About Weaving through the rice fields


'Weaving Through The Rice Fields' is the extraordinary tale of ethnic Karen textile traditions in Burma and Thailand.
Living in semi-nomadic austerity in war-torn, remote hills, Karen women honed an astonishing artistry for 'homespun' – spinning, dyeing and weaving cotton to make clothes of fine skill and minute detail. It was an elaborately crafted, but time-consuming way to provide clothes in a subsistence economy. So when traders arrived with powder dyes, weavers abandoned their naturally dyed pastels for chemically treated skeins of blazing colour. Consequently the homespun tradition has unravelled in the face of the encroaching market economy and fifty years of civil war.

Weaving through the rice fields is a personal project by freelance photographer and journalist Vicky Bamforth and studio photographer Yeh Htoo. Based in London, we have made frequent trips to Asia to document Karen textile traditions from Burma and Thailand.  

Scrambling up ragged hillsides with studio lights to photograph heirloom textiles and people who weave, wear and value their clothes, we have made hundreds of images accompanied by personal accounts in a quest to capture the picture of this fast-fading way of life. 

We have interviewed weavers, shop owners, curators, community, political and regligious leaders from Christian, Buddhist Animist and Millenarian societies, photographed hundreds of textiles and made portraits of people in heirloom pieces. We have also documented how Karen clothes are worn in dance performances and portrayed in paintings, calendars and old photographs. 

Key to our interest is learning how the textile tradition has evolved differently in each country. In Burma, for example, it is transforming from a conservative, artistic practice in a semi-nomadic society to become an expression of identity and revolt in a diaspora community that spans the globe. In Thailand, however, the encroaching lowland market economy has resulted in most Karen youngsters opting to wear Western clothes, viewing their traditional weaving with indifference.


About us:

Vicky Bamforth is a photographer and writer based in London. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Geographical magazine, The Guardian, the Economist, The Times and on ABC and Channel Four. She has a master’s degree in Southeast Asian studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies and recently completed a photographic study on the history and culture of tattooing in Burma, also listed here. 

Yeh Htoo is an ethnic Karen who Burma in 1997. Now based in London, he is an emerging photographer and a photographer’s assistant who has worked with a number of photographers, including Daniel Jouanneau, Michael Labica, Satoshi Minakawa, Steve Perry, Thomas Rohde, Spencer Rowell, Kubir Thandi, and Uli Weber, on accounts that vary from Marks and Spencer to Renault and Zoo Magazine.