Cornell University

During the spring semester, in-person concerts, events and lectures that involve outside guests will not be held, per the university’s COVID-19 travel and visitor policy.

Knots as Nodes of Power: Practices of Pattern-making and Discourses of Copying among Silk Weavers in Surin

Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 12:30pm

Virtual Event

Part of the Ronald and Janette Gatty Lecture series

Alexandra Dalferro, PhD Candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology, Cornell University

Silk textiles woven in Surin Province are recognized across Thailand for the complex matmi, or ikat, patterns they bear. Matmi patterns are achieved by tying hundreds of knots around bunches of threads to prevent color from seeping in and dyeing them in stages before they are woven. Master weavers design patterns that are quickly circulated and “copied” by other weavers, much to the dismay of the business owners who hold exclusive rights to sell some masters' sought-after silks. This talk engages the materiality of knots and techniques of knotting to think about power, ownership, and expertise among weavers and other competing actors in the silk industry in Surin. Focusing on the activities of master weaver Khru Aromdi, I examine discourses and debates about matmi copying. While tacit agreement exists among most designers that certain motifs and established patterns are part of a shared heritage and can’t be claimed by any one individual, this category’s boundaries often dissolve in practice, as distinct understandings of what constitutes “copying” are mobilized to accomplish various ends. Drawing from over one year of fieldwork in Surin, I foreground the specifics of everyday articulations of matmee imitation and the strategies developed both to facilitate and prevent copying. These moments reflect how actors grapple with tensions as they knot matmi bundles whose threads can be followed to discern tangles and patterns that are both visual and graphic, and cosmological and ideological.

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Lecture, Webinar


Human Ecology Fiber Science and Apparel Design, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Anthropology, Asian Studies, Fiber Science & Apparel Design, Southeast Asia Program, Asian & Asian American Center



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James Nagy

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Alexandra Dalferro

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Cornell University

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