Making of: Kira, Tingma and Aikapur Weaving, Bhutan
Words by Emily Lush, Photos by TripToes, Videos by Red Lantern Journeys & Global Vision Movie
Bhutan is renowned for its silk-on-silk textiles that carry sophisticated, embroidery-like patterns. Working on backstrap looms, weavers use a pick-up technique to create designs which are worn by both men and women in daily life. In Bhutan, the creation of cloth is considered a religious act and colour selection a spiritual exercise. It is thought that more than half of Bhutan’s population is actively involved in weaving in one way or another.
Broadly, Bhutanese weaving can be split into two categories: Tsongtham, cloth woven for commercial purposes, and Hingtham, cloth woven for relatives and friends. Hingtham, which roughly translates to ‘heart-woven’, hints at the social and spiritual significance of weaving. Popular textiles include Bhutan’s national dress (for men, the gho and for women, the kira), long, loose silk garments that are richly embellished.
Tingma is a Bhutanese technique that uses discontinuous supplementary wefts in addition to a ground weft. A type of soumak stitch is applied row by row through an open shed using a pointed pick up stick. This gives the textile long, horizontal lines that resemble dense embroidery. Weavers knot individual silk threads to create motifs.
Aikapur cloth, commonly produced in Eastern Bhutan, is considered the most technically complex of all Bhutanese textiles. The name Aikapur is derived from the traditional colour palette (white and yellow designs on a red background) that is favoured in this part of the country. A weaver who works 10 to 12 hours per day can take more than a year to produce a single textile. The technical skills of Bhutanese weaving are taught through six-year courses at Royal Thimphu College and The Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan, both in the capital, Thimphu.
Learn more from Intangible Cultural Heritage's in the Asia-Pacific Region's Traditional Craftsmanship report here.