White and blue cotton yarns.
Indigo shirts are the pride of Phrae province. Illegal loggers wear them and so does the top cop. From farmers to bankers, from truck drivers to the governor, everyone makes sure they have that dark blue shirt hanging in their wardrobe.
You can find the basic shirts on sale everywhere and bag up as many as you want, but finding the more stylish variety is like searching for a pin on the ocean floor.
That's now changing, however. Indigo dyer Wuttikai Phathong has opened Kaew Wanna, a shop full of indigo clothes, all homegrown just like he is.
Set in a treecooled, Lannastyle teak house not far from Muang Mo - the main place to buy gardenvariety indigodyed shirts - Kaew Wanna offers fine clothing, accessories and home décor, all made of indigodyed fabric.
"Phrae people and indigo have been woven together for centuries," says Wuttikai, who learned the craft from his mother.
"The story has it that Lue and Phuan people [derived from the Tai race] moved to Phrae hundreds of years ago, during the conflict among Siam, Lanna and Burma. They brought with them the indigo and the art of dyeing."
Back in the days when women made all their own clothes (and men did little else but flirt), indigo grew everywhere in the North, but especially in Phrae.
The leaves are soaked in buckets of water for a day and a night and then the water is blue and ready to use in dyeing.
The craft's history took an alltoofamiliar lurch toward extinction in the 1950s when synthetic indigo was introduced. Most indigo shirts you see today don't bear the organic blue of Phrae's handdyers but the product of a chemist in some sophisticated lab.
"Indigo remains a rare commodity in Phrae because most people welcomed the synthetic colour," laments Wuttikai. "I have to travel to Laos to get indigoproducing plants."
Natural indigo usually comes from one of two plants, horm and khram.
Horm, a kind of weed with small leaves, is best for a lowkey, darkish blue, while the khram tree's blue is a lighter shade. The organic dye will eventually fade to reveal a subtle white and blue texture on the fabric.
A detour to Kaew Wanna offers a promising backstage tour, where you can poke around among jars full of blue. Here and there you see the cotton yarn, white and blue, hanging up to dry.
"In the old days the dyeing area was a secret, offlimits to strangers," says Yorm, the woman in charge on dyeing at Kaew Wanna.
"The older dyers would say the indigo was 'sensitive' and strangers would panic and startle it, so it wouldn't last long on the cotton yarn."
A shop out front is packed with ethnochic clothing, from great pha kha ma for men to beautiful yarm bags. There are stacks of blue and white fabric in cabinets.
One of the store's biggest sellers is a woman's sarong with different subtle shades of blue. I should have bagged it up for my girlfriend back home, but the pride of Phrae comes at a price.
If, like me, you have more creativity than money, you can try some indigo printing. Visitors - especially the younger ones - have fun redesigning their own Tshirts with the silkscreen of their choice. Suddenly your cheap Tshirt doesn't look so cheap.
If you go …Kaew Wanna is in the village of Nan Chak on Route 101 (the Phrae City Bypass). Call (081) 960 4502.
In Bangkok, check out JJ Mall, a short walk from Chatuchak Weekend Market and the Kamphaeng Phet subway station.