Shoulder Bags

Seeds on Red Shoulder Bag
Seeds on Red Shoulder Bag
Cornell University Anthropology Collections, gift of Ruth Sharp; catalogue # 995.4.28; Photo from the Cornell University Library Digital Collections,

Red shoulder bag

Unknown Akha designer, Thailand (bought in a market)

ID # Anthr1995 004 0028 01

Gift of Ruth Sharp

Detail of Woven Shoulder Bag
Detail of Woven Shoulder Bag
Cornell University Anthropology Collections, gift of Ruth Sharp; catalogue # 995.4.29 ; Photo from the Cornell University Library Digital Collections,

Shoulder bag

Eshe's mother, village of Huei Tod, Chieng Dao, Chieng Mai, Thailand

ID # Anthr1995 004 0029 01

Gift of Ruth Sharp

In the appendix for A Report on Tribal Peoples in Chiengrai Province North of the Mae Kok River, Sharp also discusses a case study of an arts and crafts initiative undertaken by a Peace Corps volunteer in 1964, who purchased items from Akha and Yao villages and brought them to Bangkok to be sold at Thai Home Industries, a handicraft focused store, which is still open today. These two shoulder bags illustrate some of the items that the Thai Home Industries had commissioned for sale following the initial items they had received from the Peace Corps volunteer. The purchase order included ten large and ten small Akha shoulder bags. In her report, Ruth Sharp describes how shoulder bags are ubiquitous among the Indigenous communities residing in Northern Thailand, and that each community had their own unique design for these bags. The red cloth shoulder bag was purchased in a market, and so might have been produced for sale in Mae Chan, the town that Sharp and the project were based in.

The cloth bag, although cataloged as Akha, looks quite different from other shoulder bags recorded as being produced by Akha individuals. These bags are primarily constructed out of indigo dyed fabric and have large sections of embroidery on the main body of the bag. Instead, this bag looks visually similar to the bags made and worn by some Karen individuals, which were either white or red and sometimes featured geometric or stylized floral or animal designs. The beads on this piece are likely made from the seeds of a grain plant known as Job's Tears, which were utilized by Karen makers.

The second shoulder bag is woven and constructed from at least three panels that are sewn together. The pattern is created both through the use of multi-colored threads, as well as the use of a float technique. Sharp identifies the maker of this piece as the mother of Eshe, although she does not identify who Eshe is and they are not recorded in published materials about the project.

Additional Media:


This youtube video focuses on Karen weavers, who spoke about their weaving practice during an event hosted by the Karen Organization of San Diego.

The Past In the Present, a museum exhibition that was on display at the Hall of Fame, Siam Paragon, Bangkok, Thailand and explored weaving practices in Thailand.

This UNICEF-produced video shows a woman making a handbag for sale out of embroidered pieces. Erik Cohen terms this type of production as the "boutiquisation" of textiles as they are re-designed to fit market demands.


Click the following link to view the products sold by Thai Home Industries, the shop which Ruth Sharp discussed as a venue to sell Indigenous arts and crafts.


Cohen, E. (1988). From tribal costume to pop fashion: The "boutiquisation" of the textiles of the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand. Studies in Popular Culture, 11(2), 49-59.

Lewis, P.W, and Lewis, E. (1998). Peoples of the golden triangle: Six tribes in Thailand. Bangkok: River Books.

Sharp, R.B. (1964). Appendix I: Tribal arts and crafts. In L.M. Hanks (Ed.), A report on tribal peoples in Chiengrai Province north of the Mae Kok River (pp. 83-102). Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, Dept. of Anthropology.