Institute of Khmer Traditional Textiles
"Tradition lives together with nature"
Khmer textiles are dyed with five basic colours: yellow, red, green, blue and black. The country has long produced dyes for these colours. However, the war and deforestation severely damaged the production of these dyes, which is one of the main reasons it has been so important for us to regenerate the forest.
The research needed to carry out a task such as this has been immense, given that knowledge of natural dye is often secretive and passed down through family generations. There is a lot superstition surrounding why certain dyes work, and in many rural villages, they do not have the natural science to understand why certain dyes have become extinct, often attributing their disappearance to folk tales.
Morimoto has dedicated his life to researching these dyes, manifesting IKTT's vision in restoring the natural environment.
Colour and their dyes...
Red - Dyed using the nest of the lac insect. Nowadays the main exporter of the lac insect is India. Until the 1970's Cambodia was also a major centre for lac production, lacs have a low heat tolerance and 35 degrees Celsius is the maximum temperate they can survive.
Before the deforestation of Cambodia's forests, lacs would live in the forest canopy underneath the shelter of 100-year-old tall trees. Once these trees were gone, the lac could no longer live in Cambodia, as a result, lac is the only dye we import into our village.
Due to our efforts in restoring the natural environment, a small number of Lac insects have started to repopulate one of the trees in our village. One of our villagers who is an expert in lac breeding confirmed that the lac insect has returned, this is a great triumph for us and demonstrates that we are succeeding in our ambition to recreate the natural environment.
We need to let the lac breed and re-establish itself before we can begin to harvest the nests from our village, however, we hope that in a few years we will be able to dye a beautiful red colour from our own land.
Yellow and Green - Dyed using the bark of the Prohut tree. The Prohut tree has always been a central part of Cambodian natural dye, however, we have had to do careful research to replant them in the right way.
During Morimoto's Bangkok era he learned that one of the only areas he could see a Prohut tree growing in its natural environment was a forested area in the danger zone. It was essential that he saw this environment for him to understand how to grow the trees correctly. In his determination, he asked a soldier to take him on a tour of a land mine zone so that he could study the tree properly.
Blue - Dyed using indigo. We grow our indigo on the land, alongside our mulberry trees and cotton farm. The plant uses a lot of energy when it flowers, so we harvest it just before to retain the plants' pigment.
Before 1970 indigo dying was very popular in Cambodia but unfortunately, that experience disappeared. For us to regain that knowledge, we have had to do a lot of research into the process. Back in 2003, we collaborated with an indigo dye and weaving expert, Ms. Sawako Tamura to revive indigo dyeing at our project, since then we now have our own indigo specialists, working within IKTT to pass down the knowledge. In 2018 we finally started to dye enough indigo to include it in our designs, this is a triumph for us.
At the beginning of the project we were lucky enough to find wild indigo still growing around Takeo and Kampot province, it is the seeds from those plants that we use to this day at PWF.
Black - Dyed using Indian almond leaves. Almond trees grow around the village, depending on the intensity of dye we wish to achieve, we collect the leaves both fresh and dry.
Other colours dyed at the IKTT...
Grey - Dyed using the wood of the Lychee tree.
Orange - Dyed using the centre of the Annato plant.