Mat Mi cloth (Ikat) is a kind of fabric woven from the tie-dyed yarns to create motif designs. It is a traditional art of weaving that has been practiced since ancient time -- particularly in the northeastern region of Thailand; in some provinces in the central region such as Chainat, Uthai Thani, Suphanburi, Kanchanaburi, and Lopburi provinces; and in the northern region in Chiang Mai and Nan Provinces, for example.
To create the motif, the cotton or silk yarns are combed and selected for adequate yarns to meet the requirement of the design. The yarns are then stretched on a frame called Hong Mi, and tied at specific positions to block the dye. In the past, banana-stem strings were used for tying, today polypropylene film packaging rope is used. The yarns are then soaked in dye and dried in the sun. The strings are then untied, revealing the unaffected part. The process can be repeated several times as required - with the yarns being tied at different points and by using different dye color.
Experience and craftsmanship skill are necessary for finding the precise and correct positions to tie the strings on the yarns so as to create the desired motif or pattern because, unlike the Ikat weavers of other countries, the Thai weavers of Mat Mi cloth do not mark the exact spots or positions beforehand, but remember the correct positions by rote and through experience.
During the weaving stage, the weavers must make sure they use the spools of tie-dyed yarns in the correct sequence from one spool to another. They must also be able to adjust the overlapping motif and correct the mistakes from the dying stage.
An intellectual heritage in the craftsmanship domain, Mat Mi making requires great technical skill and know-how.
The Mat Mi motifs that are handed down from generation to generation since ancient time were mostly inspired by nature, the surroundings, the beliefs, and tradition -- for example, the Orange- Jasmine motif, the Pine motif, the Five-Lantern motif, the Seven-Lantern motif, the Bai Si motif, the Deer motif, the Peacock motif, the Turtle motif, and the Naga motif.
Mat Mi plays a role in the way of life of people from birth to death. Young women have to weave to make fabric for clothing. The cotton and silk yarns indicate the potential for trade and commerce, because they were used for trade in the past. The natural dyes reflect the rich variety of plants in Thailand, which yields the unique palette of colors in the Thai Mat Mi fabric, as well as the skill of each group of people in the use of natural dyes.
Today, the know-how on Mat Mi cloth making is still being transmitted, to a certain degree, from one generation to another in the rural areas of Thailand. However, the number of the younger generations who are interested in learning and continuing the art and craft of Mat Mi cloth making has dwindled and several communities are unable to perpetuate this intellectual heritage. It is important that agencies concerned should take part in preserving and perpetuating this valuable cultural legacy.