Back in the 50s of the last century, there would be no one throughout Six Provinces of Southern Vietnam that had not known about Lanh My A – the famous fabric of Tan Chau silk land in An Giang.
“Accompanied by you wearing Lanh My A silk
My market trip crossing the river seemed to be reduced”
Many times, these lines have been hummed by guys and gals on boat trips. Perhaps in those river-floating experiences, the boat did not carry only the young couple, Lanh My A silk but also the pride of the homeland silk. That pride is conceivable as Lanh My A has been renowned from near and far for being the glossy black silk, the desirable “treasure” of any girl.
Decoding the attraction of Lanh My A silk
It is no coincidence that Tan Chau’s silk was enthroned as the “queen” of Vietnamese silk, which was the desire of countless ladies and women in the past. It is either not by accident that today these fabrics are chosen as the material for many famous fashion collections by domestic and foreign designers. A traditional Lanh My A cloth must fully converge three factors: must be woven by satin-8 technique on a wooden frame, must be made 100% from silkworms’ filament, and must be dyed from mặc nưa fruit (Diospyros Mollis).
Unlike conventional weaving methods, the satin-8 technique is the most difficult one of all to weave silk. In the case of satin-5 industrial weaving, a worker can stand 5-6 looms, but for satin-8, each worker can only take care of one loom. The weaving material must also be 100% high-quality silkworms’ filaments as the unqualified one would easily break and give the unsmooth product. The dye must also be chopped from the mac nua fruit to serve the dyeing process that takes over 100 times, and it takes 80-100 kg for each bolt of silk cloth (20m long – 90m wide).
To make Lanh My A, the weaver has to go through 6 stages: throwing silk, winding, jointing, winding pirn, weaving and dyeing.
Among the stages, the most complicated step that makes up the characteristic of Lanh My A silk is the dyeing stage. Woven silk is boiled to thoroughly remove silk gum, then dyed. After buying, the green mặc nưa fruits are milled for their latex, sifted thoroughly then mixed in water and well stirred till turning a thick, yellowish-black mixture with a featured smell.
The dyeing must be at least 6 “layers” with each cloth-beating phase counted as one layer. The first three layers are for better fabric quality. In each one, the fabric will be dyed, then dried and rinsed about 30 times in nearly ten days. If there is stable weather, this first phase will take about a month. The last three layers are for the silk to take on a better black sheen. Particularly for the sixth layer, the cloth is thoroughly beaten, washed with river water, dried and then ironed again.
Especially before beating, the dyer often uses a bundle broom to soak and sprinkle water to damp the cloth. A skilled dyeing worker must watch out for the amount of water. Less water would keep the fabric from absorbing mặc nưa mixture after beating, while more water will be a waste. If the external conditions are favourable, a finished silk cloth will take about two months. But if it rains, the fabric won’t be able to dry, and the process would take 3 or 4 months.
Because it is entirely handcrafted with natural materials, Lanh My A silk has a mysterious and smooth black shade. Not only that, but this type of silk is also famous for the feelings it brings as being cool in summer, warm in winter, even with just a thin layer. Notably, the more wearing, the more beauteous the silk is, the more washing, the glossier it is. I admire the one that compared this fabric to the skin of a girl in the bloom of youth: fresh and fragrant. But as I think, that Lanh My A girl must be a blue-blooded precious young muse bearing a chaste, rustic and pure soul.
Portrait of a wholehearted craftsman
In the past, when silk fabrics were still on the throne, everywhere in Tan Chau, there were strips of green mulberries and immense silk drying fields everywhere. But since the day it gradually lost the position, fewer people are still passionate about the profession. Then continuously, only one household remains – that is Mr. Tam Lang’s family.
If it was not for loving silk fabric and the traditional profession, Mr. Tam Lang could not “pursue” Lanh My A to this day. Mr. Tam himself confided many times “… But, for that love, I am incapable of giving up. The economy has ups and downs. In tough times, like many other households, I had to pause the work, but then continue the craft is a trait of mine as the love for it has rooted within me.”
Such hard work, but seeing the cloth made by his own hands are being displayed around the world, Mr. Tam must be so proud. Then when being on his last legs, there is still an innermost feeling lingering his mind: After him, who else would be passionate about Lanh My A silk?
In order to preserve Lanh My A silk to this day, Tan Chau people have to go through the harsh trials of time as well as market fluctuations with a passion for the profession and an ardour for the homeland’s cloth.
Some said that the golden age of Lanh My A has faded, giving way to cotton and nylon fabrics that are both cheap and durable. Perspectively, they were right. Back in that time, our people were still too poor; only a few could afford such luxurious fabrics. Even the wealthy families just dared to own a few ao dais and bà ba shirts, which are then carefully stored in a chest in a closet to save for important occasions. Lanh My A silk is such precious, but is it just a ” reputation upon a while”? The fact has proved that Lanh My A is still existing and shining, even brighter and rose higher than its passed golden age after many ups and downs.
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