Zeme Nagas have documented their hills in this triangle motif woven on back strap loom. The traditional usage of this motif is in black, white and red colours. We chose these colours to diversity the value of this beautiful motif that has been found across most indigenous communities across the world. Each community chooses their representation through various layout, repetitions and sizes. In my experience of North East Indian Textiles, I saw only Zeme nagas using the triangle motifs woven at this scale and with this kind of four triangle repetition. This motif is a homage to the skill of Zeme Naga weavers who could conceptualise and bring to reality a beautiful representation of the geography that surrounds them.
These weaves were woven with Consent, Collaboration, Accreditation and encouraging compensation to the artisan community, mediated through North East Network, Nagaland.
The pleats and pallu of the sari carry Zeme naga weaves as a continuous running panel across the border, dividing the gravity of the substantial weaves to pleats and pallu, leaving the base and drape light weighted.
The base textile of the Sari is handspun, natural dyed Eri silk woven on throw shuttle loom of Kamrup district Assam. The vibrant hues of Eri silk were achieved by hank-dyeing the yarn before putting it on the loom. Most often, textiles are dyed after they are woven for the ease of natural dyeing fabric over hanks of loose fibres.
This special and delicate step of yarn dyeing was carried out with the technical supervision of Narmohan Das, my Eri Silk mentor.
About back strap loom weaving
My meeting with Chizami Weaves led me to Back strap loom weaving of Nagaland. I went with their team to a village called Enhulumi. I sat in the courtyard of the bamboo home where two wooden pillars were dug into the mud floor. A horizontal bamboo rod was placed between the two pillars and a bundle was wrapped and covered with a cloth around the rod. Roosters moved in and out of the house while toppling over few baskets full of yarn balls kept next to the pillars. A toddler girl kept looking at the strangeness of my face without a blink. She was leaning against one of those pillars.
Adule, the weaver, came out with cups of tea and sat on a moora parallel to the pillars. I took my first sip of tea made with milk powder and a lot of sugar. I barely took the swig down my throat, when the magic unfolded in from of my eyes. A moment I behold as alive memory.
Adule had started to open the bundle wrapped on the horizontal bamboo rod, which I later figured was the warp bar. Loose threads danced near the beam as she kept flipping open what was so carefully wrapped up together. This folded bundle, once opened, held the heddle, shed, motif sticks, sword, bobbin and the loom bar. To the loom bar, on the two ends a back strap or waist belt was meant to be fastened. Adule while holding all the sticks carefully fastened the belt around her sacrum. She created the right tension using her feet and the stretch on the back and instantly the loom took form and the loose threads were tightened into a defined warp and weft structure. That moment I saw a human become the loom. She was not just using the loom, she was the extension of the loom.
This was a life changing moment of realising the relationship of craft to the craftsmen. The simplicity, portability, compact structure of this loom gave me new eyes of looking at tool and their usage vis-a-vis human evolution.
Through this privilege of working with skills that have lasted eons of change, I bow to the artisanal lineage of back strap loom weaving. And I am grateful to Chizami weaves for being my first bridge to a beautiful extension to craft.
I am learning weaving on backstop loom though I am far from being a weaver. But I have learnt to at least become the loom.
About Eri Silk and Natural dyeing
Eri Silk is a wild silk with a wooly fibrous filament hand spun into yarn, handwoven on traditional throw shuttle looms of Assam. It is elegant in drape, subtle in appearance and the texture of fabric does not carry obvious lustre that we typically associate with silk. Eri Silk being a protein fibre absorbs most natural dyes.
Natural Dyeing involves a series of high precision steps to bring out the adequate conditions for textiles to absorb and retain dye. With non-injury as our core totem, we have given colour to this fabric using those natural sources that are procured locally, leaving least violent footprints on life and nature. The dye raw material is natural i.e. plant and resin based, instantly compostable, non-industrial and non- toxic.