So Crafty

woman carving lacquer

We might as well start with this;

 I’m not ‘Crafty’.

A confession that might come as a surprise to some, as I’m a visual person who can draw and paint passably well, but you would be very, very wrong in assuming this translates to ‘craftiness’, at least in my case.

 Have you seen any photos of that hot pink antique lantern yet? Say no more.

When I do attempt something in the crafty vein it usually takes me about 974 hours to complete the task and I’m seldom happy with it.

I never even learned to sew or knit.

It’s all my mother’s fault.

 I was instantly reminded of this when taking photos (this one in particular) at the silk weaving centre we visited in Myanmar last week. A flashback to ‘Mom’s Sewing Kit’  growing up. It was small and oval shaped in green brocade-they used to be called a “Train Case”, complete with tiny mirror and 4 lipstick holders sewn under the lid. It ran a very sad popularity race against her infinitely more exciting ‘Manicure Case’ and housed a thread monster much like this one. More than anything though, the sewing kit was a repository for safety pins to hold the things begging to be sewn together and more importantly, as time moved on, pimple-popping needles. Sorry, but The Truth isn’t always pretty.

silk weaving Burma

  I did, only because it was mandatory, study sewing in Home Eck.  in junior high. I might have mentioned this before (I’m like my mother in more ways than one 🙂 ) Our big project was to design and sew a stuffed animal-draw and cut the patterns and everything. I sewed a snake. I glued on spots, eyes and a long tongue and failed the class. Seriously-how long did she expect that tongue to stay on? Aren’t snakes supposed to shed their tongues anyway? Personally I thought my stuffed animal was pretty edgy. I don’t think I ever finished the second assignment; an apron ( micro mini of course) but I did learn to type, whipped up a ferocious Baked Alaska, achieved my future sun damage like nobody’s business leaning against the back wall of the building and sold one of my paintings to the Industrial Ed. teacher for $100.

A stellar scholastic year to be sure.

So, you can imagine my shock and awe when we visited a few of the Burmese craft houses I’m sharing with you here.

blue thread

Did you know that thread has to be made??

Like the individual strands of thread are M-A-D-E ?

As in there’s no such thing as a Thread Forest.

Lotus plants for weaving slimpaley.comHere Lotus plants are harvested from Lake Inle

Lotus stem,

Each individual stalk is cut several times and the fibres are gently pulled away by hand and rolled…

Check this out; (video might take a minute to load- but patience is everything, as this perfectly demonstrates)

After the lotus stalks are cut and the thread has been removed, the rest is fed to the pigs.

Of course there is also the controversial Mulberry tree silkworm spit method of creating silk but we did not see it being done here.

fabric dyes

The threads are then dyed and the weaving process begins.


Bags of dye waiting to be mixed. This part looked like fun to me but you can’t even imagine how hot these rooms were.

weaving loom in Burma

Seeing the process from start to finish truly gives you a newfound appreciation for this timeless art.

If your travels ever take you to Burma, I think Lake Inle appears to be one of the best places to buy silks and lotus leaf fabric.


lacquer bowl

Heretofore I would have picked up a lacquer bowl and said with all certainty it was made out of…lacquer.

With no irony. I’m not proud, but there it is. I expose my foibles for the sake of honest journalism.

bamboo being made into lacquer bowls

It actually involves, oh, about infinity different stages and starts out as bamboo.

You probably knew that.

making lacquer slimpaley.comHere, starting from bottom left to top right and snaking back, you can see some of the stages that the bamboo passes through, each one by hand, before it becomes the finished product.

making lacquer slimpaley.comHere the bowls have received an initial coat of lacquer and are being sanded for the next coat.

men working on a lacquer tableThese gentlemen are working on the lacquer table in the following photo

lacquer & mother of pearl table slimpaley.c

After each coat of lacquer the pieces go down to a very hot, dark and dust-free cellar to dry.

lacquer slimpaley.comThe finishing touches being made to dinner chargers. We ordered some of these to be shipped back home. I was never really that attracted to lacquer before. Now I can barely stand to wait the 7 months it will take to receive our chargers and set a chic Burmese themed table!

(yes, 7 months)


This particular lacquer maker ships to clients all over the world- including a very well known, upscale store in San Francisco which we won’t name, but starts with G.

and ends in umps.

Young man painting lacquer

I think this might be one of my favourite photos-even if I do say so myself.

carving lacquer, Burma,

Ladies quietly carving and painting the lacquer bowls.

hands carving lacquer ,

This is just one of the reasons why I love traveling so much. It’s both inspiring and humbling…

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place You occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert

PS. I’ll add the name of the silk & lacquer makers as soon as I find the receipts!

PPS. Does anyone on WordPress know how to make the new video format smaller?!


This time last year… Opulence Moroccan Style




  1. Dear Slim,

    Beautiful craftsmanship. And I always thought of lacquer as merely a shiny sort of enameled paint.

  2. You make me laugh! There isn’t a thread forest? And, you make me think. I never pondered how lacquer is created until now. I’ve taken it’s beauty for granted all these years but now I’m taking a second look. Thank you for sharing your fabulous travels with us.

  3. The young man making lacquer is my favourite photo too…and just realized the pink clip in his hair gives the photo that unexpected pop of colour. The light is beautiful on ‘The Boy With the Pink Hairclip’.

  4. Wow. Just wow. This is humbling to see the dedication to the craft……..and I think I am crafty when I consider myself a glue gun goddess….ha! I am a mere novice next to these true craftspeople…….fascinating and really does alter the level of appreciation you have when you purchase something made entirely by hand doesn’t it? I bet it was eye opening Slim!

  5. What a lovely post, and indeed inspiring. What craftsmanship! My question is, what is on their faces? It looks like a yellow powder. Thank you for the post. jody/fl

  6. Thanks for giving us a peek into a world that I for one would never experience. Fascinating to see how things are made and the skills people have. And I would NEVER be able to sit cross-legged for hours doing this intricate work. My legs ache just looking at the photos!

  7. In your second last photo, the women all appear to have something pale yellow on their cheeks…do you know why?
    With thanks for your wonderfully funny, warm hearted and interesting blog!

  8. love this post- and can’t stop looking at your fave photo…. what is the yellow on the girls’ faces?

  9. Fascinating! Did you mentioned to them they can simply go to JoAnns to get thread?!!;) I’ve never in all my years thought about where thread came from. Question- what is on the cheeks of the women in the second to last photo? I want that black lacquered bowl… bad!

  10. One of my favorite Slim posts – and that’s saying a lot! Every photo is exquisite. Loved learning about the whole process, and I, too, never thought about where silk thread comes from. Thank you once again for sharing all your adventures. It’s always a combination of eye candy and education! Can’t wait to see your Burmese table setting…

  11. I am so inspired by the hard work and craftsmanship of these people. We need to be aware of how much other people contribute to the beauty of our world.

  12. But you are the ‘Prosecrafter’ Slim! Your image of the always helpful micro-mini apron and the tongue-shedding snake have me snorting up my coffee! Thanks for the morning giggle. Beautiful photos as always.

  13. A lovely, lovely thoughtful and inspiring post, dear Slim. And actually ALL of the photos are beautiful and some of your best!

  14. Your entire post is fascinating – as usual – and I knew absolutely none of this. I love the lacquered items. It adds new appreciation for those who handiwork and craftsmanship end up all over the world. I just can’t imagine sitting all day on the floor with my legs tucked to the side – after 20 minutes I probably wouldn’t be able to stand up straight for 2 weeks. Thanks so much for your post!

    • i visited a couple of Burmese houses when I was there ..they didn’t have furniture , we all sat on the floor..

  15. Lovvve the blue silk – unbelievable! Fascinating post and good point about there being no thread forests. 🙂
    The manicure kit-train case … oh my, what fun memories. xo

  16. I was going to mention the yellow paste on the faces of Burmese ladies in an upcoming post, but it was silly of me to include these photos here with no explanation. They are wearing a paste derived from the bark of the Thanakha Tree. It has a very nice smell and medicinal properties as well as providing sun protection.

  17. Loved your post, so darn interesting. I too, loved the blue fabric they are making. I assume they are using synthetic dyes. Did you purchase any cloth items Slim? We had friends that traveled the world and always said that Bali was the most beautiful, had the most beautiful textiles and the people were warm and friendly. Can’t understand why they would change the name. Thanks for taking the time to share your travels.

  18. I can knit, sew, needlepoint, make fun things with photos, do photo books pretty well but if it weren’t for the words “wonderful and fabulous” I couldn’t write a thank you note….I even have trouble writing this. Your writing is so fabulous….see

  19. I hope you will come to Bali and do a similar feature on the crafts being created here. In addition the Hindu culture will mesmerize you… Love your work!

  20. Very funny blog, Slim. Real artists are not “crafty” anyhow. And, to travel and see those people make those authentic bowls is VERY HUMBLING INDEED. Those skills are probably handed down from generation to generation, and probably cannot be taught in a class.

  21. Slim, I love when I can start my ay with one of your joyful inspiring posts. I am not very crafty either but I keep trying to be! A sweet young woman who adopted one of my TT puppies (that is Tibetan Terrier) is so talented and is having much success with her beautiful soaps. Her photos of her colorful soaps are fabulous as well! She was asked to include her soap in the Golden Globe gift bags this year.
    Thought you would like to see what this young artist is doing!

  22. You are so going to love those chargers when they arrive..Fabulous photos, and as expected, fascinating facts! Love your humorous approach to life.Sewing kit….pah! Manicure kit….A Wonderful place with the future promise , of, nail varnish!!.So look forward to your posts!!!

  23. Can’t wait to get invited to your virtual dinner in 7 months. I am sure it is already planned. You should put out the plans to your readers so we can add to the complex and I’m sure colorful combination of exotic elements. Just food for thought….You never fail to inspire your readers. It would be fun to see what comes from all the inspiration.

  24. A very nice post on the talented Burmese artisans with some fantastic photos! During my second trip to Burma, I unfortunately was stricken with a bad case of food poisoning on the morning of my arrival in Bagan (my second visit to the town), and had to leave both the Sulamani and Ananda temples abruptly to avoid throwing up inside them and incurring some very nasty karma for my next spin of the ‘wheel of samsara’ (reincarnation). The next morning I stayed behind to recover at the hotel while the others (my Burmese wife and sister-in-law, and two of our daughter’s professors who accompanied us to both Burma and Singapore) went out to see most of the sights that our daughter and I had covered during our first trip to Bagan, with our daughter also staying behind at the hotel due to a bad headache. As I speak a little bit of Burmese, I decided to wander around and check out the environs around our hotel (Power Pagan Hotel, located near the southeast corner of Bagan Myothit, or New Bagan). On the edge of a large open field across from the hotel, I attempted a bit of Burmese small talk with some of the locals, one of which being a fifteen year old artisan name Aung Pyay Sone, who had a good command of English and enjoys interacting with the visiting tourist. He ended up taking me under his wing for the day and on a tour of the quaint village-like neighborhood that lie on the far end of the field. He first took me to the handmade lacquer factory that his mother and stepfather own, and then into the workshops of a number of wood carvers, stone carvers, sculptors, painters and a few other small lacquer factories in the neighborhood, many of which belonged to relatives or close personal friends of his. Most of the day I was followed around by an entourage of curious and giggling village kids adorned with swirls and circles of yellow thanaka on their cheeks. Later in the evening, Aung Pyay Sone and his sister and cousin would take us all to meet his mother and stepfather, and later to a festival at a pagoda in a small village on the outskirts of Bagan that was purely for the locals. He and the girls would later come to the hotel well before sunrise to see us off as we drove from Bagan to Nyaungshwe, where we would spend the next day touring Inle Lake. That day spent in the company of Aung Pyay Sone and the other villagers made for some fond memories of Bagan, and made that bout of food poisoning a blessing in disguise.

  25. I received a big fat “F” in sewing, from my Home “Eck” teacher, on what I thought was a beautiful frock with capped sleeves,….i was heartbroken and never “sewed” again. I spent the next week with my “enabler bestie”, dropping tons of straight pins into her beehive hair style, while she had us “watch” her witchy wizardry at the sewing machine….oops..forgot about that until now……she was NOT a patriot, she was a “pinhead” 🙂 …………..on another note, the sincerity and honest integrity of the people you have highlighted, well,.. they are just beautiful.

  26. Hi Slim, what a terrific post thank you for sharing! Getting WordPress plugins to work can be tedious and exhausting. First, I think the post looks beautiful, so it may not be worth your time to fret; however if it is bugging you: 1. Make sure that the plugin is up to date. 2. Make sure WordPress is up to date. 3. Are you using short codes? It could like like this: [wpvideo 6nd4Jsq7 w=750 h=350] then just tweak the height to make it work for you.

  27. Slim, Wonderful story and photos. I had no idea about the lotus plant and also enamel. I am not surprised Gumps is a customer. They find the greatest things. The hours and effort put into these crafts is amazing. Makes you truly appreciate these beautiful pieces. Cannot wait to see what you do with your chargers.

    I had to laugh about the sewing box. Mine has a tangle just like that. Gosh if I only had the patience to sew. My 96 year old grandmother said she wants to teach me if it’s the last thing she does…I think she’s finally given up on me now at 48..Still haven’t learned in 30+ years of lessons.:(
    Loved this! x Kim

  28. Went to a silk workshop outside of Dubrovnik last summer where they demonstrated an ancient technique to get the silk off the cocoons and made into thread– put a handful of cocoons in a pot of boiling water and stir briskly with a fork. The silk will unwind from the cocoons and wind around the fork. The threads are then twisted together and rolled around the fork as the cocoons soften. Apparently this was also the way that girls were educated during the winters in Croatia — they would gather at these workshops and learn their letters, history and religious lessons as they wound the silk. Truly fascinating! Love your blog.

Would love to hear from you!