Knit One Pearl Two the Thai Way

Knitting in Thailand

It wasn’t long ago that knitting and crocheting were a popular pastime for women in the United States, as a matter of fact it was a pretty big industry as well. Obviously these were serious skills that were needed throughout the beginning of the country that took a back seat after the industrial revolution when machines made clothes faster and cheaper.

Even so knitting and crocheting were still very popular especially through the periods of the 1950′s to the 1970′s. There were yarn stores on every corner and it was commonplace to see a knitting basket in most living rooms with an ample supply of yarn and usually a half finished piece laying on top. Since the 70′s it’s a rarity to see any of these things in America. Sure, there are still women that enjoy the craft but they are few and far between these days.

During my first trip to Bangkok I found myself wandering the city most days, getting lost and enjoying the new sights I would see during my exploration. One day I stopped in a small beer bar to escape the afternoon heat and replenish myself with a nice cold beer when I saw something I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. The cashier was intently crocheting rounded patterns and her friend was knitting them into a sweater.

The first thing that ran through my head was the fact that Bangkok holds the title of the hottest city on the planet followed by just what were these Thai women knitting sweaters for? Through my travels I ran into more and more Thai women knitting and crocheting. They were not only very good at it they wasted not one stitch. Sweater, hats, the occasional scarf and drink coasters…lots and lots of drink coasters.

Knitting in Thailand , drink coasters Knitting in Thailand , drink coaster and baby shirt

The majority of knitting that I saw being done was by women from rural Thailand who were working in the tourist area’s to send money home. It wasn’t until my first trip up country to North East Thailand that I realized the truth behind the sweaters. From January to the middle of March it can get quite chilly at night. There was more to it than that of course. While spending time in rural Thailand over many trips it became apparent that many women still knitted and crocheted to clothe their babies and small children. Baby blankets, booties and hats to keep their little heads warm were just a few of the things they made.

Knitting in Thailand , baby hat Knitting in Thailand. Young girl knitting

While these crafts are slowly dying out in America they are still going strong among rural Thai’s but you can see it won’t be long before the slow decline begins here as well. All of Pookie’s Aunts and older cousins knit and crochet but Pookie and the younger family members can’t be bothered with it.

My last trip to Mukdahan had me spending some time in the village with the grand parents and Pookies cousin. Her cousin was 4 months pregnant at the time and she was furiously crocheting away. I only spent a few days in Mukdahan before moving on to Nakhon Phanom but I never once saw Pookie’s cousin without needles in her hand intently working on more pieces that would be knitted together at a later time.

Pookie and cousinn knitting Knitting in Thailand, knitted round Pookie's cousin knitting away

Keep an eye out during your travels though Thailand and you’ll start to see it more and more, and if you are real lucky you might get a scarf or a hat out of the deal…I did.

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14 Comment(s)

  1. Talen I must admit I’ve never noticed anyone knitting or crocheting in Thailand before, I’ve obviously seen them but it hasn’t registered. It will from now on.

    It’s a great hobby for the ladies and makes sense when it comes to babies clothing. Being heavily pregnant and unable to work it not only saves money but fills time.

    With recreational activities near non existent in the rural villages having a hobby can only help. Otherwise if you haven’t any work then the day is made up of cooking, eating, sleeping and TV.

    Wilai took up making flowers from cloth a few years back and she was really good at it. I was well impressed but I haven’t seen her making the flowers for a good while now. Mind you she’s got three dogs and a big garden to occupy her now.

    I’ll look out for the knitters on my next trip. I’ve seen Nutty Park now I’m on the lookout for Knitty Park.
    .-= Martyn´s last blog ..Thailand Blogs – February 2010 Review =-.

    Martyn | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. Talen, although I haven’t come across knitters MTF is a dab hand at cross stitch which is an equally difficult task which she seems to do without problem. The kits come complete with “canvas,” coloured cottons and the pattern. Not cheap though, kits cost from 300-5000 Baht depending on the pattern.

    You made me smile about chilly nights. If only! Down here we don’t seem to have had a real cool season-I was reading yesterday about the El Nino effect this year and right on que our water is now being rationed!

    Perhaps you can ship some over from the US?
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Wat Thammikaram Worawihan(????????????????????) Prachuap Khiri Khan =-.

    Mike | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  3. Martyn, Maybe it’s just me but I have seen knitters everywhere…and just about every bar I frequent has knitted drink coasters. At one of my favorite bars one night a girl was knitting coasters and as she finished one I ordered a drink and she put it under my glass :)

    Pookie has no interest in knitting but she does have a garden she takes care of and also her duties around the farm.

    Talen | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  4. Mike, I’ve seen a few cross stichers as well but had no idea it was that expensive. I would have thought that to be a cheap hobby as well.

    Nobody ever believes me when I tell them how cold the North East can get…I didn’t believe it myself which I paid for dearly one night when everyone else had jackets and sweaters and I was in shorts and t-shirt.

    Everyone is usually sick too because the days still get hot as hell but the nights can be downright chilly.

    Talen | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  5. Hi Talen,

    Great post and observation. I notice this too but because I’m a fellow crocheter :D

    There is actually a resurgence of crafts going on in the US and knitting and crocheting have become popular once again.

    I too thought scarves and sweaters were out of place until I lived through the “cold” season. I bought several scarves and jackets to get me though.

    Missing the cool season right about now. From hot and dusty Chiang Mai, lc

    Lani | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  6. This brings back memories.

    On one of my first visits to Thailand I remember asking a girl at one of the bars where I could buy some of the neat, brightly colored coasters they had – only to have her pull a bag from behind the bar and show me the yarn, needles, and several partially finished coasters she was working on.

    Since then I have met many women who while away the hours in the bar by knitting coasters.

    One of my longtime girlfriends in Pattaya BTW (Before Thai Wife) was an avid knitter.

    She made throw pillows and Kleenex box covers for me with my name knitted into them.

    I don’t know where she was from but you know it gets cold when you knit sweaters for your Kleenex.

    ChuckWow | Mar 5, 2010 | Reply

  7. Lani, I guess I haven’t noticed the resurgence of the craft in the U.S.

    I’ll never forget being in Pattaya in October once and at 2am I started seeing all manner of Thai women throwing on jackets because it was cold…I was sweating because it was 85 degrees.

    Talen | Mar 6, 2010 | Reply

  8. Chuck, I remember my grandmother knitting kleenex boxes…have yet to see a Thai girl do that.

    I have seen all manner of coasters and scarfs though.

    Talen | Mar 6, 2010 | Reply

  9. BTW, I used the Kleenex brand name because the box covers she knitted were for “American” sized Kleenex boxes, not the ubiquitous light pink or light blue round “tissue” dispensers used to hold a roll of toilet paper while it unrolls from the inside out.

    ChuckWow | Mar 6, 2010 | Reply

  10. What a great subject Talen. I’ve read about Thai gals knitting in bars, but as I’m (as we all know) peaches and cream, I’ve never seen it with my own eyes. Heh ;-)

    The first time I saw fake fur-lined parkas on sale in Chiang mai, I laughed.

    But when I suffered through a freezing Christmas one year (loads of old people in the north died) I became educated right quick.

    I had arrived from a tropical country with no socks, no extra warm shirts, no jacket. During the day I kept warm by sitting in a tub full of hot water… until the hot water at the hotel ran out.

    Freezing. In Thailand. Yeah. I’d knit too.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai Language Thai Culture: Telephone Thai =-.

    Catherine | Mar 6, 2010 | Reply

  11. Well of course Chuck…who would ever confuse tissue paper for dinner napkins ;)

    Talen | Mar 6, 2010 | Reply

  12. Wonderful post buddy. I have been to Thailand a number of times but never thought crocheting was so active over there. I agree with one of the above comments that Crocheting & knitting is getting a welcome revival in the US.
    .-= crochet designs´s last blog ..Pattern for sale- Felted Baby Slippers with Textured Sole … =-.

    crochet designs | Mar 21, 2010 | Reply

  13. Hello Talen, not sure if you can help but my “knitting in Thailand” google brought you up.
    I’m going to meet my Thai lady’s family in the village and I know Mama knits. I was thinking of bringing her some yarn and want to get something she would not be able to get in Thailand or Issan for that matter..any idea’s ?

    Michael | May 12, 2010 | Reply

  14. Michael. That’s a tough one…I don’t know what , if any, yarns they don’t have in Thailand. I’m sure a knitting shop might be able to help and if nothing else you might find her a unique knitting basket or needles.

    Talen | May 12, 2010 | Reply

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