How Are Asian Umbrellas Made?

Authentic materials are essential -- no plastic here!!

Begin with a Bamboo Frame

The many steps for creating an umbrella can be visualized by viewing the interactive image below. Click and drag the image to see around the umbrella.

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The Iconic Asian Umbrella

The rich tradition of Oriental art is perhaps no more evident than when viewing hand painted umbrellas. Whether it's a hand held umbrella or a 7-foot tall patio umbrella, there is something about hand painted umbrellas that sets them apart from any other form of art. They can not only be used for practical uses, such as protecting one from the sun and rain, but for decorative purposes.

Hand painted umbrellas come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors and materials and are made by different processes all throughout Asia. Each hand painted umbrella sold on, regardless of the material, is carefully handcrafted and painted by master artisans with a characteristic Oriental touch.

Traditional Thai Umbrellas

It all starts in Thailand, a delightful Southeast Asian country with an amazing tradition of handmade crafts and artistry.

Bamboo is first gathered and cut into intricate, interlocking pieces--but not just any bamboo: a hearty strain of bamboo called "mai-ruak" that is known for its strength and durability is used to assure that each finished item will be a lightweight work of art that will last.

Stitching the Bamboo Together

The bamboo pieces are assembled by hand into a mobile, collapsible frame.

28 pairs of individually carved ribs and stretchers are used for each 35" umbrella.

These are slotted into each other and stitched together with thread to form a beautifully fascinating, moving structure which opens and closes.

The bamboo slats must then be sewn together using strong thread. The tension must be precise to allow the umbrella to open and close smoothly.

Stacks of fresh cut bamboo.
Craftsman hand stitching the bamboo ribs of an umbrella

Tago Fruit Binds the Fabric to the Bamboo

Tago fruit helps the cotton bind to the bamboo

Cotton fabric is cut to size in a rough circle and applied to the frame using a mixture of water, flour and "Luuk Tago" fruit.

Why use Tago?

  • Tago makes the cotton adhere to the bamboo frame very well
  • Tago aids in the weatherproofing of the umbrella, making it much stiffer and more durable than it otherwise would be.

  • Medical Uses of Tago: It is used by local people to get rid of coughs and to cure stomach aches.
  • Harvesting Tago: Tago fruit blooms just once per year, in the month of June.
  • Preparing Tago: After the fruit is picked it must be preserved in a process that takes 20 days, then it can be used throughout the year until the next June's harvest.

Fabric is soaked in the Tago mixture and applied to the bamboo frame while it is very wet, and it is placed in the sun to dry. This makes the fabric stick extremely well to the bamboo ribs.

Folding the Pleats

Once semi-dry, the fabric is durable but still pliable. The umbrellas are folded down by hand.

Each section between the ribs is folded in intentionally by hand, bound with a cloth and left to thoroughly dry.

When thoroughly dry, the umbrella will be opened and will retain the creases initially chosen by the craftsman who bundled it up before.

Umbrella shade drying.
Folding the pleats of the umbrella by hand

Sun Drying the Shades

Many umbrella shades drying in the sun

Just like in centuries past, the sun is still an essential element for drying and curing the bamboo frame.

Sun drying the umbrella shades keeps the strength and elasticity of the bamboo intact.

The rainy season in Thailand lasts for much of the year, from late May until early October.

Since drying the umbrellas in the sun is necessary to preserve the strength and integrity of the natural materials, Thai umbrellas are created primarily between October and May, with the month of June reserved for harvesting the Tago fruit for the next seasons production.

Mapawk Fruit Helps with Durability and Colorfastness

The base color is mixed with "Luuk Mapawk" or Mapawk fruit.

Why use Mapawk?

  • Mapawk helps the durability of the umbrella.
  • Mapawk aids color fastness (slows color fading).

  • Medical Uses of Mapawk: Mapawk is used as a traditional asthma medicine, and the warmed bark of the tree is used as a compress to reduce bruising.
  • Harvesting Mapawk: Mapawk fruit blooms just once per year, in the month of January.
  • Preparing Mapawk: Mapawk oil is extracted from the fruit.

Mapawk fruit aids durability of the umbrella

Three Base Coats are Applied

A base coat of waterproof oil based paint is applied in 3 coats to the umbrella.

The cured umbrella is opened and completely painted by hand, inside and out, 3 separate times.

The three coats of oil-based paint mixed with Mapawk assure the weatherproofing of the umbrella, and make sure that the colors do not fade.

The monsoon season in Southeast Asia brings very heavy rainfall and even flooding to much of the region. Umbrellas are an essential part of daily life, not only for keeping dry on a rainy day, but also to shield your skin from the hot sun!

The Final Masterpiece

The completed umbrella is passed to the finishing artist, who applies colorful oil paints and creates a lovely, unique masterpiece on the newly created shade.

The detail artist who hand paints the design is a professional, who usually is carrying on a family tradition by creating these hand-painted treasures.

Colors are mixed by hand and the designs are all laid out with the artists attention to every detail.

The artists whose brushes gloss over our painted umbrellas, whether hand held or patio type, have usually trained for a number of years as an apprentice artist. When they are finally ready, they may begin working on our umbrellas. Only the very best artists may work on the patio umbrellas, which usually dwarf the artists themselves! The process of painting and mastering a design on a patio umbrella is quite a challenge but the results show that it is well worth the effort.

Artist painting a large umbrella.

The Parts of an Asian Umbrella

Three images of an umbrella with all the parts labeled.

We create and use a variety of parts when making our umbrellas. With the exception of springs and screws, all natural materials are used to make the following:

  • Top notch - This piece, also known as a "hub", is used to gather the ribs together.
  • Ribs - These are all individually carved from bamboo.
  • Stretchers - These bamboo parts affix the ribs to the runner.
  • Shaft - Usually of bamboo
  • Shade - Oil-treated cotton is used to repel rain, while sunshades are often made of sa paper.
  • Spring Clip - Made from bamboo, these spring clips keep the umbrella open.
  • Handle - The handles are carved on a lathe with hand tools.
  • Ring Closure - This ring keeps the umbrella closed when not in use.
  • Finial - The carved headpiece to the umbrella.
  • Hand-painted Design - Our Thai umbrellas are entirely hand-painted, each and every one.

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