No this is not the latest group offshoot from Backstreet Boys… rather it is an awesome organisation based online that connects tourists with locals and gives them the opportunity to experience something incredible, from knife making, to cooking classes, to mahout training, to weaving and so much more.
Backstreet Academy has courses throughout South East Asia and are often a cheaper alternative compared to going through something that is more touristy and set up.
How to Choose Where to Go
I had thought about doing a weaving course from when I first looked into coming to Luang Prabang. Doing some research online, in my guidebook and finally once I got here there only seemed to be one real option and that was to go through Ok Pop Tok. Located outside the city, the group has a fantastic textile store in town (on the spendy side) and a free tuk-tuk to visit the living arts village. They offer courses from 1/2 to full day and range from batik to weaving, prices range from $60 and up.
Another girl at the guesthouse was also interested but Ok Pop Tok sounded a bit spendy and more set up compared to actually visiting a locals house and learning from the source. So after a bit more wandering around someone happened to mention Backstreet Academy. They offered a half day (4hr) course at a weavers house for the base rate of $29 US, to make a longer scarf you added $5. Considering Ok Pop Tok offered a half day weaving course where you made placemat for over $60 this sounded awesome!!!
After some hassle with wifi crashing and not being able to figure out how to get discounts and such we finally got it sorted. In total it cost me $25 with a $10 discount I received.
So with everything sorted and ready to go we just had to wait till the assigned day and the pick up!
A Weaving We Shall Go
Katrin (from Germany) and I found our translator, Mr Pon (spelling??) waiting for us by 8.45am. We made introductions and jumped in the waiting tuk-tuk. Our host and weaving experts were located about 15min out of the city and it was great fun chatting with our translator while we drove out.
Once we arrived and met our experts, one each, we set about choosing materials and designs. So many choices so little time…
I opted for a simple design of natural cotton with blue being the main color and green the secondary color.
Katrin, my fellow weaver who had her own mini loom at home, opted for a fine cotton one with patterns way more complicated!
First the experts had to spin our thread onto bobbins, and finally I understood how Sleeping Beauty pricked herself on the spindle needle, that bugger is sharp!!!
The experts got to work making it look easy as the bobbin flew from hand to hand and their feet seamlessly switched from side to side.
and then let us have a go… the mantra of the day for me was “CHANGE FOOT” as I kept forgetting to switch feet between the switching of the bobbin from side to side. Every now and then out of nowhere you would hear one of them say “change foot”, even if you thought they weren’t watching you!
Getting into a rhythm is the only way, but then you had to remember to switch colors, thank heavens I had a simple pattern, not what I had planned but still good. My expert possibly didn’t understand what I wanted and so went for full stripes of green rather than half stripes scattered around the scarf. She planned 6 blue followed by 2 green… this pattern lasted about 2 sets before I would lose count and then ended up doing my own thing… when she first saw it she wanted to correct me then realised it was my plan to change the style and said it looked quite good.
In the end it turns out there might be hope for me yet… in Laos the quality of a wife often compares with the quality of her weaving and for a first timer I got quite a few nods of approval… even from the tuk tuk driver!
The finished scarves were delivered the next day. It was a phenomenal experience and I am really happy I opted for giving it a go, my back and arms were a little less happy but hey I have a scarf that is over 2m / 6.5ft long… I think it may end up as a table runner :)
I highly recommend looking into Backstreet Academy where-ever you are in Asia.