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A craft for our times: Thailand’s Yan Lipao handbag

Thai PBS World Tue, May 9, 2023

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Yan Lipao Bag (Photo courtesy of

Yan Lipaobasketry from Thailand’s South may not make it to the fashion catwalks but it has certainly found its way into the spotlight after being spotted in the handof HM Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana last weekend as Their Majesties attended the coronation of King Charles III in London.

The tiny basket was admired by many who watched the coronation ceremony around the world. As photos of the royals were released to the public, the Yan Lipao bag became a hot accessory.

“That purse is fabulous. Anyone know who made it?” Sandy (@sandnsky) said on Twitter with cropped photos of the Thai queen’s bag. The tweet has received over 170,000 views.

The Queen’s handbag also complemented her chosen outfits, both traditional and contemporary Thai, all fashioned from hand-woven Thai silk.

Another Twitter user @Jojo-march61 tweeted photos of three looks of Queen Suthida during the coronation weekend, writing, “All the Royal Ladies were beautiful but Queen Suthida really stood out (heart shape emoji). She showed amazing style & looked so elegant & beautiful. A lovely young Queen. (Crown and heart emoji).

Three Lipao handbags – each of them matching her outfits – gave the Thai queen an elegant and refined look. They are tiny and in various shapes. Foreigners who are not accustomed to Thai crafts would have little idea about this kind of bag, but most Thais know full well that such handicrafts are the fruit of the continuous efforts of HM Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother, the patron of Thai crafts.

The Support Foundation of Her Majesty Queen of Thailand,  now renamed the SUPPORT Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand Public Organisation or SACICT, for which the Queen Mother laid the foundations has given new life to the Yan Lipao craft, transforming it into a high-end art that owes its origins to the cultural heritage of the South.  HM the Queen Mother was tireless in her efforts to revive the craftsmanship of this woven wonder and later promoted the basketry in both domestic and foreign markets.

Yan Lipao: a brief history

The unique Yan Lipao craft of the South has been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years. It has long been assumed that it has its origins in folk wisdom of the Ayutthaya period during the time of Chao Phraya Nakhon Si Thammarat. The basket was mentioned during the reign of King Rama II in a historical account, which noted that it was brought from Nakhon Si Thammarat as a gift to the King. The Yan Lipao bag became widely known during the reign of King Rama V, when it was carried by the elite, especially the ladies of the court.

The Yan Lipao declined in popularity and almost disappeared from Thai life until 1970, when the Queen Mother (then HM Queen Sirikit) gave it new life by promoting its conservation and development as a part–time job for people in the South. She arranged training courses on how to make Yan Lipao through the SUPPORT Foundation. Since then the bag has become popular at both the local and national levels.

Apart from exhibiting exquisite craftsmanship, the Queen Mother was also concerned about preserving the lipao vines as a raw material. She advised people in the South to grow the vines and prevent the plant from becoming extinct. Making extra income from their craftsmanship also brought pride to the Southern villagers and the lipao vines, once perceived as a weed, have become an economic crop. Since 1974, the weaving of Yan Lipao has been developed and the bags have become popular with the upper classes.

Extravagant bags from master craftsmen

The yan lipao vine is found in the Southern provinces of Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Narathiwat and Nakhon Is Thammarat. The vines are harvested from the forest and must be finely processed before being worked on by dedicated hands.

Silver, gold and copper alloy thread is often inserted into the Intricate woven pattern and the finished bags can also display the royal crests of certain members of the royal family.

The techniques of weaving, passed down through the generations, allow a mundane plant to be transformed into exquisite works of art, some of which can be worth thousands of dollars. Apart from the beauty of the exquisite patterns, Yan Lipao also features the beautiful natural colours of the vine-interspersed bamboo strips.

Because of the time and skill that goes into making each basket, they tend to be sold for relatively high prices. The craftsman must have a passion for this kind

of work.  The production process, which includes preparing the vine, weaving the patterns, and lacquering and decorating, is very time-consuming. Only 1 or 2 bags can be produced every month.

Owners of a Yan Lipao accessory should be very proud of it because of the effort and cultural heritage that comes with the bag. And, of course, buying the bag helps support the community from the craftsmen to those who cultivate the yan lipaovines.

The attention received by Yan Lipao bags during King Charles III’s coronation weekend thanks to Queen Suthida can only help to further foster appreciation for Thai handicrafts, especially basketry like Yan Lipao. The knowledge and craftsmanship that have been transferred from generation to generation and the tireless efforts of the Queen Mother to bring them to the public eye prove without doubt that there is room for Thai handicrafts to shine on the world’s stage.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk

SOURCE: Thai PBS World Tue, May 9, 2023

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