Silk and the Mysterious Disappearance of Jim Thompson

Today we are continuing with our mini-series about fabrics to discuss silk. What are the best uses for silk and how does one care for it? For a little background, silk, similar to linen, is one of the oldest natural textiles around with use dating back to 3500 B.C. It was first developed in China and came into great demand as a luxury item because of its beautiful luster and shine.

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Energetic zebra print by Jim Thompson’s Thai Silk Trading Co., Ltd

The silk trade started as far back as 1000 B.C with major trade routes between Europe and Asia coming to be known as the Silk Road. It is typically produced with sericulture, which is the process of raising mulberry silkworms on farms, as opposed to using wild silk which does not produce as desirable a fiber.
Silk has a triangular cross section which reflects light, giving it that beautiful sheen we all know and love. It has moderate elasticity, becomes weaker when wet,  and is susceptible to sunlight, insects, and chlorine bleach. It will shrink a small amount when washed or dry-cleaned so it is recommended to pre-treat it before use.

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Love the print and color tones on this silk by Jim Thompson’s Thai Silk Trading Co., Ltd

Silk has a beautiful drape and is wonderful as draperies, although it should always be lined as sunlight will cause it to decay over time. It is also wonderful for toss pillows or even an occasional chair that will not get heavy use.

Now let’s get to the interesting part- the disappearance of Jim Thompson. Who is that, you might wonder? Jim Thompson founded the Thai Silk Co. Ltd. which is known today as one of the leading, if not the top, fine silk producers for home use. His fabrics are sumptuous, his designs inspiring and exciting. He set up shop in Thailand back in the 1950’s after graduating West Point Military Academy and working as an operative in the OSS, a precursor to the CIA. He organized the Bangkok OSS office, which gave him his introduction to Thailand. After being discharged, he returned and got involved in producing silks, inventing the use of bright jewel tones and beautiful bold patterns. He gave jobs to thousands of Thailand’s poorest women and had a progressive business model that allowed them to work at home while earning money to support their families.

Jim Thompson's House, which is now a Museum in Bangkok

Jim Thompson’s House, which is now a Museum in Bangkok

 

On Easter Sunday, 1967, Thompson was visiting the Cameron Highlands with friends and reportedly took a walk and never returned. Although there was an extensive search for him, no remains were ever found. Many theories have been given: being eaten by a tiger (although there would have been remains), kidnapping by business competitors, accidentally falling into an animal trap set by the aboriginal Orang Alsi, or possibly disappearing by choice to begin a life elsewhere. Due to Thompson’s military background it has been hard for people to believe he would have become lost in the jungle and succumbed to the elements.

To this day, it remains a mystery but the empire Jim Thompson established 60 years ago endures and thrives today, which is an amazing feat and I for one am so glad as it is very enjoyable working with the designs and colors of silks produced by his Thai Silk Co., Ltd.

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Gorgeous peony color silk by Jim Thompson’s Thai Silk Trading Co., Ltd

 

 

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