Making of: Changpa Weaving, India
Words and photos by Catherine Allié
The Changpa are a nomadic people from the Changthang Plateau – a vast, dry area in the middle of the Himalayas, with dusty mountains, pristine creeks and freezing winters.
Pastoralists, the Changpa earn a living from grazing animals, making dairy products, spinning animal yarn and weaving. Changpa women make snambu: a thick fabric woven primarily from sheep’s and yak’s wool. Traditional Changpa backstrap looms known as takhs are used to weave narrow panels of fabric for warm coats and other products including rugs and blankets, saddlebags and yak hair tents called rebo. Slingshots, ropes and neckbands for yaks are braided from wool and hair.
As the Changpa are constantly on the move, relocating up to 10 times a year to pasture their livestock, the looms and tools must be fully portable. They are typically constructed from wood, sticks and a few iron rods as well as a comb and stones to support the sticks. Changpa men and women both spin and weave, but focus on different fibers techniques. Men mostly spin and weave yak hair, whereas women spin and weave wool.
There is a lot of freedom of expression found in Changpa weaving, especially in rug designs. Despite the narrow warp of the loom (around 30cms), panels are often joined using a simple stitch to make textiles up to 2m wide. Every piece is unique, stemming from the eyes and imagination of its maker.
Today, the Changpa community faces many challenges. Heavy migration to the city threatens their nomadic lifestyle and crafts, including snambu weaving. We are KAL is a social enterprise that works with the Changpa community in Ladakh, helping provide an income stream for settled Changpa weavers and encourage cultural preservation. For more information, visit www.wearekal.com.