Lacquerware is made by artisans in the province of Chiang Mai. The process starts with a frame made of wood, such as bamboo, which has been formed into the shape of a bowl, plate, tray, or other object. Workers apply a mixture made of local natural materials. Several coats of this mixture, then several coats of a pure black lacquer, are applied in this way. Each coat is allowed to dry, then the worker polishes the piece before applying the next coat. Finally, a colored pattern is applied over the shiny black surface. Some pieces are decorated with gold leaf, while others are inlaid with tiny pieces of mother-of-pearl.
The shaping and firing of fine pottery may be the oldest art form in this part of the world. Some pots found in archaeological digs were made as far back as 5,000 years ago. Celadon pottery, a delicate blue -green color, was introduced to artists in the Sukhothai kingdom by Chinese potters. Pottery soon became an important product in trading with other regions, and the art has recently been revived in the north of Thailand.
Thai silk, prized around the world, is the most famous of all Thai handicrafts. Women in the villages of northeast Thailand tend the mulberry tree, raise silkworms (which feed on mulberry leaves), spin and dye silk thread, and weave bolts of brilliant, shimmering, silk cloth. The beautiful fabrics in patterns and solid colors are sold all over the world. Dressmakers and tailors in Thai cities create fashionable custom-made garments for men and women. Many tourists in Thailand buy some Thai silk to take home.
Thai cotton is increasingly popular, too. In the northern hill country, villagers embroider designs on strips of homespun cotton and hemp. The strips are made into shoulder bags and other brightly colored objects. The hand-painted cotton umbrellas made in northern Thailand are attractive souvenirs and great protection from Thailand's intense sunlight.