Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


This paper examines the hand-woven textiles of the Phuthai ethnic group made in the last thirty years or after the Communist Revolution of 1975. If one asks a Phuthai woman to describe Phuthai dress, she will answer, “sin mii lae suea lap lai,” or a skirt decorated with weft ikat technique and a fitted blouse of indigo dyed cotton, decorated with hand-woven, patterned red silk. Despite the use of synthetic dyes that are readily available in the local markets, many Phuthai women still grow indigo and cotton, and indigo-stained hands and the repetitious sounds of weaving are still found in Phuthai villages. This paper focuses on the Phuthai living in Savannakhet Province, Laos, but they are also found in Khammouan, Bolikhamsay, and Salavan provinces of Laos as well as in Thailand and Vietnam. The author conducted fieldwork in Savannakhet Province in several districts during 2004. The Phuthai belong to the same ethno-linguistic family, the Tai-Kadai, as the Lao, who are the dominant ethnic majority of Laos, and the Lao and Phuthai share linguistic and cultural similarities, such as religious beliefs that combine Buddhism and shamanism. In the past, the Phuthai rulers of Muang Vang Ang Kham paid tribute to neighboring kingdoms, and the Muang was eventually incorporated into Laos. The Phuthai incorporated non-Phuthai elements of dress and textiles, such as textiles made in a royal Lao, or Lan Xang, style into their culture. However, despite the changes in political power and the introduction of different styles of dress and textiles, the hand-woven textiles of the Phuthai continue to symbolize their ethnic identity.