Update: This was featured by Lonely Planet in a monthly-round up of their favourite blog posts. Check it out here.
Did you know that fabric can be created from the stems of lotus flowers? I had no idea until I visited Inle Lake in Myanmar, where I spent some time learning about local industries. After a full day of whizzing around the lake on a motorised boat (you can read more about that here), my final stops included two small factory buildings which stood over the water on stilts.
There are many industries at Inle Lake, but I visited a lotus fabric weaving centre and a silversmiths. I was given tours around the buildings by guides who explained the different stages of production. There were also beautiful gift shops full of locally-made products.
The lotus flower is an important symbol in Buddhism – the main religion in Myanmar – representing beauty and purity. The stems are planted in mud underwater and grow all the way up to the surface, where a beautiful flower blooms.
I’ve always loved lotus flowers and it was particularly fascinating to watch the fine strands of fiber being extracted from the stems – by hand. The weaving centre was full of different looms and spinning machines, all being worked by local women. The skill and technique involved is incredible. I was told by our guide that it’s a very labour intensive type of fabric production, so products made using this technique can be quite expensive.
If you’re looking for a special and unique souvenir while travelling, it doesn’t get much better than lotus flower fabric. There was a treasure trove of a gift shop at the weaving centre, full of beautiful fabric, scarves and clothing. You can buy raw silk or mixtures of silk, cotton and lotus fabric. The items aren’t cheap, but this type of fabric production is so painstaking that the price is worth it. I bought one scarf, and I wish I had bought more now.
I also visited a silversmiths, where I was given a tour and demonstrations of each stage of the process. Again, it was amazing to see the craftsmanship involved in making even a simple silver chain. I was given a tiny piece of silver to hold (I had to give it back eventually!) and I was surprised by how heavy it was.
There was another beautiful gift shop at the silver factory with a wide range of jewellery and other products available. I think a souvenir is even more special if you’ve seen the process that goes into making it.
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