The majority of Myanmar people are staunch Buddhists and will never take a life, including silkworms, which is necessary for the production of silk. Indeed, ants sometimes have the run of the house, and food is protected by placing on tables which have legs standing in little cups of water! However today there are silkworm farms in Myanmar.
In the rural areas of Myanmar it is still the pride of the house to have a loom with a diligent daughter working it: “make hay while the sun shines” could easily be translated to “spin while there is moonlight”!! However the daughter is still expected to make hay, plant paddy, weed the garden, cook and clean while the sun shines, as are the other family members!
Of course, the Myanmar do wear silk garments but they import most of the thread from abroad and then dye and weave it in Myanmar. The most beautiful of these is the “Acheik”, sometimes referred to as Lun Taya Acheik (lun tayagyeik) which literally means “one hundred shuttle wave”; in these modern times it isn’t very common to see a piece which has been weaved using one hundred shuttles, more likely a dozen or so are used.
The most treasured and expensive piece of silk for a Myanmar lady is the Lun Taya Acheik longyi with its patterns of horizontal wavy lines (Achiek): the specific designs are know by such names as Ribbon of Orchids, Princess’ Curl, Emerald Palace Spring, Twisted Golden Rope and Floral Twined Royal Weave.This longyi is only made in Mandalay where three girls sit at each loom working approximately 100 shuttles of different coloured silks through a warp of a basic colour. It takes about 3 months just to finish a 2-metre piece; some longyis have the design all along its length while others have the design only near the bottom in the style called the Queen’s Band.
The other basic design is the Ikat style from Inle Lake in the mountains of the Shan State. Strands of silk are first attached to a frame and a design made by tying a bunch of strands together very tightly at strategic places: these bunches are then handpainted and dyed. After they are thoroughly dried they are wound on shuttles and as the work progresses on the looms flowers, leaves and butterflies appear on the cloth or sometimes more traditional patterns, or modern designs.