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

Artisan Techniques and Craft: Part 2

Last month, I introduced you to Anthony Jonnom from a tribe in the Eastern Himalayas, he asked me to write an article post on weaving in his village; the last post explored woven fabrics and this week, woven miscellaneous items such as bags, hats and baskets.

Basket weaving is a process of interlacing malleable materials such as Cane and Bamboo into three-dimensional articles. The history of basket weaving is profuse, yet, the exact year and location that basket weaving was conceived is indeterminable; it is a craft that is widespread, furthermore, the materials used biodegrade over time.

The availability of Cane is shrinking whilst the demand for it is increasing, this is one of the reasons why Bamboo is used as an alternative – it has the closest composition to cane. Bamboo is a type of Grass; it grows rapidly, especially during the wet monsoon months where it can grow 45-50cm per day and can reach heights of around 40 meters.1 Craftsmen typically use bamboos that are 4-6+ years old, although they are firmer and therefore harder to work with, it is believed that their products have a longer life-span with bamboos cut at this age.2 Usually, bamboo are harvested just before the month of October, it is surmised that any earlier disturbs their growing period and that between the months of June-October they are prone to insect and microorganism infestations: “Those harvested during the dark half of the lunar month last but those harvested during the bright half do not last… the attack from insects and microorganisms has some connection with the season of harvesting”3

Anthony’s village use Bamboo and Cane which are home grown. The stages of preparing the strips for weaving are as follows:

  1. Harvest the plant during a full moon
  2. Stand the bamboo vertically for a week to drain away any water
  3. Smoke the bamboos 
  4. Remove the outer layer and dirt from the skin
  5. Cut them into lengths
  6. Remove any nodes
  7. Peel the skin to make the strips smoother
  8. Cut the bamboos into required widths
  9. Further peeling of the strips into required shallowness
  10. Further smoothening of the strips

Planting and harvesting in tangent with the cycles of the Moon is an ancient technique that was adopted by many farmers across the world. In the article, “The Roman Farmer and The Moon” Tavenner explains that: “for as the moon increases, so shall the planted crop or orchard increase.”4 and in that instance: “we should expect to find him harvesting his crop by the waning moon, in order that, as the moon decreased in size, so his harvested crops might go through a uniform drying or curing process without rotting.”5

Once the initial process is completed, the strips are finally woven together; typically it takes one and a half hours to weave one basket, the most experienced weavers can make up to four baskets a day.6 The dexterity of this practice is clear and defined in the compactly woven structure of the items – they are beautiful examples of craftsmanship that are designed to last generations.


Anthony works alongside the ‘Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’ to promote the creations of his village. There are many problems faced by the Arunachal tribes when selling their items in mainland India which is prompting Anthony to sell nationwide instead – I shall keep you updated on when and where you can buy these creations.

Please check out ‘The Himalayan Tribal Welfare Society’ to learn more: https://htws.in/


Further Reading:

Ghosh, G. K. (2008). Bamboo: The Wonderful Grass. New Dehli: S. B. Nagia A.P. H Publishing Corporation. – Please check out this brilliant book dedicated to the research of Bamboo, specifically pages 45-51, it shines a light on the problems of Bamboo extraction; deforestation, privatisation and the open market. The author G. K. Ghosh, also initiates a dialogue for creating an ecological sustainable bamboo policy.

Works Cited:

  1. Ghosh, G. K. (2008). Bamboo: The Wonderful Grass. New Dehli: S. B. Nagia A.P. H Publishing Corporation.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Tavenner, E. (1918). The Roman Farmer and the Moon. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 49, 67-82. doi:10.2307/282995
  5. Ibid
  6. Panda, H. (2000). Bamboo Plantation and Utilization Handbook. Kamla Nagar, Delhi: Asia Pacific Business Press Inc.

Home-made: altering Simplicity Pattern – 8385

This week I pulled out an old fabric I had cooped up in a box – my previous post and the mention of Japan prompted me to rescue this fabric and finally put it to use. Earlier in the year I picked up this vintage Simplicity Pattern at a charity shop in Stockport for £1. Even in its tattered state I was drawn to the unusual, graceful construction and suggested use of colour and patterns. It seemed to be an amalgamation of 1960’s shift-style tunic dresses with a modern variation of the Indian ‘Churidar’ or ‘Salwar Kameez’.

Salwar typical lower garment stitched somewhat like gathered trousers, and worn by women of North India, but with specific styles for both sexes…

Kameeztypical upper garment stitched top of North Indian girls and women. The Kameez, along with salwar, the lower garment, and Dupatta, an unstitched length of sloth that is used to cover the head and the bosom by draping it over the Kameez, is the typical dress of Punjabi women, but has now become a Pan-Indian dress code.

1 (M. Angela Jansen, 2016, p. 93+94)

Throughout history, the Salwar-Kameez was constantly being reinvented; between the 1920’s and 50’s it fluctuated between being above the knee and below the knee: “…[it] rose up to look like an English frock in the 30’s and again descended to the knees by the 50’s”. 2(Sumathi, 2002, p. 140). ‘Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design‘ suggests that throughout the 1900’s European dress influenced Indian fashion very little. In some aspects this is true, perhaps it was Indian fashions which influenced European fashions. Though, notice how the rise and fall of the Kameez hem-line parallels with that of European dress, in addition, during the 1960’s the lower half of the Kameez experimented with a tighter fit around the hips which parallels the construction of the shift dress in the UK. This disputes the idea of European dress having little influence on Indian fashions, but it could also indicate that, like every country, it was influenced by fashion trends which were in fact world-wide.

I find pleasure in researching the history of garments, in my last post I briefly discussed the dissociative nature that the majority of the Western world have with the clothes that they wear and knowing where they have come from – the term ‘Cultural Appropriation’ stems from this ignorance. In this post, I wanted to acknowledge the history of the garment I was making and appreciate the heritage that surround both the construction of the garment and the fabric.

Exploring the Fabric

I bought this beautifully decorated fabric from Tokyo, Japan. As you can see, this fabric is swathed in both natural and mythological motifs; the Japanese have an intuitive appreciation of nature and use it symbolically in many aspects of their lives.

THE CHRYSANTHEMUM – Kiku

Kikumon- The Imperial Crest of Japan

“The Japanese, like the Chinese, are one of the most flower conscious people of the world” 3(Lehner, 2003, p. 106)

Chrysanthemums were originally imported from China – The first recorded cultivation of Chrysanthemums was: “c. 1600 – 1046 BC in Shang Dynasty China” 4(Way, T. 2020). Botanical motifs such as the Chrysanthemum, are prevalent in Traditional Japanese design, the thesis “Japanese Design Motifs And Their Symbolism As Used On Itajime-Dyed Juban” examines 65 itajime-dyed (Japanese resist dying) garments in order to conclude the most popular botanical motifs on these 65 garments; a small-scale indication of the most popular Japanese motif. The concluding results found 14 instances of the Chrysanthemum being used, which placed it as the second most popular motif, the first being cherry blossoms, of which there were 16. 5(GUNTER, 2003, p. 44)

In “Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees” By Ernst Lehner, and Johanna Lehner, the Chrysanthemum is described as “the flower of September” and represents “Long Life and Happiness” 6(Lehner, 2003, p. 106.) Chrysanthemums are attributed to September because they bloom in Autumn; when the decomposition of summer flowers, plants and tree leaves takes place. This could also suggest why the Chrysanthemum is associated with “Long Life and Happiness”, it flowers during the decomposition of other plant life, its resilience to thrive in an otherwise ‘unfurnished’ season offers optimism. Similarly, in the article “The origins of Japanese national symbols” it states that Japan views this flower as a symbol of “happiness and wisdom”. 7(M. A. Shtan’ko1a, 2016) From this research, we can ascertain that The Chrysanthemum is a positive symbol.


THE CHERRY BLOSSOM – Sakura

To anyone outside of Japan, this is arguably the more well-known flower. Here it is depicted in gold, which makes it inconspicuous in comparison to the bolder colours of the chrysanthemums pictured above. The beauty of the Cherry blossom and it’s ephemerality is a metaphor for fleeting moments in life, “the essence of a human’s short life well-lived.” 8(McClellan, A. 2005). Again, a flower has been attributed to symbolise human-life, both the Cherry Blossom and the Chrysanthemum celebrate it.

Between March and early May, the Cherry Blossom is usually in full bloom for about one week, the Japanese celebrate this blooming period by hosting flower viewing gatherings, known as ‘Hanami’; many events and festivals are also centred around this.


THE DRAGONRyu or Tatsu

Another aspect of Japanese culture which was influenced by China is the Dragon. In China, the Dragon is a symbol which flourishes in the Arts, throughout history it went under constant cycles of metamorphosis – the earliest Dragons which feature on Shang bronzes have three claws, notice the dragon painted on this cloth also has three claws.

Figure 22. Dragon and Tiger. Pair of six folded screens, ink on paper, 339 x 157.2 cm. Session Shukei, Japanese, 1504-ca1589, Muromachi period. Purchase from the J.H Wade Fund. 59.136-.137. 9

The Dragon in both Chinese, Korean and Japanese culture exists as a guardian figure; in the Asian Zodiac, the Dragon is the only mythological creature. Throughout the Six Dynasties period (265-589) earthenware figurines of all 12 of the zodiac animals were created and buried in tombs as protectors – much like the guardians in Egyptian tombs.

Figure 7. Covered Ever (Guang), Bronze, H. 18.5 cm. China, Shang Dynasty, middle Anyang period, 12th Century BC. Private Collection, New York. Cat. no. 4.
10

The Japanese Dragon is usually depicted alongside water, clouds or the heavens: “Japanese Dragons share a close connection with water” 11(Bates, R. 2007, p99-100). Therefore, it makes sense that the dragon painted on my fabric seems to emerge from the waves and pass up and over clouds.

In Japanese Folklore, there are several Dragon Kings:

  • Han Ryu – a nine coloured, stripe dragon
  • Sui Ryu, the dragon of Rain
  • Ka Ryu, a flaming dragon
  • Ri Ryu, a dragon which can see more than 100 miles away
  • Fuku Ryu, a dragon bearing good luck
  • Kin Ryu, a golden dragon
  • O Goncho, a white dragon which usually symbolises famine

12(Ibid)

With this, can I conclude that the dragon featured on my fabric is Kin Ryu?


THE WAVE Nami

You may recall one of the most famous Japanese artistic representations of waves being Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura)” but waves have always been a principal symbol in Japanese art – some have suggested that this fascination owes itself to the fact Japan is surrounded by a body of water: “The sea has always been a source of life and destruction…” 13(Mira Bartók, C. R. 1992 p11.) it is connected to the cycle of life and therefore divine. This supports another belief that the sea is sacred in Japanese culture because it bears many deities; Ebisu, Watatsumi, Konpira, Benziaten and many sea dragons including, The Dragon King. 14(Rambelli, F. 2018 p18-19).


This fabric has shown to be composed of great natural and mythological motifs, ones that I couldn’t truly appreciate and understand the meaning of until I sought the information out.


The Make Process

With all new make projects that use an existing pattern, I make a toile (prototype) to test the existing pattern. From there I draft a new style by making edits to the toile. With this pattern I wanted to crop the top at the waist and keep the top sleeveless.

Below I have visually documented the process of making this toile, it follows left to right.

The finished product was largely successful, however, I wanted to make slight changes to problem areas such as; the arm holes and side seams. Generally, the toile was not tight-fitting enough, therefore I made the following edits:

  • took in the side seams by 3cm on each side
  • drafted darts in the back, 11cm in from the centre back seam with a 1.5cm width either side. It elevated 20cm up from the hemline
  • took 3cm off both armholes
  • added 1.5cm to the centre back seams for a button stand

From here, I traced the original pattern and made the alterations to the new pattern

Following this, I could start the make of the final garment…

I’m ecstatic with the finished piece and can’t wait to wear it – I will use the new pattern I made to make duplicates of the style but use other fabrics I have in my collection.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post – please comment below with any questions, equally, if you feel I have missed anything from my analysis of the motifs, please let me know!

Works Cited:

  1. M. Angela Jansen, J. C. (2016). Modern Fashion Traditions: Negotiating Tradition and Modernity Through Fashion. (J. C. M. Angela Jansen, Ed.) London: Bloomsbury
  2. Sumathi, G. J. (2002). Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design . New Delhi: New Age
  3. Lehner, E. L. (2003). Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees – The Flower Calender, The Japanese Flower Calender . New York: Tudor Publishing Company .
  4. Way, T. (2020). Chrysanthemum. London: Reakiton Books LTD.
  5. GUNTER, S. E. (2003). Japanese Design Motifs And Their Symbolism As Used On Itajime-Dyed Juban. Athens, Georgia: A.B. The University of Georgia.
  6. Lehner, E. L. (2003). Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees – The Flower Calender, The Japanese Flower Calender . New York: Tudor Publishing Company .
  7. M. A. Shtan’ko1a, V. N. (2016). The origins of Japanese national symbols . Tomsk, Russia : Tomsk state university, Tomsk polytechnic university,.
  8. McClellan, A. (2005). The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration . Boston: Bunker Hill Publishing .
  9. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art Vol. 77, No. 8, Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia (Oct., 1990), p304.
  10. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art Vol. 77, No. 8, Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia (Oct., 1990), p290.
  11. Bates, R. (2007). All About Chinese Dragons. Beijing: China History Press.
  12. ibid
  13. Mira Bartók, C. R. (1992). Ancient Japan . USA: Good Year Books.
  14. Rambelli, F. (2018). The Sea and the Sacred in Japan: Aspects of Maritime Religion . London: Bloomsbury .

Further reading:

  1. THE SYMBOL OF THE DRAGON AND WAYS TO SHAPE CULTURAL IDENTITIES IN VIETNAM AND JAPAN
  2. FABULOUS CREATURES, MYTHICAL MONSTERS, AND ANIMAL POWER SYMBOLS: A HANDBOOK – p.137

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: https://htws.in/


NEXT WEEK:

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

For The Love of Scrubs!

We’ve been clapping for the NHS and our key workers for the past 3 weeks of lockdown. Every time, I can’t help but feel a bit pathetic…how does this really help key workers? Moreover, why didn’t we clap for our key workers, before COVID-19?

In week 2 of isolation, my boss put my colleagues and I in touch with a family who are orchestrating the make and distribution of Scrubs for the NHS; I felt an urgent need to put to use my sewing knowledge and skills in order to help. Two days ago, I received my package of fabrics, pattern pieces and threads; I have completed five sets of scrubs.

Personally, it takes about 1 hour to sew together a pair of trousers and around 2 hours for a top – this takes longer because it includes two pockets and two facings. No doubt, the timings will decrease as I complete more and more scrubs.

Like many, I am working on an unpaid, voluntary basis. To keep this project alive, the family orchestrating this are reliant on funds raised by the general public.

There will be local groups around you who are supporting the same cause, I implore you to do some research, reach out to these groups and see how you can donate or get involved!

You can follow our journey on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Partington-Scrubs-for-NHS-and-all-our-carers-100882898278505/

You can make a donation to us via this link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/Partingtons-Sewing-NHS-scrubs-fabrics?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

Doncaster Fashion Week

28th September 2019 – Doncaster Fashion Week

https://www.doncasterfashionweek.co.uk/

I was granted the opportunity to showcase at the debut of Doncaster Fashion Week 2019. This was an unforgettable day, to be able to see my collection on a runway catwalk for the second time since I graduated was a surreal experience. Here are some photos from the show:

We were also featured on Doncaster Free Press! Check out the article through the link below:

https://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/business/look-high-end-fashion-show-inaugural-doncaster-fashion-week-show-643041?fbclid=IwAR186Ia-R9sohTZUyOf6eweGNKpXSSxH6aESFUliim17CAZAUnr1V_GjMnc


Behind The Scenes of our Lookbook shoot – COURBE AW19

Behind the scenes shots of my team and I, shooting the lookbook for Courbe AW19 with https://www.mabphillipsphotography.co.uk/

Make Up: https://erinvictoriahmua.com/

Thank you to my beautiful models; Kitty, Amy and Zoulu.

I will remember this day fondly, it was the first time I saw my collection in its entirety, finished, ready for the catwalk; it was a beautifully surreal moment! I had the most supportive and motivating team behind me, and they brought my vision to life.

I remember feeling so elated on set and for the whole day afterwards.