Japanese native Kikuo Morimoto is passionate about silk. He began working with fabrics in 1971 and worked as a hand painter in Kyoto, using traditional Japanese dyeing methods. In 1983, he moved to Thailand where he taught rural communities traditional weaving techniques and how to dye cloth using natural pigments.
“In Thailand, one day I found one piece of traditional Khmer silk, it was such a beautiful and artistically complex cloth. I was extremely impressed and interested,” Morimoto recalled.
In 1995, Morimoto becape a consultant for a UNESCO weaving project, at that time, he traveled into Cambodia for his research. When he arrived in Cambodia, he traveled everywhere he could find that had a reputation for textiles.
“My first visit to a silk village was in Takeo province,” he said “My research continued from village to village with the aim of learning about the Khmer arts of traditional silk production. But, it seemed that everything related to the art of traditional Khmer silk production had disappeared because of war, especially during the Pol Pot regime that destroyed all Cambodia’s cultural traditions.”
Cambodia’s rich Khmer culture, including traditional Khmer silk production was brutally eradicated. During the last decade, most of Cambodian experts on silk production had passed away. “It is very difficult for us to go back and reconstruct the traditional techniques that produced the best Khmer silk,” Morimoto said.
In 1996, after conducting research in over 30 villages, Morimoto established the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) to revitalize Khmer traditional textiles. He began working with Cambodians to breed the original Khmer silkworms, which produce a yellow cocoon that is the raw material for producing high-quality silk.
“These golden cocoons are the first important raw material to make Khmer silk and are very special,” said Morimoto. “The cocoons are naturally yellow. Though China, Japan, and Vietnam can produce their silk on an industrial scale, the cocoons in those countries are white and of a mass-production quality.”
“The best Khmer silk was produced by hand, and utilised the traditional technique of producing natural dyes from plants, trees, leaves and resins,” Morimoto explained.
According to Touch Vannaran, a staff officer at IKTT, “today, IKTT not only produces its own woven silk, it also makes many souvenir items from Khmer silk and cotton.”
“There are more than 200 Cambodian people who are descended from the top Khmer silk makers. They come from Takeo province, Kampot and Siem Reap and work together today at IKTT’s 20-hectare farm.”
The IKTT forest village is located in Peak Sneng commune, Angkor Thom district, about 20 kilometres north of Siem Reap town.
“With its organic silkworm farm and the traditional methods we utilise to produce Khmer silk, IKTT is renowned in Cambodia’s tourism industry which has attracted many visitors to visit the farm – even the Japanese crown prince has stopped by to visit us,” she said.