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Thai Textiles

An international research project identifying how locally sourced, sustainable raw materials can be more effectively and profitably utilised in Thai rural craft weaving.

At a glance

  • The Thai Textiles Project is an international collaboration between the RCA and Thammasat University, Thailand.
  • Dr Oakley is working with co-investigator Dr Wuthigrai Siriphon, who has a PhD and an MA in Textiles from the RCA.
  • The project activities to date have included staff visits to rural craft weavers and Thai textile and associated material collections in the UK and Thailand.
  • During 2020 staff at Thammasat will be creating a pilot collection of woven samples made from sustainably produced yarns and dyes.

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Key details

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More information

Thammasat University logo

Thammasat University

Thammasat University is Thailand's second oldest university. Inaugurated in 1934, it was originally named the “University of Ethics and Politics”, reflecting its primary mission to offer higher education in the disciplines of law and politics to the new citizenry and prepare Thai people for a new democratic system.

Thammasat University has since evolved into a prestigious international research university offering academic degrees at all levels and producing cutting edge research across a broad spectrum of academic disciplines.

More than 300,000 students have graduated since its founding and many have gone on to make great contributions to the development and progress of Thailand and the world. Notable university alumni include former Prime Ministers, leading politicians and government figures, Bank of Thailand governors, supreme court judges, and provincial governors, as well as experts in various fields.

Textile and Fashion Design Programme, Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts

The Programme offers theoretical, practical and professional training in two majors; textile and fashion design. Its textile course is one of only a few such dedicated programmes in the country. The textile design major provides specialist classes on a variety of techniques including weaving, printing, knitting, embroidery and related surface design processes.

It also offers classes on sustainable design, community and industrial projects, as well as management and business skills. The programme is equipped with purpose-built workshop space, specialist equipment and technical support. Graduates are working in governmental departments, studios or manufacturers in the commercial sector, or running their own brands.

Thai Textile Display, 2019 (photographer: Dr Peter Oakley)

Thailand has a vibrant craft weaving sector, sustained in large part through local purchases of the textiles produced, though there are also aspirations to export these products.

Key issues identified by researchers relating to the longer-term sustainability of this rural industry include:

  1. a lack of cultural transmission of weaving skills across generations
  2. aligning weaving practice with shifting and growing expectations amongst key groups of Thai consumers – principally younger urban Thai professionals - around what constitutes authentic local craft practice and sustainably produced craft products
  3. a lack of expertise around selling Thai craft textile products into potentially profitable markets in developed nations

Weavers studio Ban Rai. 2019 (photographer: Dr Peter Oakley)

The project’s activities are anticipated to consolidate professional relationships between staff at the RCA and Thammasat University and initiate a practical programme of material testing and resource creation.

The activities will also allow the project team to initiate professional relationships with local craft textile producers in Thailand and museum curators in Thailand and the UK, as well as reconfirm existing links with British Council staff based in Thailand.

Wat in Chiang Mai. 2019 (photographer: Dr Peter Oakley)

During 2019 and early 2020, academic staff from both institutions undertook international visits to the partner’s country to develop an understanding of the resources available, meet with staff in possible partner institutions and develop a more nuanced understanding of the wider cultural context.

The co-investigator is currently overseeing the creation of a pilot collection of woven samples made from sustainably farmed and harvested yarns and dyes. This activity will act as a proof-of-concept, as well as identify the practical issues that will need to be addressed to complete a more advanced programme of resource creation applicable for rural craft weaving.

Value(s) of Crafting posters

‘The Value(s) of Crafting in the 21st Century’. Public presentation given by Dr Oakley at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre, Bangkok, 28 Sept 2019.

Professional Practice Lecture: ‘Localized Design; international Opportunities?’ delivered by Dr Siriphon at the RCA, 3 March 2020.

‘The Value(s) of Thai Craft Textiles in the 21st Century’, presented by Dr Oakley and Dr Siriphon as part of the Re-thinking Creative Economy Through Fashion in Asia panel at the AAS-in-Asia 2020 Conference, delivered online from Kobe, 2 Sept 2020.

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Thai Textiles

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