In this blog, I record the actual specific of weaving and things related from my recent textile tour to Bhutan. This blog follows on from my previous one.
One of the most popular yarns is “telecotton”. It is cheap and comes in a huge variety of colours. It is most likely according to all the tests I could do 100% synthetic. It’s strong and weaves quite well; though not of course as well as silk or even cotton. As the fabric is very tightly woven, the handle is satisfactory. All the “cheaper” fabrics will be woven from this. It’s also what I used for my warp when I wove in Khoma. It will be imported probably from India (most goods seem to come from India)
This store has some silk. The colours are brilliant though finding a shop that sells silk is much harder than the telecotton. Here both are on sale. The silk is kept in plastic. We saw cotton also being used for weaving though we didn’t actually try to buy some so I have no idea as to ease of access.
Silk is of course the most highly prized yarn and is used for kushü. Here are spools of coloured silk for use for the supplementary weft pattern threads. I must admit that I acquired some lovely plied natural coloured silk- all that was left in a store 750g. I’m looking forward to using it.
Wool. Yak hair is spun. The women will use a drop spindle to spin yak fibre. Here two spinners from different countries share a moment. We were also told that there are 3 types of wool: Australian is most preferred though it is expensive. Next best grade is wool from India and then lastly local wool.
While many yarns are bought coloured, there is some natural dyeing being done. At Leki textiles we attended a half day dyeing workshop. We were told that in old silk textiles the following colours were used: white (natural silk), blue (indigo), red (stick lac), yellow (turmeric with buck wheat) and green (turmeric and buck wheat over indigo). This is the oldest textile in their collection. It is over 100 years old and came from the oldest sister of the first king.
At the dye workshop we worked with 2 colours: red from stick lac, jatsho and yellow from turmeric. The following is what I observed and recorded. I have not confirmed details with any publications. I thought it was more important to write what was actually seen.
The yarn was pre-mordanted by boiling with symplocos paniculata known as Asiatic sweet leaf. We were told that alternative “sour fruit” may be used. There was some discussion whether this meant quince. The yarn was set to one side while the lac was prepared.
Using stick lac.
The lac was put in an aluminium buck and warm water added. It was worked vigorously.
The water temperature was gradually increased to hot. It was repeated as many times as possible till there was no remaining colour in the lac. As the lac got hotter it clumped together, ending up as a solid brown mass that could be formed into flat hard cakes. This residue was used for sealing wax. The dyer must work more quickly, the hotter the water became.
The liquid was strained and then boiled. Before being put in the lac, the pre-mordanted yarn was rinsed.
Some “sour fruit” (quince?) was added to the boiling lac.
Put the turmeric in the water and boil.
This is buck wheat (sour variety) that is milled into flour and then blended with a small amount of water.
Once the turmeric is boiling, the buck wheat slurry is added and brought to the boil.
The fabrics and yarn are added and boiled.
In all cases, the fabric is allowed to cool down before rinsing. I undertand that best results are obtained when the dyed material is left a while and allowed to dry before being rinsed e.g. for a week.
Winding a warp
This is the most basic of procedure that we saw and is for winding a basic plain weave fabric and was demonstrated at Leki Textiles. Required: two end posts and two vertical posts in the middle. The warp length is determined by the distance around the two outside posts. Noe that they are firmly weighted by heavy rocks to prevent movement. The two posts in the middle create the two sheds.
The larger central post is used to create heddles. One thread (blue) goes through a heddle formed by the white thread. The other smaller post has the green thread looped in a half hitch. It is quite a skill winding a warp ergonomically.
Please ignore the sound on the following movie. It has nothing to do with what you are seeing.
This movie shows a friend, Bettes managing both warp threads.
The more complex the type of fabric, the more involved is the winding of the warp. We saw two different methods for winding a warp that included a supplementary warp.
Both methods required an extra two sticks. They will be used for both sheds for the supplementary warp.
Method 1. This method was the one that we felt was the most difficult. The warp was wound back and forth. The basic principle for the ground is the same. The two yellow threads are the ground and are used alternatively for the heddle and other ‘shaft’ stick, as before. The red thread is the supplementary thread and passes alternatively around the extra sticks. It is quite lovely listening to the mother and daughter talk while she winds the warp. This method achieves 2 ground warp to 1 pattern warp in this case.
This was the cloth that she wound the warp for. She used it to check her warping sequence.
Method 2. The warp was wound in a continuous circle. This is the start of the plain weave outside stripe. The supplementary thread has yet to be started.
The winding of the warp has been finished. It was too dark the previous night to record the addition of the supplementary thread. The supplementary thread as per the previous video has been wound around the two extra posts. The difference is that there has been no change in direction. This method seemed more logical for me.
I have used my sample that this warp was prepared for to confirm that 2 ground threads and 1 thicker supplementary thread is wound at the same time.
The warp is wound up, starting at one end.
It is now taken to where weaving will happen.
There are two styles of looms in Bhutan: the triangular back strap and the horizontal loom.
The back strap loom
At Leki Textiles here are many versions of the same frame for the back strap loom. The basic framework is a vertical frame which has two sides. The two sides must be sturdy as force will be exerted against it when tension is applied. The two sides has a series of holes that match. Here some looms have a braced frame (blue warp) while another utilises the framework of the building (white warp). The one in the front was 2 metres high with the holes about 15cm apart. The choice of holes and height of the frame will determine the length of warp that can be woven. We saw variations on this in other establishments.
The warp is tensioned by body tension. One end of the warp is around two pipes attached to the frame (top and bottom). This allows for separation of the circle that is the warp. The third corner of the triangle is the ‘front beam’ which the warp goes around. This is attached to the body by the ‘back strap’. Tension is applied when the weaver braces her body against the loom and released when she relaxes. This ability to tighten and then relax is necessary to achieve good open sheds to put the shuttle through.
The following sequence shows how the warp is anchored in the front ‘beam’ to stop it slipping.
Note there are two halves to the front beam.
At this point the warp is not anchored between them.
Once the warp is organised to her satisfaction and weaving is ready to begin, the warp is sandwiched between the two halves.
The warp is wound around the joined beam
And tied together. The other end of the rope is attached to the strap that goes behind the weavers back.
The width of the back strap loom is limited by the comfortable width for the weaver to work with.
In this tent there is a loom. The height of this tent does not allow for a tall back strap loom of the type we have seen. An alternative way has to be improvised to weave a long length.
Here is one end of the loom. At the far left the warp is tied to the framework of the tent. The height of the loom is achieved by 2 forked sticks which are the same height.
At this end is the weaver. She braces her feet against a board attached to the forked sticks.
The horizontal loom
The horizontal loom was introduced from Tibet sometime around 1920. Apparently the story is well known. A young man Sonam Dondhrup went to Tongsa Dzong, the home of the royal family at that time to seek his fortune in the king’s service. He became a skilled back strap weaver. Ashi Wangmo, the young daughter of the first king who was a nun noticed his skill and asked him to stay with her as an attendant. She had over 100 female weavers but no male ones. She knew that there was a different loom in Tibet and asked him to go and learn about them. He spent 9 months there but no one would teach him. Then Ashi Wangmo sent two sets of gift cloth to give the Tibetans and after that they taught him. He came back and made a horizontal frame loom, and taught her how to weave on it. (excerpts from “the Land of the Thunder Dragon” see reference list on previous post. It was introduced into central Bhutan by the 1930s. The loom I measured was 94 cm wide, 104 cm long and 110 cm high including the castle (top part at the centre of the loom). There are 4 foot treadles which are often not anchored to the frame of the loom. These are tied directly to the 4 shafts.
The shafts operate in a counterbalance method with shafts 1 and 2 being linked and 3 and 4. Note the rollers at the top of the loom that allow movement of connected shafts. There are two sets: one for shafts 1 and 2, the other for shafts 3 and 4. (I’m allocating shaft numbers by counting from the front.) When shaft 1 is pulled down, shaft 2 will go up and vice versa. At the same time when shaft 3 goes down, 4 will go up and again vice versa. It is important to note that the first two shafts ae not linked in any manner to the second two. This has repercussions for achieving weave structure. If the warp was threaded from shafts 1 though to 4, then plain weave could be achieved by depressing with two feet treadle 1 and 3 for one row and then treadle 2 and 4. This makes weaving the “everyday cloth” of the previous post very easy.
The other point of interest is the breaking system. Notice the use of 2 metal spikes with a bent end. Holes in the front and back beam and nails or in this case pegs on the inside of the top of the loom is used in combination with the spike. The right combination will achieve a desirable weaving tension.
The weaving sword is a solid piece of wood that has both a narrow and a wider edge. It is used to open a gap (weaving shed) through which the shuttle passes and beat the weft into place. Because of the tightness of the weave it needs to have reasonable weight to help pack in the weft thread.
The shuttle is just a log stick that has the weft thread wound around it. Here the shuttle with green thread can be seen inside the weaving shed.
In this weavers hand is a slim pointed stick used to pick up the design. It may be brass or made from bamboo. In following movies it will be seen to be used.
A temple is used to keep the weaving width constant on a back strap loom. Unlike a western loom, there is no reed to keep the warp threads spaced. If a temple is not used, the weaving width will gradually decrease. Look for it under the cloth being woven near the edge of weaving. The temples used are bamboo cut to size with two points either end. These points leave quite large holes along the selvedge.
Many Bhutanese textiles have this chain effect on the ends. It may be one or two colours. It may be a single row or several. It may be done on a back strap or horizontal loom. In this case it is done on an open shed. This means it will only be seen on this side of the fabric. It is easiest to work with 2 loops as that will ensure one loop passes through the other.
Weaving with a back strap loom.
All Bhutanese fabrics whether for plain weave, kushü, supplementary warp or supplementary wefts require the ability to weave plain weave.
This image shows the two elements to achieve both lifts for plain weave. When the yellow heddles are relaxed, the warp threads that pass over the bamboo are raised, especially when tension is applied. When a weaving sword is inserted and turned on its side, a gap is achieved to allow the shuttle to pass through.
When the yellow threads are pulled up and to do this the warp tension is relaxed, the weaving sword can be inserted, turned on its side to allow the alternative shed for the shuttle to pass through.
The weaving sword on its side. It is in this gap that the shuttle will pass.
Kushü being woven
This movie shows a simple form of Kushü being woven. In this case after every row of supplementary weft, a plain weave row must be woven. There are several important things to note. The first is that the insertion of the supplementary weft is always done on an open shed. This means that the fabric is one sided with only the tails of the reads being seen on the reverse side as they are poked through to the back when finished being used.
An examination of a kushü fabric will show that there are several styles of stitching.
There are two classes of kushü stitches. Sapma includes the filling stitches: A and B in the above image. Thrima includes the wrapping or coiling stitches: C (diagonal), D (vertical), E (horizontal).
In both A and B above, both have an outline and then the centre filled. The filling for A is achieved by picking up the motif and inlaying the thread, while B has a solid centre. Note on B that there appears to be crossed threads.
This sample shows how to construct both the diagonal and how to create stitch B. This sample was woven on a loom that Wendy (our tour expert) had provided. While the yarn wasn’t great it allowed an understanding of process.
This scale of thread also allows for the management of the warp threads to be seen. When weaving kushü 4 sticks are required to set up the loom. Two are for normal plain weave. Two extra sticks are used to raise all threads that will be used to work the kushü. A 6 warp sequence id required- 3 on one shed and 3 on the other. The threads for the kushü is picked up so that 2 threads are on the extra rod and then one dropped, for each extra rod. If you look closely at the above image you should be able to see this. The gap provides a space for the supplementary weft threads to turn and sit nicely (especially if there are 2 in the one turning point) and is a very useful tool for choosing placement of motif.
The sampa or filling stitches as well as the diagonal thrima are completed every row.
The following movie shows how to complete a horizontal row.
Here’s how to get ready to move to the vertical position
The vertical stitch is worked every 2 rows in the following manner.
These are two samplers. One with the basic stitches and half a pattern that I worked on Wendy’s loom and the sample that we worked on at Leki Textiles. I can’t claim credit for the whole lot, only the very top end: that was half a day’s work. The rest was done by a weaver at Leki’s. We were fortunate that they did some patterns as this will give us reference for how the stitches are used. The most important thing to remember is to be aware of what will be the next pattern row and to get your threads into position.
Supplementary warp being woven.
There are 4 sticks required for the supplementary: 2 for the ground or base fabric and 2 for the supplementary stripes. The weaver picks up alternate supplementary warp threads, constructs heddles for them and places them onto the extra rod. The process is repeated for the alternate supplementary warps. In this image from the bottom is the heddle rod for plain weave, then one of the pattern rods and then the alternate one. The rod she has in her hand is the one that will hold the pattern heddles. She will repeat it for the other pattern rod.
The process complete.
To weave, the pattern row is lifted and included with 2 ground weave passes. This as it is shown will achieve a horizontal row of supplementary warp. If a more complex pattern is required, the pattern is picked up from this rod.
Weaving supplementary warp and kushü together
The general sequence is:
- Pick up supplementary pattern rod and select motif with the pick-up stick. In this case as the pattern is picked up, it is stored for temporary use on an extra rod. You will also notice that in the initial stripe, she corrects a mistake. An extra ground thread had been picked up.
- Then change the ground shaft and weave.
- Select the shaft that has the rod for the kushü.
- Pick up the motif.
- Bring back down the supplementary stored design. The stored pattern is used twice.
- Change the ground weave and beat.
The following 2 movies show the sequence. My apologies for the background chatter. Most of it does not apply to this loom.
Weaving Yathra on the horizontal loom
This example shows the characteristics of yathra. It is a supplementary pattern on a twill ground. To weave a 4 end twill which is what this is, requires a 4 shaft loom.
But the inherent qualities of the Tibetan horizontal loom having 2 separate rollers means that it cannot be threaded as we would on a western loom. A reminder: on a horizontal loom when shaft 1 goes up 2 goes down. Both cannot be up or down at the same time. The same applies to shafts 3 and 4. So for us in the West a normal till progression may be shafts 1 and 2 followed by 2 and3 and so on. This obviously will not work. So the Bhutanese have come up with an alternative threading system: shaft 1, 3, 2, 4 or it could equally be 1, 4, 2, 3. The important point is that the back and front alternate. That means a twill progression can now be achieved by shafts 1 and 4; 2 and 4; 2 and 3; 1 and 3. For those that are weavers the following draft will explain the theory.
The supplementary weft needs to be added in.
The supplementary thread is added in the same shaft as the ground. This is a two faced fabric. In other words pattern can be seen on both sides hence it is inserted in the same shaft.
The same style of wrapping and twining as for the kushü may be used.
The background row of weaving follows the pick-up row. The pattern row may be every row and this will achieve a diagonal line or it may be every 4th row for a vertical line. A single shaft will be used for a horizontal row. (see above blue textile). The pattern rows alternate in the following example.
There is one remaining mystery: what causes the “breaks” in the vertical that you may have noticed in this and the above textiles. It appears that the diagonal line of the twill is interrupted.
This effect can be seen very clearly in this fabric on the loom. From a weave structure aspect, it has no answer. But look to the reed for the answer. Four warp threads ie shafts 1,4,2,3 are all placed in the same dent. The spacers are very solid bamboo. These spacers are what is causing this pattern effect. By the way the new yathra textiles are sold unwashed. These gaps may close up with wet finishing. But in Bhutan, how often does that happen?
The trip is over, analysed and recorded. The memories are fresh. It was an amazing trip. I have collected new textiles for my collection and for sharing with others.
My current textile wall. They are all there (nearly). There are 2 from Laos and 7 from Bhutan in all different techniques. I do like the fact that two of those are ‘foreigners’.
It is however what follows now that I am looking forward to. I did bring home a full back strap loom that I had set up in in Khoma with a supplementary warp as well as other loom bits. I will look forward to playing.