Back strap loom weaves from Nagaland | Handspun natural dyed Eri silk

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. 

Buyer Empowerments

Eri silk aspect of Sari
Wearable textile made with ancient spinning, weaving and dyeing techniques. Home- reared, Hand spun, hand woven following indigenous methodology.
100 % natural, Protein- based, organic, hand-made, from nature-back to nature. Something to grow old with and then pass it on to loved ones.
Well-being properties
Thermal insulation, Moisture absorption, UV protective, completely bio-degradable.
Zeme Naga weaves aspect of Sari
Textile woven in Nagaland that involves traditional back strap loom weaving still followed at grassroots.
Mill spun mercerised cotton yarn with Azo-free dyeing
The combined aspects of the Sari
One of a kind textile that celebrates the sturdy aspect of back strap loom with the soft textures of Eri Silk in a steadfast stitching technique carried out by Gurmel Singh.
Moderate to Substantial
Weather/ Mood
Pleasant-not warm not cold
Dry Clean only; Needs “Airing” in shadow, not direct sun. Do not wring. Occasional starch with uplift the drape
Sari is ready to wear. All saris come with blouse fabric(s). No fall/ beading required. The blouse used in photoshoot is for representation only and may not be the same blouse available with the sari. The blouse fabric given with the sari will be more in alignment with the aesthetics intended.
Statement piece, elegant, traditional translated to modern
Made in rural household. Weaves made by artisan at home in available time- supporting farming lifestyle.
In support of slow movement
In support of indigenous knowledge of Nagaland and Assam.
No bargaining with artisans. Mutual decision-making.
No deadline/ pressure based work environment.
In support of natural dyeing through resources available in neighbourhood
In solidarity with backstrap loom weaving culture
Supports non- industrial tailoring skills.
Eri silk handspun, hand-woven and natural dyed with Narmohan Das.
Back strap loom weaves made with Chizami Weaves, North East Network.
Cotton yarn from Salem, Tamil Nadu.
Stitched by Gurmel Singh, Jalalabad, Punjab.
Beadwork by Param, Bathinda, Punjab.
Imperfections in the weaves reflect handmade
Irregularity in the dyes reflect natural process
Innocent spots in the textiles reflect being homemade
A work of nature cannot be sterile and error-free
A choice to still buy what we make is a step
Towards supporting original culture
Of people
Of nature
Of craft

A celebration of humanness.
Mora Collective 2024
designed by: MIDTOAN