Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Silk making

As we are hoping at some point in the future to knit with local silk yarn, I 'investigated' the silk making process at the fair in Siem Reap a few weeks ago. There were two booths set up that sold locally produced silk, one which displayed the silk making process and the other, the silk weaving process. Just because it's really interesting, I'm posting the wormy photos here with a brief explanation of what's going on.

First, very little, tiny, tiny worms. So tiny you can't really see them, but I promise they are there.

The worms eat and eat and eat mulberry leaves and get bigger.

They keep gorging and get bigger and juicier. Yum, big juicy silk worms.

After a few weeks of non-stop eating action, the silk worms decide it is time to move onto the next stage in life and hide themselves in a cocoon of beautiful, golden silk.

Unfortunately, for the silk worms, humans love silk and the only way to get it from the cocoon is to boil the unsuspecting worms alive. Silk is not vegan-friendly.

The threads of many cocoons are spun together into a single thread. Slowly each cocoon is unraveled back to its origin, a now expired silk worm, which like anything organic, can be eaten.

And finally, after dying using local natural dyes, from bark, leaves, indigo, the finished product: silk.

Unfortunately, like so many things, silk production was all but decimated under the Pol Pot regime and has yet to recover. There are a couple organizations working to help revive the industry, but it's a slow process. Most silk products sold in Cambodia are made from imported silk which is then dyed and woven in country. If we are ever able to source local silk yarn, it will be in very small quantities and only for exclusive, small lines of products.

Monday, February 22, 2010


And now, for our fourth and final sales location in Siem Reap: Cinderella. The shop is located near Red Pizza in the Old Market area of the city.

Samneang, our accountant (shared with NETPRO-Cambodia, but I always joke with him that working for us is so much better), is heading to SR this weekend to change all the tags to the updated ones and put kramas on all the animals that used to have bows. This way he gets to meet the store owners, finalize our consignment contracts and answer any questions. And he gets a trip to SR which he is very excited about.

The shop looks really cute! I didn't get a chance to visit when I was in SR, so this is my first look at it too. The multi-tiled wall is lovely and colourful and I like the overall look of it. Will have to drop in next time I'm in SR.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Joe-to-Go Cafe

Another location where you can find Cambodia Knits products in Siem Reap is at Joe-to-Go Cafe. The cafe is located near the Old Market and serves tasty food and delicious coffee. It's the business of The Global Child, an NGO working with street children in Siem Reap, ensuring they have access to education and a path out of poverty. More about the organization here. Mony with our display in the boutique above the cafe:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Soria Moria

I don't have any photos of our products on display, but the second location where you can find CK in Siem Reap is at Soria Moria. Soria Moria (an unforgettable name) is a boutique hotel with an emphasis on sustainable tourism. It's a lovely, quiet place near a Wat, with nicely appointed rooms and very, very friendly staff. This is likely the result of the very fair treatment staff working here get in terms of training and benefits. It's the kind of hotel you can stay at, knowing that you're giving back to the community. A recent article in the Phnom Penh Post stated that less than 5% of the population in Siem Reap benefit at all from tourism and that despite the millions of annual visitors, Siem Reap remains one of the poorest provinces in the country.

To learn more about Soria Moria visit their website here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

CK at Circle Boutique

So while in Siem Reap last week, I arranged to have CK products on consignment sales at three locations. The first is Circle Boutique, a recently opened shop on Alley West, an up and coming area of Siem Reap near Pub Street. Circle is the collaborative effort of Lauren Iida and Rachel Faller, two amazing designers, both of whom are using their talents and energy for good. The opening was just a few weeks ago and already the shop is proving to be popular with local expats and tourists.

We're happy to have our products in such a lovely spot.

To learn more about the work of Rachel and Lauren, read and follow the links below.

Circle is a social enterprise which employs young at-risk women from impoverished rural areas of Cambodia. Circle provides a safe and healthy workplace, fair wages, Khmer & English literacy classes, clothing design training, and a variety of ongoing projects promoting self-confidence and creativity. You can read more about the project here.

Keo Kjay is a social enterprise that was established in Cambodia to train and provide jobs for women living with HIV in Phnom Penh through creating handmade items out of their homes. We sell accessories, clothes and gift items, all made of recycled and sustainable materials, and we follow Fair Trade principles in all aspects of our business. More info here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kitchener Stitch

When in Canada over the holidays, my seestor, a knitting whiz, had a close look at our products and made some suggestions/recommendations for improvement. One thing she recommended was to bind off the tops of the monsters using kitchener stitch instead of a three-needle bind off. Kitchener stitch looks seamless so I decided it might be a good thing to teach the knitters. They are always quite keen to learn more, so Rony and MatKeo, who usually work from home came in for a day of training.

It's been a bit of a headache for some. Rofi caught on right away and slowly the others are catching up. I think by the end of the day they'll be semi-pro at it.

We're also going to start knitting the mouths into the monsters instead of gluing on felt mouths. That or we'll start stitching them on. The glued on version is not ideal as quite a few of them end up getting frayed off...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mama and Baby Monsters

I realized that I had not yet posted the photos of the completed Mama Monster and Baby Monster monsters that we were asking for advice about in a previous post. So, here they are:

Oh no, the picture is not here. The reason for this is rather long. Smoke came out of my computer today. My lovely Powerbook G4 that has been with me for 5.5 years and that I hoped to keep using for another 5. I don't believe in staying up to date with the brightest, shiniest, fastest, wowest technology and preferred to keep a perfectly good computer out of the landfill for as long as possible. But, as I watched the light wisps of smoke emanating from the computer, that dream slowly died.

Yeng asked/told/commanded me to backup my computer last night. I said, 'nah, let's just watch the movie, I'm tired'... All is not lost as my clever husband regularly sneaks onto my computer and backs it up for me. I'm still going to try the Mac techs at UniYoung and see what can be done. I have not given up hope that I can continue my relationship with the G4 for at least another year. I feel like I am cheating right now using Yeng's MacBook Pro....

Pictures tomorrow, I hope.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Monsters with kramas

Small-major change of plans is in the works!

I caught up with a friend that I worked with in PP 10 years ago. We did a lot of catching up and when talking about CK, she made a simple suggestion: instead of bows, maybe the monsters can wear kramas. It was a slap-self-in-forehead moment and I've been shaking my head, wondering why I didn't think of it. Thank you Shiela!

I walked around the other booths at the fair to see if anyone can make mini-kramas for us. I bought a few large size ones in 100% cotton to test out different sizes. We cut and sewed some yesterday. This is ok for figuring out the size, but if we can have them woven to size it would be much better as we can get the fringe on both ends.

'What is a krama?' you might ask (if you've never been to Cambodia). Well, a krama is a multi-purpose, checkered cloth used by all and everyone for just about anything and everything. A krama can be used to cover the head, the face, as a skirt, as a towel. It can be used to carry a baby, rice, fruits, goods to and from the market. It can be a table cover, something to sleep under, something to wipe the table with. And now it is used to decorate monsters.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Our booth

So finally here is a photo of our booth at the AAC Craft Fair from last week:

And another photo to show you how not busy it was:

Now the evenings were somewhat better, but most of the people coming out in the evenings were Cambodians out for an evening stroll. Nothing wrong with that, but for the majority of the businesses and organizations at the fair (all of which paid big bucks for the booth), this does not represent the target market. The organizer's promised 10 000 visitors over the 5 days but I'd be surprised if there was even a quarter of that. I also think they failed to advertise properly since there were no adverts in any of the free local booklets that every tourist to Siem Reap pours over and uses to plan their activities. Sure there were a lot of posters and banners, but posters and banners are not that effective at bringing people in, apparently.

Oh heck, while I'm at it, let me just complain about one final thing: gem dealers at the fair. AAC is the Artisans Association of Cambodia, meant to promote local artisans and especially promote fair trade practices. Gems dealers are the antithesis of this! Gem mining that takes place in Cambodia is environmentally destructive, often uses child labour, is underpaid and often done in conditions that are unsafe to the workers. In the end, what the person who finds a gem gets paid and the price it sells for retail is ridiculous. There is nothing Fair about any of it! There were several booths selling gems at the fair and the organizers said this was because they are Cambodian products. I was very disappointed.


And now for something lovely. I asked Mony and Navy to take some monsters and my camera to the temples and get some product shots. At first I was worried there might be something inappropriate about posing monsters against ancient Angkor temples. I also thought they might be embarrassed to wander about with a handful of monsters. Neither of those things were a problem and after a short lesson on the SLR, they went off quite excited and eager. My final worry was that the camera would be too complicated and the photos would be blurry or not so well framed. What they came back with was amazing!!! Have a look:

This one is my favourite: