Silk Production and Its History in Thailand
Thailand has a long history of textile production but there is little surviving archaeological evidence that provides uncontestable proof of the antiquity and development of sericulture in Thailand.
This paper will survey the history of sericulture and silk weaving in Thailand and discuss modern efforts to encourage and sustain traditional Thai silk production.
Thailand has a long history of textile production but there is little surviving archaeological evidence that provides uncontestable proof of the antiquity and development of sericulture in Thailand. There is, however, some evidence of local textile production from prehistoric archaeological sites. For example, possible spindle whorls and textile fragments have been found at Ban Chiang, a Bronze Age site in Udon Thani province, northeastern Thailand. Unfortunately, the samples were in poor condition so the precise fiber could not be identified but some form of bast, possibly hemp, is likely.
The Kingdom of Sukhothai (1238-1351) in north central Thailand had a wide trading network including extensive imports from China. Particularly coveted from the Middle Kingdom were its porcelains and silk. Zhou Daguang, the ambassador from the Yuan court to Cambodia from 1296-97 mentions in his record of his visit, The Customs of Cambodia, written 15 years later, that the Siamese knew the art of sericulture and weaving but were very protective of their skills.
The kingdom of Ayutthaya (14th – 18th century) was located in the center of Thailand. This kingdom was one of the most important commercial centers in Asia. The Thai court particularly coveted painted Indian cottons and silk thread and cloth from Persia, India and China.
During the reign of King Rama V in 1901, His Majesty encouraged sericulture including hiring specialists from Japan to work with the court in Bangkok to improve silk production. Recently, the government has promoted sericulture in Ubon Ratchathani and Buri Ram provinces.
In 1955, HM King Bhumibol and HM Queen Sirikit of Thailand began a series of visits to rural areas of the country. Their joint desire to improve lives led to His Majesty’s innovations in water use and agriculture, while Her Majesty determined that sericulture and silk weaving could provide a crucial secondary source of income for women. This paper will conclude with a description of Her Majesty’s efforts to establish and expand the SUPPORT Foundation which has provided Thai weavers with training, materials, and incentives resulting in the upgrading of Thai silk to international standards.