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Bhutanese Textiles ~ Up Close and Personal

Getting up close with the textiles from Bhutan is extraordinary. I can hardly see the weave with a gigantic magnifier so I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to actually weave it! The weavers are often in dimly lit rooms too.

This type of weave is used in making the Kira – the womens’ national dress.  The longer horizontal arms are made with a type of soumak stitch manipulated by hand through an open shed. The weavers use a beautiful pointed pick up stick to assist them. This type of stitch allows a long horizonal line without floats. You can see the other diamond shaped patterns are woven by a straight pick up and have small floats.

Here is a diagram of how I think the horizontal work is done using one thread doubled by anchoring it around a warp thread. To go up the vertical the threads are basically twisted around each other and anchored under a warp ready to do the soumak line again. This works because the warp is fine, sett at 115 epi.  The diagram only shows the soumak work but rows of plain weave are woven as well.

I also tried this on a much coarser sett and it was a great way to introduce texture and line patterning to a plain weave. The soumak creates a raised texture which sits higher than the surrounding ground weave. As the pattern is worked on the open shed it only shows on the face of the textile.

There’s a poetry about the weave. Over 5 and back 2, working on the diagonal for the pick up pattern and working many different coloured threads. This rhythm is evident not only in the design but the way it is worked. I was a bit surprised by this, but then I shouldn’t have been. This type of skill is taught. It isn’t a free flowing, unorderly work of self expression. It is a highly technical skill which takes 6 years of study to learn (if you attend the college in Thimpu)  and order in working is important.

If you look at the illustration of the pattern, you can see the the arrows showing the direction of the soumak weave. It has a mathematical and sublime quality.

I know our textiles tell stories but in getting very close to this special Bhutanese weave I really discovered more about the people and country of Bhutan. These expressions are woven with the style, patterning, colour and structure of the cloth itself. Woven textiles are created to inspire the heart and the Bhutanese have a special word for it – Hingtham which means ‘heart weaving’. A language that has a word for this indicates the value of textiles in the culture. As a weaving community we need to make new special words to succinctly express our passion for our art and its connection to our lives.

I have a short video on YouTube where you can see a weaver in Bhutan doing the weave with the pick up stick.


 Handweaving a Kira in Bhutan.



5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful work, and even a video…what a treat with my early morning coffee.

    I have a comment and a conundrum. It looks to me, in examining the illustration of the yarn travelling up a warp thread, that there’s also some twining involved.

    And what I don’t understand is how those arms that leave the lower quandrants of the diamond can dogleg down, or into already-woven cloth. Maybe I’m missing something here.

    January 5, 2009
  2. Thanks for this post!
    What a great way to incorporate conductive thread into my weaving.
    I saw the image and started thinking circuit board.
    Then your method diagram solved it all!
    I can’t wait to try it out as I think it solves my latest challenge.

    January 6, 2009
  3. gertieanne #

    Your post are great. I just love reading about the Bhutanese textile, it is just so beautiful. It looks like embroidery and weaving mixed together. Very talented people. Is there any books teaching the techniques they use?

    Thank you for sharing you video.

    January 6, 2009
  4. Thanks for the comments.
    The horizontal arms are really just soumak weave within the ground weave.But for the vertical arms the yarns are twisted around themselves and anchored around the warps at points if needed. If the vertical line is too long the yarn will need to be anchored every few rows. The verticals in this piece aren’t too long so the twisting is sufficient to give the appearance of a vertical line on this fine sett.
    As the soumak weave is done within the ground weave the weaver begins at the bottom of the design and although the design appears to weave downward into already woven cloth it is planned and woven into the weave structure row by row.
    The work is very detailed and a delight to look at.

    January 6, 2009
  5. Anne #

    I think your drawings are exquisite. Your analysis of the work is really appreciated. Thank you.

    January 6, 2009

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