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IKTT unraveling secrets of Khmer textile techniques

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Two women making silk products at Innovation for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) in Siem Reap province. SUPPLIED

IKTT unraveling secrets of Khmer textile techniques

The Khmer Traditional Textile Organisation (IKTT) produces various silk fabric items from Cambodia-sourced textiles using traditional Khmer techniques including skirts, handkerchiefs, sarongs, scarves or krama, tarpaulins or blankets and women’s accessories such as hair ties or bows.

All of these Khmer silk handicrafts are made from beginning to end in accordance with the traditional methods first invented by the Khmer ancestors.

One of the largest markets for them is in Japan and most customers of IKTT are Japanese because of Japan’s traditional use of silk and the organisation’s Japanese founder bringing the silk products over to Japan and advertising them there.

Cambodian support for these products has been limited by their expensive price tags. A skirt made of Khmer silk can cost $900 to $1,000 and the largest items can cost more than $2,000. The smallest Khmer silk products such as hair ties still cost $10 at minimum at IKTT’s shops in Siem Reap town.

“Currently we have almost no sales within Cambodia, so we are focusing on the Japanese market. My plan is to expand to Europe in the future,” the general manager of IKTT, Midori Iwamoto, told The Post.

“Since IKTT does not mass-produce its products and quality is of utmost importance to us, we do not set an annual production quota. It is not a good idea to rush the craftsman if we want to create a more beautiful product. Silk fabric made with time and care can be used for 10 to 20 years. Of course, our cloth can also be washed and the colour will not fade”, she added.

At present, IKTT has more than 100 middle-aged or older women employed at two workshop locations in Siem Reap.

“We have a workshop that is our silk production unit located in Chob Som village of Paksneng commune in Angkor Thom district, about 30 km from Siem Reap town. Our organisation also has another location for selling silk products that is a showroom for guests at #456 in Vihear Chen village of Svay Dangkum commune in Siem Reap town as well,” chief director of IKTT, Yan Marina, told The Post.

In 2018 the organisation changed its name to Innovation of Khmer Traditional Textiles, but it was founded in 1996 as the Institute of Khmer Traditional Textiles. In either case, they’ve always been known by the acronym IKTT for short.

According to the director of the organisation, there are about 110 employees at IKTT. Most of them are people for whom it is very difficult to find regular work and a large number of them come from communities in Angkor Thom district of Siem Reap province. Others are from Takeo, Kampot, Kandal and Kampong Speu provinces.

“IKTT launched in 1996 in Phnom Penh as a traditional Khmer textile institute founded by Japanese national Kikuo Morimoto. We relocated to Angkor Thom district in Siem Reap province in 2000, but from 2018 to the present we’ve changed our name slightly to focus on innovation and new ideas,” said Marina, 37, and originally from Kandal province.

“The founder, Morimoto Kikuo, created this organisation to promote the production of Khmer silk-weaving to revitalise it as an art form. The artisans are all middle-aged and elderly women – most of whom find it difficult to find work in other parts of Siem Reap and some are from Kampot, Takeo and Kampong Speu,” Marina continued.

A large number of raw materials for the production of silk dyes are derived from the crops of local people living in the Siem Reap community. All stages of the production process follow traditional methods, with the selection of silk, the dyeing process, knitting and weaving having been done with the same traditional techniques for the past 26 years that were developed for hundreds of years prior to today.

“This approach is not only reviving the environment naturally and supporting the self-reliance of the artisan, but also aiming to reactivate Cambodian traditional crafts and culture,” Iwamoto said. “IKTT has overcome many difficulties and expanded its activities ranging from the revival of traditional crafts to training successors and regenerating living environments. Its next aim is to explore textile production.”

“We believe that understanding the original meaning behind the traditional patterns created by the ancient Khmer people with prayerful intentions, along with improved dying and weaving techniques, will allow us to attempt to reproduce the old masterpieces, which is essential for handing down the culture of original Khmer traditional textiles to future generations,” she added.

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