2012 - 2013

Pressing, Perfuming, and Preserving: Caring for Textiles in the Inner Court

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

9 August - 30 September 2012

The traditional clothing of the Thai court was cared for using a variety of processes. In addition to washing and ironing, fabrics were routinely glazed, pleated, and perfumed—procedures that were performed in the inner court, the domain of the wives and consorts, sisters, and daughters of the king. These royal women occasionally carried out such activities themselves, but more often their servants did the work under their direction.

Washing
Several cleaning methods were used, depending on what each textile was made from and where it was worn on the body.
Glazing
After washing and drying, printed or painted cotton cloths, especially hip wrappers, were spread flat and polished to make them shiny, a feature prized by the court. The shine came from the fenugreek mucilage deposited on the fabric during washing, which created a glossy finish when it was buffed with a smooth, rounded tool, often cowrie shells but also agate, glass bottles, or even small cannonballs.
Perfuming
The women of the court were famed for their skill as perfumers. Indeed, it was commonly said that their sweet fragrance lingered long after they had left a room. Women of the court perfumed not only their bodies but their clothes, too, before getting dressed. 

The perfumed cloths were usually stored in closed wooden boxes to help the fragrance last longer. The wearer’s favorite fresh flowers, such as salapee, Chinese rice flower, ylang-ylang, and different kinds of jasmine, were often added to the box. Scented cheesecloth was also used instead of fresh flowers.

Clean hip wrappers, breast wrappers, and shoulder cloths were scented with fragrant smoke, fresh and dried flowers, or flower-scented water. Benzoin (also known as gum benjamin), agarwood, myristica fragrans (nutmeg), and musk from the Indian small civet were among the many different agents used.

Pressing and Pleating
Washed and perfumed hip and breast wrappers were smoothed with a wood pressing implement. Shoulder cloths were pleated both by hand and with a special press

Two people were needed to hand-pleat a shoulder cloth, one on each side holding it taut while folding it. The fabric was then placed in a heavy wood press, which set the pleats. A raang chiip, a tool with bamboo teeth between which the fabric was inserted, was also used to pleat shoulder cloths.

Sweet Smells.
Since antiquity, people have sought to imbue themselves, their clothes, and their surroundings with sweet smells.  One of the earliest, and perennially popular, ways to release scent was to burn incense—aromatic herbs, woods, barks, or gums. 

Liquid perfumes were first made by infusing oil with crushed herbs or flowers and later through the distillation of plant material to extract their essential oils.
Women of the Thai court scented their textiles using traditional methods of burning aromatics and creating perfumed waters and oils, employing a wide range of ingredients that were grown domestically or obtained through trade. A selection is on display nearby

Lucky colours for each day
In the 19th and early 20th century, Thai courtiers wore specific colours matched to each day of the week, believing that this would bring good luck. The memoirs of HSH Princess Chongchitrathanom Diskul (1886-1978), daughter of Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, described how fashionable women at the court of her uncle King Rama V followed the lucky colours for each day by wearing one shade for their hip wrappers and another for their shoulder cloths. 
9 August - 30 September 2012 Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Credits: Story

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles Staff
Royal Traditional Thai Crafts School For Women

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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