Weaving in tibet
In Tibet, spinning and weaving was mostly the work of farmers who had the winter months in their houses to busy themselves with tasks other than agriculture. They spun lambs wool and wove it into narrow lengths of fine, dense fabric on back strap looms. Some areas in Lhokha, in southern Tibet, were famous for their woolen fabrics, producing such rare and expensive material it was available only as items that one purchased once in a lifetime and passed on as heirloom. Nomads catered to their own needs, spinning and weaving sheep wool that farmers considered coarse and unrefined. For this reason, Amdo nomads had little base to work from, beyond a natural inclination for spinning and weaving. From such a relatively clean slate, we were able to wholly create a textile industry, if on a small scale, in Amdo.
Weaving at Norlha
Norlha’s weaving section was our first, beginning in 2007 in a tent while the workshop was under construction. We began with 6 weavers and simple weaves under the guidance of Panch Anand, our Nepalese instructor. The section now comprises 45 artisans who work together in a highly coordinated fashion to produce as sophisticated pieces as shuttle looms and jacquards can make.
Our choice of looms was the result of careful reflection. We looked to the flying shuttle looms of India and Nepal, where the handloom industry is highly developed. Based on 18th century European technology, they are fast, easy to use and efficient. They also allow for great variety of designs and are a perfect fit for our small, rural based enterprise.
In 2016, we began using jacquard looms, which we also imported from India. Invented in France by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804, the jacquard is operated by a chain of punched cards with one complete card corresponding to one row of the design. This process, considered to be the ancestor of computing hardware, practiced in its pre computerized form, is usually implemented by three distinct types of artisans; one who interprets the design into a punchable card sequence, another who punches the cards and a third who strings up the chains of cards, loads the jacquard and weaves. To ensure control over the entire process, we sent one person for training in all three skills. This has permitted us to master a procedure which though extremely complex, allows us to produce our own designs in flexible quantities, a feat impossible in an industrial context.
Each completed piece is subject to several levels of checking to insure perfection. We like to say that “ handmade is not an excuse for badly made”.