An extraordinary tale of Karen textile traditions in Burma & Thailand


Living in semi-nomadic austerity in the war-torn, remote hills of Burma and Thailand, ethnic 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 exacerbated by fifty years of civil war in Burma.

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