(Natural dyestuff)


Traditionally Cambodian crafts-people dyed their silk and cotton thread with natural dyestuff. Unfortunately this valuable tradition is already dis-appearing in some areas where craftspeople now tend to rely on chemical dyes for their silk and cotton thread colours.

KHMER ARTISANRY is conscious and very concerned about this. It is therefore founded to revive this tradition.


(Boiling silk) 


Our natural and traditional dyeing incorporates specific techniques to produce colours from natural materials or dyestuff without using chemicals. All the elements involved in this process are available in the country. Of course, this natural colour is suitable for the Khmer silk as its liveliness and endurance last for a very long period of time.

(Natural dyestuff)


In fact, it is a labour-intensive task and very hard work to weave hol, phamuong, sarong sotr, chora-bab to produce one skirt or one kbin for clothing or Khmer-style decorations using techniques of natural dyes and ikat patterns. However hard it is, our weavers work on it with diligence and pride.


(Dyring the wet silk)

For example, to dye a red colour, our dyers need to use a red dye called “leak kramor”. Trees that give high color output are trang (Ficus altissima Blume), sangke (Combretam quadrangulare Kurz), kakoh (Sindora Siamensis Teijsmex), chankiri (Albizia Saman) etc.

Leak kramor needs to be broken into small pieces then decocted for two hours to get colour for red dye. Then it needs to be decanted when only the red liquid is retained and mix it with water from decocted tamarind leaves. For example, to produce a hol for one kbin (4 meters long and 1 meter wide) our dyers need one or one and a half kilograms of red dye (if it is wet) and one kilogram of tamarind leaves. These materials will produce two liters of liquid dye each. Traditionally sour liquid abstracted from tamarind leaves is of better quality than that of the liquid abstracted from tamarind fruits.

(Stick Lac Natural Dye)


Wet silk is dyed in red liquid by beating and boiling it in the liquid for ten minutes. Dyers have to beat it at least eight times to allow each thread of the silk to absorb the colour. Each stage equals one hundred and twenty beats. At this stage, the colour they get is light red or pink. The red colour will show clearly after we put it in a yellow-coloured dye.


(Soaking and beating silk)

To dye a yellow colour, a tree named prahout (Gareinia Vilersiana Pierre) as it is the main raw material to produce a yellow colour. This tree can be found in the highlands of Cambodia. Its bark is chopped into small pieces and decocted for half an hour. Then only the yellow liquid will be decanted and mixed with powdered alum (100 grams), which converts the liquid to a light yellow. 

(The dried bark of prahout tree chopped into small pieces for dyeing yellow colour)


Potash water was produced from banana skin ash, which is better than from sangke tree ash or from other plants. One kilogram of banana ash can produce six liters of potash water (after decanting). We divide this volume into three parts and two of them are kept for washing silk and the rest for soaking with annatto grain. Potash water can be produced from phti (Amaranthus spinosus L.) or other plants, but it is of low quality.


(Annatto grain/seeds)

 For blue colour, traditionally trom tree (Indigofera tinetoria) is used. Trom can be found in the villages or by planting it.  Trom’s leaves are pounded and wringed out the green liquid or soaking the fresh leaves for two nights then dyeing the silk. The quality of this colour is not good because it will quickly fade. So, dyer needs to produce dhleah.  The trom tree is soaked for one night then the tree is taken when only the residue and the bad smelling water are kept. Then the shell limestone and palm sugar are added every day for one week. This liquid is called dhleah and can be used to dye silk or cotton.

Hence, in urgent cases, they have to produce mor, which is a part of thick dhleah. This thick liquid can be kept for a long time to mix with new dhleah and is a quick material for dyeing.

  (Trom tree or Indigofera Tinetoria)


 (dyestuff called mor*)


(dyestuff called dhleah*)

For black colour, ampil toek, (Tamarind water tree) and chatra tree are used. Two kilograms of the barks from each of the two trees are stripped, and then boiled for two hours. Only the water is decanted and kept until it lowers to a normal temperature. Next, the silk can be dyed. After that, the silk is boiled again with this water. Then the silk is washed with smin water and dried in shade and wind, so it can be got black for weaving.

Smin water is the result of a reaction between one kilogram of rusty iron, one kilo­gram of sugar palm, thirty lemons and thirty liters of water. We need to slice the lemon before using it. Every day we have to add a small piece of a lemon in order to improve the quality of the water. We keep these materials in a big jar and leave them in the sunlight for five days to one week. In some cases, litchi tree (Litchi chinensis sonn) can be boiled and sliced with iron for two hours before the silk can be dyed for black colour.


Beside the plants used above, we also use some other plants to abstract colours. These include:

  • Coconut 

  • Jackfruit

  • Nornaung (Luffa acutangula)

  • Po and sdao (Aglaia- leptantha Miq)

  • and other fruits, vegetables and plants.


Consulting document: “Technique of Natural Dyeing & Traditional Pattern of Silk Production in Cambodia, December 2007, by the Buddhist Institute.”