Each year the monsoon brings an abundance of fresh water to Inle Lake, and it is then when lotus thrive and are harvested. Ideally, the lotus flower should be in full bloom when the stems are picked, and the deep pink flowers contain the best lotus fibers. Once a stem is picked, its fibers are extracted within three days while still fresh. On a small wooden table, a handful of about five stems are simultaneously cut, and their spongey fibers are pulled out, twisted and hand rolled together with water. Then, the fibers are spun, washed and woven. Raw lotus threads are a neutral creamy color, and natural dyes are often used to color the fabric. The whole process is extremely labor intensive, making lotus one of the most expensive textiles in the world. A small neck scarf requires about 4,000 lotus stems, a large scarf requires about 40,000 stems, and a full set of monk’s robes (30 meters) requires about 220,000 lotus stems and 60 weavers to complete over a 10-day period.
Cool in summer and warm in winter, lotus fabric is highly breathable and wearable year-round. With a texture similar to raw silk and linen, lotus fabric is soft, lightweight and naturally waterproof. Besides its supposed calming powers, the Burmese claim that it helps relieve headaches, neck aches, and health issues related to the throat, lungs and heart.