Singing Cloth

Kachama Kiratiphumtam's meditative weavings

Now an adult, this child of a Thai mother and a Japanese father grew up in Bangkok, studied interior design in Tokyo, and enjoyed success as a home-products designer before giving herself over to helping save the indigenous hill-tribe weaving culture located in the mountains north of Thailand. 

Kachama was introduced to the hill-tribe culture by an old woman outside of Chiang Mai from whom she bought—for her at-the-time Tokyo-based home-products company—organic fibers that had been colored with natural dyes via the use of ancient techniques.  At this time she noticed that almost every home she was privileged to enter had a loom and often the grandmother was the weaver.  (Since that time the number of weavers had dwindled and those using natural dyes are even more rare.)

It wasn’t long before Kachama was inspired to leave the Japanese company and devote herself to learning more about the hill tribes’ ancient dying and weaving techniques; this was a way, she hoped, that she could help these people preserve their culture—perhaps even to stem the tide of the young people who were leaving for the city, often to work in fast-fashion factories.  Luck was with her and she was soon taken into the bosom of a family of weavers to whom her stepfather doctor had introduced her, and she made a good trade; she taught the mother and two daughters how to read and they taught her how to dye and weave.  

Living with, teaching, and learning from this family for over a year, Kachama’s production soon reached an artistic level and her focus on “nature, the Lanna (northern Thailand) culture, and earth” as well as the new  spirituality she found in this life inspired her to create 25 pieces in hemp, silk, and cotton.  A Japanese businessman whom she met on a plane ride was so enraptured with her beautiful pieces that he bought the whole lot from her.

It wasn’t long before another plane ride figured prominently in Kachama’s life— an article about her weaving that was published in magazines distributed onboard planes attracted the attention of Jean Perez, a young Frenchman who was making a life for himself in Southeast Asia.  Monsieur Perez found Kachama, embraced her and her hill-tribe family, and soon sold 1000 meters of her woven silk to a buyer in France.  They were married in 1997.

Selling her car to buy looms in 1998 was the beginning of “Studio Kachama” and her full-time  production of simply beautiful wall hangings, pillow covers, scarves and bags—frequently featuring the inclusion of old hill-tribe textiles—clothing and home furnishings—that she had purchased from her friends in the north of Thailand. She also wove into some of her work pieces of old Japanese kimonos.

Then, introducing her toddler daughter to the seaside prompted her to think about “what the sea would say if it could talk” and to start weaving different colors and shapes of shells and other beach findings into her pieces.

It wasn’t long before a Tokyo art gallery mounted a show of her work and her stay in that capital city presented her with more inspiration—everyday garbage she found in trash containers on the street.  This was the beginning of her new oeuvre, her “Reuse, Recycle, Replenish” series that she hoped would “show people how important it is to take care of the earth”.  This series features a number of extraordinarily large wall hangings showing in artistic ways “the mountain of garbage”, “the river of ruin”—the yield of those garbage containers: plastic from bottles and bags, metal from cans, brightly-colored magazine pages, bamboo bits,  banana rind, etc.

When asked from where fresh inspiration might come now, she talked about her need for peace, an empty mind, and the possibility of weaving into her new work impressions and images from the new building in which she and her husband are engaged deep in the Chiang Mai countryside along a beautiful river—a new home as well as a workshop for her and an atelier to showcase her weaving.   Her geographic location “is always a source of inspiration,” she says and adds that “the big changes in climate—floods, four seasons in one day”— are also catching her attention.

“I still love my art, I still love to weave.  The more I weave, the more human life I feel inside the fabric.  The hill-tribe people have been most inspiring to me because they are so spiritual and I want their culture to live; I don’t want it to disappear.  Like they, I also want to take care of the earth, of humans, of the animals.  I also love Hmong and Yao paintings; they talk about family, lives, the future, and I speak with their hearts”.

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