(No.1, Vol.9,Feb-Mar 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
A silkworm factory at Co Chat village
Co Chat village pagoda. Nam Dinh Province
Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nghi at work. Co Chat silkworm village
Silkworm cocoon cultivation at Co Chat Village, Phuong Dinh Commune, Truc Ninh District of Nam Dinh Province has long been praised in folk songs for the fame of its silk threads. From Nam Dinh City, visitors can follow National Highway 21 or go by boat 20km down the Red River South-Eastward to come to the silk trade village of Co Chat. Having survived for centuries with the silk trade, Co Chat is famous far and wide. Each household here is a silk business. Co Chat people are elegant and graceful in style, industrious with their cocoon incubators.
The cocoon trade in its early days was quite simple. The silk thread was used to make fishing nets. Later, Co Chat people imported the silk industry, and in the following centuries turned Co Chat into a silk trade village. Today, coming to Co Chat, visitors are speechless at seeing bundles of golden and silvery silk threads hung to dry all around, in the courtyards and on bamboo fences.
In threading workshop, women are bustling in thick vapor coming from large pots boiling the cocoons.The silkworm cocoons are stirred, boiled and taken to the unraveling tables. There the thread is unwound, and goes through a little hole and onto a fast spinning reel. Bundles of golden and silvery silk thread coming out from here will be woven to make pretty dresses for ladies.
Both golden and silvery silk threads are made here. The cocoons are bought from neighboring areas or as far as Ha Nam, Thai Binh or Thanh Hoa. After 20-25 days, the cocoons mature and can be unraveled. The silk threads, when dried, are bought on the spot by traders, moved to the silk weaving workshops, or exported to Laos, Thailand or Cambodia. The delicious and nutritious, pupa, undressed as the silk thread is taken, is an additional source of income for the village.
The Co Chat elders say that the silk thread trade has been here for a long time. The textile industry was founded during the Tran Dynasty, mostly concentrated in Cu Tru Village. The nearly 100ha Ninh Co alluvial fields are best suited for growing mulberry for leaves that are food for the silkworm. Co Chat makes silk threads for Cu Tru to make the fabric, and it doesn’t get more convenient.. The silk of this region has earned its fame for centuries. So much so that Uncle Ho sent them a silk garment as a present. In peace and war, in happy and sorrowful times, the loom shuttles have never stopped. Mulberry fields, baskets of cocoons and looms have become defining elements of life and culture of this land.
Textile products made here are not only consumed domestically, but are also a spearhead of export. Under the French rule, Co Chat silk threads were so well known that in the early 20th century, the French capitalists invested in a cocoon incubating factory right in the village to exploit the skills of local workers and the natural mulberry fields along Ninh River. Since then, the Co Chat silk thread trade has boomed. Traders came to buy big lots of silk here to sell at the Che wharf, a bustling river port of Nam Dinh before 1945. In 1942, the Grand Palais de l’Exposition was opened in Hanoi to attract the best of trade villages of the country to Hanoi. That year, Mr. Pham Ruan of Co Chat took the village silk thread to the fair and won a high prize awarded by the then Governor of the North. The trade flourished the most after the French performed the first campaign of colonial exploitation (1897 – 1914). Truc Ninh and Co Chat in particular became part of a belt zone supplying materials for the Northern textile company. Today, the village still has about 500 households doing the trade, each with two cocoon boiling stoves in average.
The thread is thin, soft but strong and has noble gloss. The elder villagers still make it manually by habit and out of love for the native land’s traditions. But the younger generation boldly invests in machines and big workshops to increase productivity. From the cradle of only two villages, Co Chat and Nhu Nuong, today the industry has spread to all 25 villages of the commune, comprising over 800 looms, 50 spinning machines, and 180 cocoon ovens, creating stable jobs for over 1500 workers with an average income of 1.2-1.5 million VND per person. The commune has in total 11 silk businesses, including two private ones, three joint stock collectives, and six consortiums. The bigger businesses that invested in hundreds of looms and attracted 100-300 workers include Garment Joint Stock Collective Trung An and Textile Consortium Tien Phuong. The main products of Phuong Dinh textile include napkins of different sorts, towels, table cloths, brocades, medical bandages and compresses for domestic consumption and export.
It takes 30 days from the time the silkworm begins eating mulberry leaves to secrete silk until the cocoon is mature. Boiled and unraveled thread, dried and spun into whorls, is a product that sells well.
Through the ups and down of history, Co Chat silk thread is still considered an ace produce of Nam Dinh and the trade is still alive, developing and bringing wellness to the people. The preservation and development of the silk trade in Co Chat not only brings stable income to many village households, but also is a fortunate sign that a precious traditional trade of the land is not about to sink into oblivion.
Silk trade village Co Chat continues to contribute material to make ladies’ glamorous dresses. Visitors can see how cocoons are cultivated, how silk threads are extracted and how silk is made on simple rustic looms. They will definitely take away some irresistible souvenirs as mementos of a memorable trip to Nam Dinh.