Based in a remote nomad settlement on the Tibetan Plateau, Norlha Atelier is profoundly influenced and led by its environment and the nomadic culture that has existed in Tibet for thousands of years. Reflecting this connection, Norlha aligns its seasonal launches with significant local events. This year, Norlha will launch their collection of handspun blankets to coincide with the monks’ annual summer meditation retreat, held by monasteries across the plateau.
Each piece in this new collection is woven with yak wool yarn that has been masterfully handspun by artisans at Norlha Atelier, following a tradition that has been passed down among the women of the plateau’s nomad communities for generations.
Hand-spinning is a process that requires incredible dexterity, patience, speed and coordination. At Norlha, hand-spinning requires a particularly refined touch, as yak down fibre is much shorter than sheep’s wool and therefore more difficult to handle. A skilled spinner adopts a careful rhythm to coordinate the movements of their hands and feet at the wheel as they create a perfectly fine, even thread. The practice has historically been linked to mindfulness and meditation practices, and for many spinners at Norlha, spinning and reciting Buddhist prayers go hand in hand, as repeated mantras accompany their rhythmic movements. As Dolma Tso, a spinner at Norlha Atelier expresses: ‘Spinning has a soothing effect; like a river flowing, continuous, dependable and never-ceasing.’
Beyond requiring immense focus, hand-spinning also creates space for creativity and innovation, allowing artisans to develop new types of yarn that would otherwise be impossible to produce. This collection showcases various new and unconventional yarns, including the multi-shade yarn used in the Naturals Handspun Blanket, which is handspun from natural white, grey and brown khullu. The technique used to create this yarn entails a highly skilled spinner integrating three shades of khullu into a single thread – an intricate process that creates a patterned effect in the finished fabric purely through spinning.
‘Though the naked eye may find it difficult to differentiate a handspun thread from an industrial one, the former has qualities that the latter can hardly match. A handspun blanket has an organic feel and a comforting ruggedness that blends softness and dependability. Fine, handspun yak wool retains its pliability and smoothness – qualities that only mature with time.’ – Kim Yeshi, Norlha president and co-founder