about things I may find in this unknown region of the world, I scheduled an appointment.
Upon arrival, I explained the vision of Cashmere & Pearls and our desire to find the most unique and exotic fashion accessories in the world. Following a brief discussion of the natural resources in Myanmar, reference was made to ‘lotus silk’. I learned that Inle Lake, Myanmar is the only place in the world where fibers of the sacred lotus plant stems are woven into fabrics. As the uniqueness of this textile was described, I was drawn in and knew within minutes Inle Lake was calling me!
In preparation for my travels, I began researching lotus silk.
I confirmed this one form of weaving was entirely unique to Myanmar and had been practiced for over 100 years. And the process of making lotus silk fiber is extremely labor intensive, making it among the most expensive textiles in the world. For instance, a small scarf requires the fiber from nearly 4,000 lotus stems. I scoured the internet looking for retail providers of this fiber and found very few. I was able to confirm that much of this extremely rare and exclusive fabric is used to produce robes for Buddhist monks.
Fast forward to January 2017, next stop Nyaung Shwe Village, the gateway to Inle Lake.
I knew from my research that In Paw Khone was one of the villages on Inle Lake where lotus silk is produced. And I knew I needed to arrive by boat. With that in mind, I arranged for a 6 a.m. departure to catch the sunrise en route.
Inle Lake is grand and serene, especially in the early morning hours. The stillness of the lake began to come alive when I caught a view of one of the local fishermen. The style of fishing is so unusual! You see, the fishermen use one leg to paddle while standing upright on their boat with a fishing net in hand.
Following a nice tour of the lake, we eventually navigated a series of narrow waterways and arrived at a lotus weaving workshop, perched on stilts above the water, in In Paw Khone village!
Here, I experienced first hand the lotus stems being taken from the water, precisely cut to expose the fibers, then rolled to make a single thread and finally knotted together to make long threads for weaving. Watching the process from start to finish was FASCINATING!
The finished fabric is similar in texture to linen or raw silk. It is lightweight, incredibly soft, and the fabric is said to be water resistant. As an added bonus, this exclusive fabric is believed by the Burmese to possess calming powers, relieve headaches, and restore peaceful and meditative characteristics!
Although most lotus accessories are sold in their natural earthy color, natural dyes are used to create four additional colors:
- Mango tree bark produces a dark reddish color
- Jackfruit bark deepens the natural brown color
- Blackwater tree bark, also known as the Inle Lake tree, produces a dark gray color
- And the Lotus leaf provides a rich green dye
I was honored to spend time watching these artisans produce one of the rarest fabrics in the world. And to think the fibers were hidden in the stems of the sacred lotus flower!
In summary, this is what you should know about lotus silk:
- One scarf, 8.5” X 64” takes about one month to make.
- Only the fibers from the pink lotus stems are used to make the fabric.
- Lotus fiber has many knots where the threads are tied together to form their length. This gives the fabric a distinct knotted look and the fiber is not shiny.
- Lotus fabric is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
- But what I found the most incredible was the fiber SMELLS like the pink lotus flower! This smell is best described as earthy with intense floral aromas.