Nepalese Tradition in Textile
Tucked between India and Tibet is a nation of rich history and cultural heritage. Nepal is perhaps best known for its ancient temples and world heritage sites, and for co-hosting the world’s highest peak, the Everest, as well as other great mountains in the Himalayan Range. This said, it’s easy to tell that the nation receives several visitors every year, but beyond its topography and famous sites, Nepalese tradition holds far more for those who care to explore.
Textiles have been a major element of Nepalese tradition for millennia. Dhaka fabric is a hand-woven cotton textile that is native to the Limbu people of eastern Nepal. The intricate patterns and carefully chosen colors of the fabric are well celebrated and are now becoming even more popular all over the world. The art of dhaka fabric weaving has been passed down for generations and the fabric represents the traditional dressing of the Limbu people. Men wear a dhaka topi (hat made of dhaka fabric) along with a scarf, while women wear a dhaka mekhli (dress made of dhaka fabric), adorned with a shawl and a scarf. Dhaka fabric is now majorly produced by weavers in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and in the districts of Palpa and Tehrathum.
Here is a 1 minute 19 second YouTube video of Dhaka in Palpa
Kalamkari printing, which dates back to medieval times, originating from the Middle East, has over the centuries been beautifully adopted and perfected by Nepali craftsmen. It’s really astonishing to grasp that such elaborate patterns and designs as those of kalamkari printing are made by hand – freehand or using a wooden block motif. Traditionally, the fabric to be printed upon is soaked with cow dung for a couple of days to bleach it. It is then thoroughly washed in flowing water and sun-dried. Afterwards, the colors are printed one at a time, and the fabric is rinsed after each print. Every color used for kalamkari printing is naturally sourced from plants and earth, and rid of the toxic chemicals that most synthetic dyes contain. After the printing is done, the fabric is boiled in a huge pot so that it shrinks and becomes color-run-proof.
Another noteworthy Nepalese traditional textile technique is kachchi embroidery. With its vibrant colors and rich designs, kachchi embroidery is an art form normally practiced by women on cotton, silk and satin fabrics. Small colorful mirrors known as “abhla” are often sewn over the geometric patterns of the finely threaded kachchi embroidery to produce a spectacular shimmering effect.
Introduced by merchants on the silk road from Tibet, Tibetan rugs have become a huge source of income for the nation of Nepal. These rugs were important and practical pieces in palaces, monasteries and houses, owing to their magnificent designs and the warmth they provide in the harsh Himalayan climate. Tibetan rugs were originally made from the wool of Tibetan mountain sheep and used to adorn floors, walls and horse saddles. The knotting method used in making Tibetan rugs is unique. However, the fascinating patterns and natural dyes really make Tibetan rugs stand out.
All Nepalese traditional textiles employ profound patience and extreme care to produce the extraordinary outcomes that are renowned around the world. The finished works are breathtaking, but what’s even more magical is to watch the persevering local artisans at work, and perhaps to take home some fabric whose production you witnessed. This will be sure to constantly remind you that anything is achievable if we are resolute. It’s truly the experience of a lifetime.