Wancho Balti

Indigenous Wancho weaves | Eri Silk | Malkha

This is a Mora rework project shifting the form of a Sari to a shawl. A dear Mora firefly commissioned me to convert the Wancho weaves on to a shawl form so he could enjoy it as a heirloom drape for himself. 

It was my first such request and I took this up with enthusiasm. I am thankful to this firefly to allow me to extend my creative heart to this beautiful weaves twice over. And encourage me to not limit it to just the representation of Wancho weaves, but how to create it in a way that it juxtaposes itself to other indigenous weaves that are more feasible in a shawl form than in a sari!

About Wancho weaves:

Wancho indigenous community of Longing district of Arunachal Pradesh is akin to Konyak tribe of Nagaland in their culture and ethnicity. While living with Wancho tribe, I saw their proximity with both Myanmar and Nagaland. I also experienced the ancient culture of body tattooing where each tattoo is marked on a specific part of the body when the person reaches certain age. These tattoos symbolise when the body must get ready to build strength of a certain region of the body. Nestled around the Patkai hills, many people of this tribe still follow their indigenous faith, polygamy and chieftain’s governance. 

When I saw the Wancho weavers making those beautiful intricate weaves with synthetic yarns, my heart sank with disappointment. So, I decided to come back to this place with cotton yarn, a promise that took more than a year to fulfil. Once I got cotton from Tamil Nadu, I knew it was not going to be easy to carry it to Longding. Also, it wont be easy to convince weavers to work with cotton who have now become used to weaving with synthetic yarn elasticity. 

To my surprise, with the dedicated persuasion by Tongam Wangham, weavers soon took on the task of weaving Wancho motifs using cotton yarn, with the agency of their own creative liberty. The first weavers to step forward were Dilgham and Wanu. They explained to me the variations that will appear when we use finer count of cotton yarn for Wancho weaves. We derived various combinations of how border motifs could be integrated into a product design without cutting the weaves into a garment or accessory. We settled on narrow shawl/ panel form which could be incorporated in many ways as shawls, saris or wall art. As part of our collaborative design training,  I told them my repeated words,

“You choose the motifs, you draws the patterns, you weave what your heart cherishes, you take your own time.” 

I finally got to see the weaves after more than two years during my next trip to the region. Those moments are unforgettable when the weave is handed over hesitatingly by the weaver and the subsequent joy that is unanimously expressed between us. This shared moment makes each of these weaves an unforgettable memory. In the memory they becomes heirlooms.

They are heirlooms indeed! For they have lasted the test of time! For they are still alive and thriving and may continue for many generations if each one of us begin to visualise their longevity!

Jeepham is the term for female dormitory where after attaining puberty, Wancho young females stayed together to learn essential aspects of female life- cooking, weaving, social conduct, cattle care among other duties. This dormitory would remain segregated from male presence. 

This Shawl is a homage to the rich ancestry of Wancho tribe and a collaborative design product made with the weavers of the community using cotton.

About Balti Wool shawl- Balti baal-e-kar:

Apo ali is the hero of the story. At 83 years of age he reared the sheep, hand spun the wool using his drop weight spindle and wove the wool shawl or baal-e-kar on traditional and ancient Balti looms. You can see his complete story here in the three part blog: 


He passed away two years back and till his last days, made Balti baal-e-kaar. This is one of the two pieces of his hand and heart work that are left with me. This was the last piece of Apo Ali’s that will go out of Mora’s workshop. One I will keep for his memory in my heart.

His daughter-in-law Ashe has now carried forward his lineage. Ashe had shown me the wonderful tassels of Balti community, I have retained those tassels and also highlighted them in this shawl. 

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 shawl
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.
Wancho weaves aspect of shawl
Indigenous textiles of Arunachal Pradesh that involves traditional handloom weaving.
Mill spun mercerised cotton yarn with Azo-free dyeing
The combined aspects of the shawl
One of a kind heirloom textile that brings together Wancho tribe weaving motifs with Eri Silk.
Weather/ Mood
Pleasant-not warm not cold. Should give warmth on a slightly nippy evening. Should also protect from blazing Sun.
Not fragile. Eri Silk can last a decade or two if well looked after. Wancho weaves are made to “last a lifetime” in their words.
Dry Clean only; Needs “Airing” in shadow, not direct sun. Do not wring. Occasional starch with uplift the drape. Be careful to not pull the yarn of weaves if ever they get entangled.
Ready to wear
Heirloom, statement, vibrant
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 Arunachal Pradesh and Assam
No bargaining with artisans. Collaborative design and mutual decision-making.
No deadline/ pressure based work environment.
In support of natural dyeing through locally available resources
In solidarity with backstrap loom weaving
Supports non- industrial tailoring skills.
Faith in up-skilling unskilled artisans.
In support of grassroot initiatives like Malkha India
Wancho weaves made with Tongham Wangham, Arunachal Pradesh.
Wancho weavers involved in the weaving project: Dilgham and Wanu.
Balti shawl made with Apo Ali, Turtuk, Ladakh.
Eri silk handspun, hand woven with supervision from Narmohan Das.
Cotton yarn for Wancho weaves from Salem, Tamil Nadu.
Malkha cotton by Malkha India.
Stitched by Gurmel Singh, Jalalabad, Punjab.
Tassels 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