Fish Scales in Thailand

Making fish-scale flowers for sale at a local cultural festival.
Making fish-scale flowers for sale at a local cultural festival.
The Baan Leam Krud group south of Krabi in Thailand learn the finer points of crafting fish scales from the country's foremost trainer in fish-craft, Mrs Benjawan.
The Baan Leam Krud group south of Krabi in Thailand learn the finer points of crafting fish scales from the country's foremost trainer in fish-craft, Mrs Benjawan.
The deputy governor of Krabi province was so impressed by the intricacy of these fish-scale flowers that he personally arranged for an order of 1,000 pieces from the Baan Leam Krud women-led group.
The deputy governor of Krabi province was so impressed by the intricacy of these fish-scale flowers that he personally arranged for an order of 1,000 pieces from the Baan Leam Krud women-led group.

Making hand-made items from fish scales dates back over 40 years in Thailand. In 2003, we researched this and other crafts, and selected the Khao Kaew group from Songkhla on the southern peninsular coast as an example of good practice, from which other new groups could learn. The group’s founder, known locally by her nickname as Khun Tip, agreed to deliver training to other new groups, as part of a rural development programme to include the poorer sections of the population. After the tsunami struck, the initiative developed a new impetus, because coastal villages affected by the tsunami were just hours away from Songkhla. So began this unusual cooperation.
Fish scales from sea bass and other common species are obtained from the local port by the craftswomen as a waste product from the fishing industry. Guts and entrails are all mixed in, and the craftswomen’s first job is to take them home for a thorough cleaning. They are then dyed, and imaginative creations of flowers and jewellery are made using clear glue that is unobtrusive. The items are odourless, or even made sweet-smelling by a light spraying of perfume. Chemical dyes are used for the bright colours, while natural plant dyes provide an aged or “distressed” look for more subtle colours.

Transrural has sponsored the most experienced specialists from a successful fish-scale small enterprise in Songhkla on the eastern side of the southern Thai peninsular, to foster similar developments amongst tsunami-affected people on the western coastline, south of Krabi. We have yet to convince the British consumer to go out and buy fish-scale earrings, but the fish-scale flowers are attracting much local interest, especially for events such as Loy Kratong. During this annual festival people launch tiny boats decorated with flowers, candles and incense into the rivers, canals, ponds and the sea to wash away bad thoughts from the past and to make wishes for the future. Love and flowers are central to Thai society, so what better way to show your feelings for St Valentine’s Day than to give her a fish-scale choker or him a lapel flower?
The next steps are to test new designs, secure the Thai quality assurance on selected products, and to develop some appropriate packaging and labelling on behalf of around 200 “beneficiaries”. The new groups retain around 5% of the wholesale price of the items to cover the renting of space at fairs, and for promotion. In the past, the government’s Agricultural Officers in the area would occasionally help out by introducing buyers to the producers, but then they began to demand unreasonably high commissions, so the aim now is to empower the groups themselves to seek out buyers.  The Baan Laem Kruad fish-scale group was awarded three star OTOP status in October 2010, and intends to make the most of this status by taking up annual invitations to display at Bangkok's biggest convention centre.