The history of Bhutan | Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel | The cultural heritage | The 13 traditional crafts | Tailoring

Tshemzo: Tailoring

This section comprises three main crafts: stitching clothes such as the go worn by men and various jackets (tögo, narnang töthung), embroidery and applique of mostly religious illustrations, and the making of traditional Bhutanese boots.

Embroidery and applique has always been mainly carried out by monks, as they were required to prepare special temple and ceremonial hangings. Traditional dance costumes also required both stitching and applique. Fabrics were often imported from China and, more recently, synthetics from both China and India have been used.


The most laborious and refined items are probably the thangkas. Like in painting, when producing them the precise measurements, as specified in the holy scriptures, must be followed. The most significant items produced are the large silk thangkas portraying Guru Rinpoche or the Shabdrung, which are hung against the wall of the respective dzong once a year during the tshechu festival.

The boot-makers

The craft of stitching boots (tshoglam), despite being linked with tailoring and embroidery because of the needle work, is really a separate activity in itself.

 


When a customer orders a new pair of boots, first the outline of his foot is drawn. This is compared to existing patterns to determine the size of the boot. First the sole (thi) is made by cutting out a thin card, according to the size of the foot. This card is covered with light cotton cloth and stitched on. Leather is then cut to the same size and glued to the cloth-covered card. Holes are made in the leather and later on this is attached to the bottom of the three sections of the cloth applique that make up the main part of the boot. The making of the sole is difficult and time-consuming because the leather is tough and hard to work with. The main boot is made of leather with cloth applique (mostly brocade imported from China).

The main part of the boot designates the rank of the owner. Yellow for the king and the head lama (je khenpo*), orange for a minister (lyonpo), red for senior civil servants (dasho*) and green for everybody else.

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Thrikheb, wool, silk, cotton; size: 152 cm x 70 cm; loan from a private collection
This throne cover for the court or for high lamas shows, as central motive, the »Wheel of Law« symbolising Buddhism. At the top and on the bottom there are appliques of a pair of flying phoenixes and a representation of the wishing jewel.


The elaborate craft of boot-making combines leatherwork, stitching and embroidery. There are only a few masters left nowadays who mainly work on commission for high civil servants and aristocrats.
Photo by Jon Warren


On the right side of the picture: boots, silk brocade and damask, satin, cotton, leather; size: 51 cm x 28 cm x 10,5 cm; loan from the Museum für Völkerkunde, Wien
Specific pieces of clothing denote the bearer's social standing and rank. These boots are worn by lay religious practitioners (gomchen) of Buddhism.
On the left of the picture: boots, napped wool, silk brocade, cotton, leather; size: 49,5 cm x 27 cm x 10 cm; loan from the Museum für Völkerkunde, Wien
Boots of a senior official who has been awarded his title, »dasho«, by the king.