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

Thagzo: Weaving

Of the 13 traditional Bhutanese crafts, none has reached as high a level of craftsmanship as weaving has. Traditionally weaving is done with silk as well as cotton yarns.

 

The designs used are numerous and continually added to as experienced weavers are able to build on old patterns or to create new ones. The most intricate and time-consuming design is called thrima; it looks like chainstitching embroidered onto the fabric; in fact, warp elements and supplementary weft threads are interwoven. The two best-known fabrics are the kushüthara and the ngosham. Both refer to the background colours (white for kushüthara, blue for ngosham), on which are woven intricate designs of various colours. The same holds true for pieces with green and black backgrounds (jangsam and naksham respectively).

In the traditional areas weaving is usually still done on the backstrap loom, which means that the warp is drawn around the weaver's hip with a back strap. In the last few years, the use of the pedal loom has been steadily spreading.


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The most elaborate textiles are woven on a backstrap loom. Daughters learn the craft from their mothers.
Photo by Jon Warren


Complicated patterns are made with supplementary-weft threads, which are inserted with a bamboo stick.
Photo by Jon Warren


Women's wraparound dress (kira*), excerpt, silk; size: 250 cm x 150 cm; loan from Françoise Pommaret
A kira is made of various lengths of woven cloth sewed together to one rectangular piece of cloth, which is wrapped over a blouse and fixed at the shoulders with fibulas. It is the standard dress for Bhutanese women. The quality of workmanship and of the material vary depending on the occasion of wearing it and the social rank of the woman. Bhutanese weavers are known for their remarkable craftsmanship, especially in the supplementary-weft patterns.


hand-spun silk; measurements 306 x 94 centimeters; loan from the Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich