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Lotus Fabric

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Samatoa has experience using a unique handmade process to create an exclusive fabric for the luxury market.
The lotus fabric looks like a blend of linen and silk, with unique properties, such as being light, soft and special breathable.

«We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there. » (Henry Miller)

In South Asia, the sacred Lotus is omnipresent in religious history. For Buddhists, it’s a symbol of every man and woman’s ability to surpass their conditions, no matter their origin, and realize their potential, just like the lotus flower growing tall until it floats above the muddy waters. As such, everyone has the potential to elevate themselves and to reach Buddha’s state “without letting the world pollute them, like a lotus on water,” as spoken by the Lotus Sutra, one of Buddhism’s most important educational texts.

Equally a symbol of fertility and erudition, as well as longevity, the plant on which Buddha is frequently seen sitting expresses all the promises of the future and of becoming a better man. We can equally read the Sutra as an encouragement to actively engage in others’ lives as well as society.

handmade lotus fabric cambodia

Samatoa believes in the symbolic strength of this text, and we use this same positive and humanist dynamic, which we have developed for our project of promoting economic, social, and environmental benefits and allowing vulnerable women from small Cambodian village to become autonomous, to live, and to support their family.

Samatoa, the ethical choice

 « Ideas are like lotus seeds, sleeping only to grow better » (Fatou Diome)

Used in religious rituals, and also in domains like medicine, cuisine, and cosmetics, the lotus is far less known for its textile use.

The weaving of lotus fiber was once known and used across South East Asia. However, this practice has begun to fall into obscurity. Only the inhabitants of Inle Lake’s floating villages have continued to preserve this ancestral craft.

Awen Delaval, a dedicated Frenchman at the heart of a fair-trade promotion association, was exposed to (and toughened by) the poverty in Cambodia during a trip to Asia. He had the idea of developing this practice of weaving lotus fiber and brin

ging it back to life in Cambodia.

Seduced by the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, he created an plan in the same humanist vein. 

An ethical alternative to the powerful textile industry, contrasting productivity-driven and socially-exploitative attitudes, particularly with women, Samatoa is a change from how typical factories, run by big textile brands, operate.

Handmade Lotus Fabric from Cambodia

A product of unique and unparalleled quality

« The soul spreads itself like a lotus with innumerable petals »(Khalil Gibran)

What better symbol can we find, with its millions of fibers, living in lakes and rivers? Once worn by Buddhist monks, it’s now seducing high fashion’s biggest names.

Experiment after experiment and research conducted in remote villages, led to Samatoa’s revival of a skill long since forgotten. The main harvest happens on the immense Lake Kamping Poy, near Battambang, Cambodia. Lotus flowers have been harvested here for generations.

Starting with this uniquely soft and breathable fabric, Samatoa has developed an exclusive collection of clothing designed by well-known stylists, who are creative and loyal. High-quality clothing, brought to you by rare, unique, and authentic lotus fabric… all made possible thanks to the precision of these little hands with unparalleled ‘savoir-faire’, resulting in a painstakingly precise and detailed creation.

Fostering powerful social engagement

« Some people observe the mud at the bottom of the pond, others contemplate the lotus at the surface, it’s about the choice » (Dalai Lama)

It’s with great pride that Samatoa bridges the gap between the rich and the poor using fair-trade and ethical commerce, allowing for the formation, emancipation, and international recognition of them. We offer a chance to each person, and consequently to vulnerable woman, to surpass their condition and elevate themselves to succeed, “like the lotus flower growing above the muddy waters”.

History of Lotus fabric

By Sylvia Fraser-Lu and Ma Thanegi

Buddhism and indigenous folk beliefs

Like their Shan neighbors, and the majority of the population in Burma, the In-tha are devout Theravada Buddhists and their large barn-like monasteries continue to be the most prominent buildings in lakeside villages. In addition to observing the Five Precepts, the average believer is preoccupied with improving his/her karma within the chain of rebirths through performing acts of merit. Buddhist in Burma have been known to spend anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of their disposable income on such activities. A majority of Buddhist householders, offer food to monks daily. Devotees also supply basic necessities such as robes and alms bowls and all are deeply honored to offer their sons as novitiates, an act that formerly constituted a rite of passage.

To cope with everyday crises considered outside the scope of orthodox Buddhism, many in Burma turn to indigenous pre-Buddhist systems of belief that center on the worship of a host of animistic spirits known as nat. Propitiation ceremonies for various nats may be held at times of individual and communal vulnerability. Weavers regard as their patroness, the nat Ma Mei U, a brave and faithful maiden, abducted by a rebuffed suitor in the form of a tiger while working steadfastly at her loom. Many weavers include her effigy in the family shrine.

The symbolism of the lotus

Anchored in the sludge of the primordial waters of the universe, and rising unsullied above the surface in perfect splendor, the lotus in Buddhism has come to symbolize the potential in all sentient beings to grow beyond the base mundane desires of earthly existence to become truly enlightened beings, as personified by the Buddha within this bronze lotus.

In Budhism devotees press their hands together in the praying position said to resemble a “lotus bud. The termination folds of the robes on a number of Buddha images have been molded to resemble lotus leaves. An auspicious icon found in many a Burmese home is that of the Dakkhina Sakha, Buddha. Seated in the earth-touching position with a lotus scalloped hairline, this squat heavy-set image represents an infant Buddha who delights to frolic amongst lotuses. This icon has a special place of honor in the household shrines of lotus-fiber weaving establishments.

Samatoa, champs de lotus, Lac de Kamping Puy

Cambodian Lotus fabric weaving myths

Although now firmly ensconced within the Theravada fold, Burma and Cambodia, through early trading and missionary contacts has been exposed to a variety of religious philosophies from India. This is significant because the lotus also figures prominently in Hindu art, mythology, and literature, and in a number of instances a connection has been made between weaving and the lotus.

Of particular note is the account of how the Hindu deity Visnu as the supreme god Narayana gave birth to the universe. While reclining on a serpent in a mysterious slumber, a lotus stem sprung from his navel bearing the gods of the Hindu triad—Brahma, Visnu, and Siva. This popular Hindu creation myth, has been taken by the Devanga weaving caste of Mysore, to herald the origin of weaving on the subcontinent. This is because Manu, the mythical progenitor of the human race, fetched the thread for weaving from the heart of the lotus stems that grew out of the navel of Vishnu. Stone reliefs depicting this creation myth uncovered from the fifth- to ninth-century archaeological sites in Burma attest to the fact that early inhabitants there were familiar with such popular Hindu mythology. There is also a reference to the weaving of lotus robes for a future Buddha in a neighboring central Thai version of the Hindu Ramayana epic, where the hero Rama slays a powerful giant whose daughter was betrothed to Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. While she awaited his coming, she kept herself busy by weaving him robe made from the filaments of lotus stalks. It has been noted that some legendary beauties of Burmese literature owed their physical charms to the fact that they had woven lotus thread in previous existences.

With respect to written records, the Burmese like to trace the weaving of sacred robes from lotus fibers to a popular local nineteenth-century Buddhist text, the Jinattha-pakasani, which states that when the Buddha-to-be severed his hair to symbolize the renunciation of his former princely existence, he was offered a set of monks’ robes by the Brahma Ghatikara who found them in a lotus blossom. While this text may be at variance with orthodox accounts, there is no doubt that lotus robes refer to a set of garments of great purity and significance.

Lotus fiber weaving

cambodia lotus fabric

Cambodian lotus fabric weaving takes place in the north of Cambodia. According to informants, this activity began hundreds years gao when a Daw Sa Oo (Madame Sparrow’s Egg) in the interest of gaining merit set out to produce a set of robes for the highly revered abbot of a nearby monastery, from the fibers of the local padonma-kya lotus plant, which grew wild in the shallows of the lake. With the help of her friends she experimented with various filament extraction and preparation processes, eventually weaving a set of robes to her liking. The delighted abbot had the weaver’s name changed to Daw Kya Oo (Madame Lotus Egg) in honor of her pious achievement. Daw Kya Oo and her friends throughout their lives continued to weave with lotus yarn for meritorious rather than commercial purposes, producing one or two sets of robes a year for eminent local abbots. None of Daw Kya Oo’s progeny are currently involved in weaving, but the descendants of her friends have continued the tradition.

Fibers and looms

 About a week prior to harvesting, popped rice is scattered on the water and offerings are made to placate the spirits of the locality to seek their permission and to ensure a good harvest.

On the day of harvesting, the gatherers propitiate their patroness. Prayers are also offered to the Buddha for a bountiful harvest. To protect the loom and its products, bamboo talismans along with small banana plants, are tacked to the looms. In addition, throughout the process, all involved must strictly observe the Buddhist Precepts.

The lotus leaf stems are gathered by younger women in the morning. After removing the nubbly prickets with a coconut husk, the stems are then placed beside the young woman seated at a low table. A shallow knife cut is made around a bunch of 5-6 stems which are quickly snapped off and twisted to reveal some 20- to 30 fine white filaments that are drawn and rolled into a single thread which is coiled onto a plate seen on the left. It takes approximately 15 women making thread to keep one weaver busy.

Weaving the yarn

The yarns are prepared for weaving by placing the skeins on a bamboo spinning frame and transferring the thread onto winders in readiness for the warping process. Taking care to avoid tangling, the 100 yard long threads are then lifted from warping posts and coiled into huge plastic bags, while yarn for the weft is wound onto small bamboo bobbins.

Lotus fabric is woven on a traditional Cambodian frame loom. Weaving components include a cloth beam, a large warp spacer-beater, and a pair of heddles supported by a transverse bar resting above the frame. The heddles are connected by rope to a pair of wooden, disc-shaped foot treadles.

There is no warp beam on a Cambodian loom. The excess warp is stored behind the weaver and released as weaving progresses. This limits the width of cloth woven to around 24 inches (60-75 cm). The use of a temple keeps the selvages straight while water is on hand to moisten the threads during the course of weaving. Given the aquatic origin of the fabric, weavers feel that lotus fibers need to “remain cool.” The lotus fabric is woven in 100 yard (90-meter) batches, which take about a month and a half to complete. The weavers have estimated that fibers from around 120,000 lotus stems are needed to weave a set of monk’s robes. The cambodian lotus fabric is then dyed either with chemical or natural dyes to a reddish- brown shade before being cut into patches of different sizes and machine sewn together in rows to resemble the mosaic-like appearance of community owned rice fields prevalent at the time of the Buddha.

Not a scrap of this precious lotus fabric is wasted. Remnants are made into sequin studded mini-robes for Buddha images. Leftover scraps of yarn are twisted into wicks for pagoda lamps. Acquatic in origin, “lotus wicks” are thought to “cool the flames of worries” and bestow on the donor a “cool heart.”

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Lotus Fabric Handmade in CambodiaSamatoa       Lotus Fabric Handmade in CambodiaLotus Farm

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