A daily necessity
“A woman must weave, otherwise she will turn into a demoness again.”
This belief of the Changpa is interesting and implies a strong relation to weaving to every day life as a female weaver in Changthang. After spending much time with Changpa women in Ladakh, observing them while weaving and designing their rugs and making cloth for their coats, I came to the realization that for them weaving is a daily necessity.
The Changpa is a nomadic community from different regions in the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, bordering Tibet.It is a vast, dry area in the middle of the Himalayas, with dusty mountains, pristine creeks and freezing winters. The Changpa are pastoralists and move approximately 10 times every year to take their animals—yak, sheep and goats—to grass.
There are many tasks during the day: either going with the animals for grazing or staying back at the settlement. The latter means making dairy products, spinning yarn or weaving. This is when most of the women weave their woolen fabric called snambu, which they use for coats. It is a thick, yet narrow fabric mostly made out of sheep wool woven on the traditional Changpa backstrap loom, in the local language called tachs.
The loom can be dismantled very quickly – it's a fully portable one made out of wood, sticks and a few iron rods as well as a comb; stones are used to support the sticks. As the Changpa are on a constant move, the mobility is is crucial for the design of their tools.
Of course, the Changpa also weave the products that are necessary for their lifestyle: this starts with warm rugs and blankets, saddlebags and bags for grazing as well as tents made from yak hair called rebo. Slingshots and ropes are braided, so are neckbands for yaks. Using the wool and hair from the animals in a cycle to make textile to support the nomadic lifestyle shows a profound connection to their land.
In Changthang, men and women spin and weave, but focus on different fiber and use different techniques. Men mostly spin and weave yak hair, whereas women spin and weave wool. In their youth, boys and girls are taught how to spin first and then weave. There is freedom of expression found in their weaving, especially with rugs.
Despite the narrow warp of around 30cms, the blankets and rugs of the Changpa can be up to 2m wide. Using a simple stitch, the panels are joined and a certain unpredictability shows in the design as the measurement is done by eye only. This makes every piece unique, stemming from the eyes and imagination of its maker.
We are KAL is a social enterprise working with the Changpa community in Ladakh, India. We have established an independent supply chain with nomads and settled nomads for raw wool, yarn, fabric and rugs. Due to the harsh conditions, the past two decades have seen a heavy migration of the nomadic people to the city. Therefore, the nomadic lifestyle, their practices and their crafts are diminishing. We encourage the nomadic way of life, the weaving skills and their unique creations. Our team of settled nomadic women is weaving fabric and rugs. In this way, we are KAL can create an income stream for them besides construction work which is the labour mostly carried out by settled nomadic women. At the same time, we shine the light on their textiles and unique culture.
Find out more about the Changpa way of life, the wool and we are Kal’s team and discover garments made of yak wool on www.wearekal.com.