Spark–the Difference between Excellence and Love

We all have our favorite textiles. Maybe it’s the color, the fiber, or a combination of techniques that draws us in. Maybe it’s because of where we were when we acquired–or made–the piece, or maybe it’s the person who gave it to us. Maybe our favorite textiles speaks to us because they have a special “pop” or “pizzazz,”  as authors of Silk Weavers of Hill Tribe Laos, Josh Hirschstein and Maren Beck speculate. I love their checklist for a desirable textile, especially the “Spark.”
They write:
A well-woven, collectible and desirable silk textile has:

Texture and drape: A quality silk textile has weight and integrity, and the gifts that nature offers in this fiber are reflected in both the shimmer and weight. In Xam Tai, this is emblematic of the roles of the sericulturist and reeler, who raise and prepare nature’s threads for its next quality:

Seuk reeling silk from the steaming water in the reeling pot. Photo by Joe Coca.

Richness and vibrancy: A well-woven textile expresses itself in hues and tones that shape our perception. The emblematic role for these qualities is that of the natural-dye artist, who blends tradition and chemistry with patience and insight and prepares the threads for their role in expressing the next quality:

A textile created by Nang Tiip. She raised the silkworms, reeled the silk, created the natural dyes, designed the pattern , and wove the stunning piece. Photo by Joe Coca.

Meaning over time: A quality textile allows tradition to hold sway, but does not hesitate to bring the wisdom of the art in contact with the spirit of today. This quality is symbolized by the designer and template-maker, who shapes the outlines of each design, aligning purpose with form, in preparation for the next quality:

The naturally dyed colors pop in this curl-tailed naak design, dyed and designed by Lun. Photo by Joe Coca.

Precision and consistency: Quality textiles are accurate, tight, and sharp. Every thread is well placed; every point of tension and transition of color is sure and intend- ed. This is the role of the weaver herself, pulling the threads of all the other qualities into a textile’s primary expression: Authenticity and pragmatism: The finished textile will fulfill its role as is evidenced by its power, economy, and purpose.

An artisan in Saleui weaves supplementary pattern warp stripes. Photo by Joe Coca.

Authenticity allows uniqueness to survive in a cool business world that exerts great effort to pull to a common, predictable center. Pragmatism assures the effort bears fruit, and that the task and tradition both remain relevant. This role is fulfilled by the market, and the ultimate bearer and user of the textile. And then finally, there is:

A Lao woman and baby are wrapped in phaa tuum, with the phii nuak, or giant spirit pattern, woven in for protection. Photo by Joe Coca.

Spark: An ephemeral quality that speaks not to numbers but to passions—a quality that looks at the whole and finds a unique articulation and vibrancy. In a textile with Spark, one can see a step beyond the other measured qualities to an exclusive charisma, a heartfelt embrace of color and texture and pattern, an extra “pop” and pizzazz. Spark treasures the difference between excellence and love.”


Discover the generations of master weavers and dyers in Laos, the ancient motifs, the sheen of silk, and a whole lot more that feeds the spark in Silk Weavers of Hill Tribe Laos: Textiles,Tradition, and Well-Being.

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