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Artisan Phan Thi Thuan and the Skill of Weaving Silk From Lotus Stems

As gentle as smoke, as strong as fire – lotus silk provides an alternative to silkworms that could revolutionize silk production in Vietnam.

VietnamNet shares the story of a building beside the Day River, just 50 kilometers from Hanoi, thousands of silkworms busily secrete a clear, fibrous protein which is harvested to make silk. Beside them, however, lies something many may think has no earthly purpose in a silk-making workshop – hundreds of lotus flowers and the stems that hold them.

Phan Thi Thuan, the owner of the workshop, has 40 years of experience in the industry – primarily using the centuries-old method of turning the fibre released by silkworms and weaving it into blankets, scarves and dresses.

In 2017, however, she completely adjusted her methods. By cutting the stems of lotus plants and extracting the cellulose threads from within, she is able to weave them together and create a unique form of silk, one which is known for its durability as much as its floral scent.

“The idea was actually proposed to me by Tran Thi Quoc Khanh, a member of the National Assembly representing Hanoi,” Thuan told Vietnam News.

Khanh, along with other scientists from the Hanoi-based Institute for Ecological Economics, initiated a national project encouraging silk producers to create silk from lotus plants. The idea was to make use of a sustainable, petroleum-free and biodegradable material that is abundantly available across Vietnam.

Thuan’s village, for example, features numerous lakes and ponds, all of which are brimming with lotus flowers. Over the last year, she’s gradually been learning how best to extract the thread from the stems. The most mature plants, she says, produce the strongest threads.

“Depending on its thickness, a scarf made from ‘lotus silk’ requires at least 1,500 stems” she told Vietnam Net.

As so many stems are necessary, production can be labor-intensive and costly. To address this, Thuan hopes to create silk using a fusion of the two materials, which should result in more affordable and sustainable products, and might even create a more eco-friendly fashion market.

“I hope," she added, "that designers will think about using ’lotus silk’ in high fashion products other than just plain clothes."

[Photo via Vietnam Net/Hong Van]

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