Hand-Making Umbrellas in Myanmar

There's a family-run umbrella shop on the road from the Heho Airport to Inle Lake, in the Shan State of Myanmar.  It's one of many, a local industry that's been adapted for tourism.

Though it's simple to describe, the hand-making umbrella process has many steps and is fairly intricate in process, it takes a long time to produce each piece. In an assembly line, different parts of the final product are produced by different family members and assembled in the end to create umbrellas in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes—all retaining a distinct aesthetic. The artisans are quiet and focused, working quickly in perfected actions.

The paper pulp is made using the bark from a Mulberry tree, which is soaked, boiled, and sorted for the right lengths of fiber. The sorted fibers are then pounded into a pulp and mixed with water in a small pot, which is shown above balanced on a screen soaking slightly submerged in water. The pulp is poured out evenly across the screen, and then the decorative flower petals and leaves are laid across the surface of the water. Finally, the screen is lifted evenly so that the paper pulp is spread across and the decorations embedded within the flowers. Once the paper is dry, it is carefully peeled from the frame.

Step 1: Making the Paper

Using a foot-powered lathe, the handle of the umbrella is carved in several pieces. The central pole with a handle, the top notch, the runner and the stretcher (the ribs) are finished off by hand. There's even a hand-carved spring to open and close the umbrella, inserted into the handle. The paper is cut and glued to the bamboo frame, and can be further painted or lacquered to proof it against the rain.

Step 2: Creating the frame

Step 3: Elegant Display

The final products are spread across the interior space, lining the walls and open across the floor. There's anything from a small and decorative model to one you could use to cover a picnic table, alongside various other paper products produced from the Mulberry. Very small things in big numbers!