Watch this short video to find out why I created the SIN-Dress, my reinvention of the traditional Siamese sarong (or "sin" in Thai) into an effortlessly elegant contemporary tunic dress...
My journey in creating the SIN-Dress, my reinvention of the traditional silk “sin” or sarong into a contemporary garment that retains the essential features of its inspiration–effortless elegance, versatility, comfort, and simplicity– began almost as an accident.
I started collecting silk “pa-sins” or sarongs as sources of inspiration for my mudmee ikat designs for my new artisanal brand Sucette, and found myself wanting to wear one as a dress to my husband’s book launch. Although I absolutely loved the idea of the sarong–perfect lengths of textiles, neatly sewn into a tube that can fit any body shape or size, worn ever so elegantly by Thai women (and men!), I was looking for an alternative way to wear this traditional garment that would suit my personal style.
Although I was tempted to transform the gorgeous piece of silk into a dress, the sarong seemed perfect as is and I also wanted to avoid cutting it if at all possible… So I started playing around with the piece of silk, draping it in various permutations on a mannequin as well as attempting to tie it around my own body in different ways.
After many many tries I finally came up with the first idea for the “SIN-Dress”: keeping the initial structure of the “pa-sin” which is essential a piece of cloth sewn into a tube; I simply adjusted slightly the seams, without adding any cuts and with just a few tiny extra stitchings, to transform it into a free-from tunic dress. This seemingly simple transformation allowed for the “pa-sin” to be worn in various ways, while still retaining its essence: as a fuss-free garment that fits most bodies and that the wearer can adapt to suit their own style and personality.
I remember calling my husband with giddy excitement as I tried my creation on myself and my dressmaker at the time: “I’m either totally crazy or a total genius!” I exclaimed. While the jury is still out on the response to that question, I have since created over 100 SIN-Dresses, which have been worn by women of all shapes, sizes, and multiple nationalities.
But let’s take a step back and let me tell you more about the various twists and turns on that journey…
Once I had that initial idea for the SIN-Dress and its basic conception, I started scouring any and all available resources at the time for beautiful original Thai silks.
The SIN-Dress should be at once 100% handcrafted and unique, in keeping with the heritage of the traditional pa-sin, and also utterly contemporary and effortlessly elegant. I wanted the SIN-Dress to feel fresh while also embodying Thailand’s artisanal silk heritage. (Thai women would weave their own “pa-sins”, creating simple or intricate patterns, each one as unique as their personalities. They would wear these original pieces of art throughout their lives for occasions special and mundane, and even pass them on as family heirloom)
One day as I was browsing through The Old Siam, a most amazing destination in Bangkok for Thai silks, I stumbled upon a curious piece of silk which displayed an improbably beautiful pattern of what seemed to be natural leaves and plants. Enchanted by this seemingly novel print technique, I asked the shop owner for the contact of its maker. And that was the beginning of my journey into the rabbit hole of silk printing!
I called up the lady who made these gorgeous silk prints and asked her for lessons. I started going to her regularly and learned as much as I could about “eco-printing” and “botanical dyeing”--seemingly novel yet ancient methods of transferring patterns and pigments from natural local plants onto textiles, used all over the world.
As a high-protein fiber, Thai silk took on natural dyes extraordinarily well. Silk is relatively lightweight and so less labour intensive to print and dye, yet its robust texture also rendered it solid enough to withstand multiple processes as well as high heat heat. And so the fun began!
I am by no means an expert on eco-printing and can only share my personal experience and process that I use: I first wash then soak the silk I plan to print in a boiling mordant solution made of water mixed with ash, alum and baking soda, adding a tiny amount of white vinegar. I also soak the leaves I plan to use in rusty water (made by soaking various bits of metal in water for a few weeks). The resulting tint of the printed leaves can vary depending on the length of time soaked in this solution. For example, eucalyptus prints can range from pale brown to deep charcoal and even black depending on whether the leaves were soaked for only a night or up to a few weeks!
Another fun and frustrating challenge is that leaves’ hues are utterly unpredictable: that same eucalyptus tree that gave gorgeous dark grey prints suddenly decided to give me copper tones ones instead, from one day to the next! Also, the same tree can yield leaves on the same day that gives different colour… Please don’t ask me to explain the science behind such phenomena…. I choose to interpret it as magic of the natural world!
I started gaining confidence in experimenting with different leaves to make prints and making my own natural dyes from plants in my garden and around the community where I was living in the outskirts of Bangkok. I slowly learnt the natural wonders of various leaves including such common ones as mango, “deer ears”, and “sa-dao” for instance. I learned that teak leaves can give an intense violet hue, or perhaps a vivid green–you never know until you unwrap your experiment for the day, after the process is done!
I don’t consider myself an “eco-printer”--it’s merely a technique I am passionate about due to its sheer simplicity and sustainable nature. My prints are not typical “ecoprints”. They are less about showing perfect leaf forms, and more about expressing the wonders of nature and the universal flow of energy. Rather than attempting to remove all wrinkles and “imperfections” from each plant or piece of silk, I choose to express my creativity in more abstract forms, and not shy away from experimentation and adding on multiple processes until I achieve a desired result.
An example was a recent collaboration with special needs students from Sataban Saengsawang Foundation: we worked together on tie-dyeing the silks in a range of vibrant colours, which I would eco-print on top, resulting in layers of astonishing tints and and prints! I call my work “wearable art” because like a painting, each piece is unique and results from creative inspiration. I hope that the energy I channel from the natural world can be transmitted to and energetically felt in the wearer. Nature is “magic”, as is the “handmade”, and my mission is to honor and celebrate such miracles!
While eco-printing and botanical dyeing are my current passions–sustainability and respectful innovation on heritage are part of my core values for my business–I am looking forward to collaborate and learn from Thailand’s rich textile culture and traditions. I’ve met some incredible silk producers, for example a natural dyeing mudmee community from Surin, that I’m dying to work with! (pun intended).
I sincerely hope that Sucette and the SIN-Dress will prove that “made in Thailand” and artisanal craftsmanship can be synonymous with luxury and international fashion and art at the highest levels, that it is possible to build a heritage inspired brand from the ground up, based on true passion and real values: being sustainable and respectful to the natural world, paying high wages to talented local artisans, and having a business model that gives back to communities in need.
Thank you for being part of my journey so far, and cannot wait to share with you the next episodes in this exciting journey of the SIN!