The Art of Weaving in the Eastern Himalayan Mountains: ‘The Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’

Artisan Techniques and Craft: Part 1

One aspect of my graduate collection explored artisan techniques in fashion which were popular during my favourite era – the Belle Époque. From pin tucking to cyanotype printing – I wanted to understand their processes, observe the quality of these garments against the currents of generic high-street fashion, but most of all, I wanted to connect with the past.

In 2017 I visited Tokyo, Japan with my University. A place which sticks in my mind, is the Amuse Museum, Taito City and its collection of ‘Boro’ – A traditional Japanese technique used to repair clothing and fabric by reinforcing it with other fabrics using a series of stitches. In some ways, it’s similar to ‘patchwork’ and ‘Applique’; though its method is comparatively straightforward as it stems from pragmatism above all else – its disjointedness is what makes it beautiful. Endless amounts of information and narratives were printed on the walls, salvaged pieces strung up as living entities – they were adorned by the memories of the people who had worn them. It had me thinking about the clothing industry today, our consumerist culture and the swell of high-street fashion which depreciates artisan techniques and processes.

I have recently been in contact with Anthony Jonnom from a tribe in the Eastern Himalayas. On behalf of The Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society, Anthony reached out to a group I am following on Facebook that promotes and offers guidance on sustainability in Fashion. He asked bloggers and journalists to cover the history of weaving in his village, to generate nationwide interest in their beautiful, hand-made products.

A Brief History

The Demi-Goddess, Podi Barbi, visited one of the women from the village in a dream; Podi Barbi taught this lady the process of hand-weaving. Subsequently, the process was shared with her people and the other tribes. Hand-weaving is still practiced in Anthony’s village today; however, with the innovation of weaving machinery and tools, hand-operated machine weaving is preferred.

Anthony sent me videos and photographs of these artisans in an airy workshop; neat rows of robust wooden and bamboo machinery clunking away. Threads are suspended vertically over looms to create the ‘Warp’: the ‘Weft’ is created using a wooden ‘Pirn’ wrapped in thread, which is passed through the ‘Shed’ (a passage made by raising and lowering the warp threads with a shedding tool, this happens at each pass of the shuttle) and the woven fabric starts to take shape. The yarn they use are silk and cotton, which are usually grown, harvested and dyed in their village. He tells me that: “the qualities of clothes are much more compact and tight than Factory made, but people still prefer these more.” It is understandable that they feel a deeper connection to the clothes and items made in their village on account of the craftsmanship and time taken to make them.

Anthony tells me that the identity of tribes in the Eastern Himalayas are preserved in the fabric they weave; the designs on the fabric are never random, each colour and motif is symbolic. In one fabric Anthony shows me (pictured directly below) regimented lines are embroidered in two opposing thicknesses, the colour red standing bold and central, represents, ‘The Mother’, and the colour black represents, ‘The Son’. The silver motif takes the shape of a bamboo artefact, which is used in prayer to bless the home and the wellbeing of the people in their village.

Speaking to Anthony illuminates the deep connection and respect that his village have with regards to heritage and culture, a polar opposite to the majority of us who, like myself, were raised in the UK – whether you perceive heritage to be of importance or not, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons. What ancient values do we hold close? – if any! What clothing techniques and practices have we protected? This leads on to a whole host of other questions about our fashion industry: the fabrics, threads, buttons etc.

Who made them…Where were they made?

I implore you to regress, start asking questions again: how did object A) get to location B)? Do you shop second-hand? recycled/up-cycled, sustainable, ethical, fair-trade, locally grown and artisan-handmade?

With your help, Anthony will be able to start selling these creations online – I will keep you updated!

Please check out ‘The Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’ to learn more:


Weaving in the Eastern Himalayas, Artisan Techniques and Craft: Part 2

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