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Fabric of Life

Until well into the 20th century, large parts of Japan were so poor that people could rarely buy textiles for clothing and bedding. In northern areas, cotton was especially precious and pieces of used fabric were purchased in order to patch-work them into clothing or duvets. Many of these textiles had been mended repeatedly from generation to generation without being thrown away. As a matter of fact, boro textiles represent some essential principles of traditional Japanese ethics and aesthetics such as the favoring of the sober and modest shibui ; imperfections expressed by irregularity, incompleteness, rawness and simplicity wabi-sabi ; and, of course, regret about any waste motttainai.

Boro — derived from the Japanese onomatopoeic boroboro, which means something tattered or repaired, demonstrates esteem for our available resources, labor and everyday objects. Exhibited together with boro is a group of inventively conceived textiles from Bangladesh.

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The woven cloth is seen as an expression of a family network—a medium that links men to women and mothers to their children. It will discuss traditional weaving systems of the nomads and their symbolic representations and interpretations in nomadic life. Before being annexed by the rulers of Jammu and becoming a part of the Dogra kingdom in , from the 10th century on it was an independent kingdom ruled by the Namgyal dynasty whose descendants came from Tibet.

It is now a part of the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The nomads herd their livestock of sheep and pashmina goats on the vast plains of the Changthang. Photograph by Tsering Wangchuk Fargo. Nomads migrating to a new campsite. The yak in front carrying heavier belongings including the tent; they are followed by horses. It is believed in Ladakh that weaving and the loom are modelled on the mythical loom of Duguma, the wife of King Gesar.

However, no one is able to say for certain what kind of loom she works on. A man weaving on a foot loom in a village in Ladakh. Little is known about the historical development of weaving in Ladakh, and few, if any, early sources and records exist on this subject. Efforts to date the origin of the loom, weaving, and textiles are difficult as archaeological excavations have yielded little information. Clay spindle whorls have been found at Neolithic sites on the Tibetan plateau suggesting that weaving of some sort probably existed during that time Myers Ladakhis believe that the tradition of weaving is an ancient craft.

They talk of a time before the weaving of cloth when their ancestors wore clothes made from animal skins, straw and the bark of trees. Later, they learnt how to spin and weave their own clothes. Animal skins are still used in Ladakh to make clothes and most probably this dates back to their earlier traditions.

Hats ti-bi worn by both men and women are lined with goatskin Figure 5. In Leh and areas of lower or western Ladakh, women wear goatskin slog-pa on their back Figure 6. They also use skin at night to cover themselves while sleeping.

Wearing a hat made from silk brocade and lined with goatskin, the nomad is dressed for the annual horse race. Among the various sources available on the history of textiles in Ladakh, visual ones are of prime importance. Some of the most visible markers of this are the deep-relief rock engravings in Dras, Mulbekh and the Suru Valley. These date to the 8th century when the warrior king Lalitaditya Muktapida exerted his power on the Kashmir Valley and beyond Petech These engravings are largely of Buddhist deities and their devotees; most of them are clad in the costume of Indian ascetics—usually a dhoti, an unlikely garment to have been worn in Ladakh.

However, at the feet of the Avalokiteshvara image at Mulbekh, while female devotees are seen wearing half-saris, male devotees are wearing long robes with sashes typical to those worn in Ladakh today; there is also an image of a man wearing a hat similar to the ti-bi Figure 7. In Dras, there is the figure of a horseman wearing a long-sleeved, short jacket over trousers and boots, holding a sword in his right hand.

This is more likely the outfit of a Central Asian soldier and probably not a replication of garments worn in Ladakh at that time. Male figure wearing a robe and hat resembling those worn by men in Ladakh today.

This deep-relief carving is found on the left of the feet of the Avalokiteshvara image at Mulbekh Monastery, 8th century. A more valuable source of information on the history of textiles in Ladakh are wall paintings. In a cave above the village of Saspol are paintings of rows of figures of 85 mahasiddhas , each engaged in different activities. He has a shuttle in his right hand and appears to be weaving white woollen fabric, locally known as nambu snam-bu and widely used for making clothes worn in the region. Scholars are not sure about who painted the cave and when, but some think they may have been inhabited by artisans who were working at the monastery of Alchi, across the river from Saspol, in the 12th and 13th centuries, as there are stylistic similarities Khosla Detail from a painting at Saspol Cave, estimated to be around 12th—14th century.

At the Alchi Monastery, the wall paintings document the flourishing trade history of Indian and central Asian textiles, as they demonstrate a variety of techniques, motifs and styles rooted in central Asia, India, Iran and the Near East Figure 9. At the three-storey Sumstek Temple, men and women wrapped in woollen shawls, clearly a product of Kashmir, are evident along with men wearing cotton turbans and long robes adorned with chequered ornamentation or Sasanian roundels Ahmed The Central Asian influence is also evident in the long kaftans, trousers and short boots Goepper The ceiling of the Sumstek consists of 48 panels that reproduce textiles of various techniques of manufacture, some of which were produced in Ladakh and others that came in through trade—such as brocade, lampas, and embroidered fabrics.

Detail from the painted dhoti of the Avalokiteshwara statue at Alchi Sumstek. On the upper floors of the palace sit the royal couple: To the left of the man is a parasol with a hanging patterned with tie-dye circles, below that is a musician wearing a similarly patterned robe. The design is locally known as thigma and continues to be made in Ladakh today. Photograph by Jaroslav Poncar. Some of the earliest references to weaving and textiles among nomads are given by Moorcroft and Trebeck: And British officer Alexander Cunningham provides the first detailed description of male and female apparel:.

The men usually wear woollen great coats reaching below the knee. They wear leggings also, generally of thick coloured woollen …Their short boots are made of goatskin or sheepskin, with the hair or wool turned inwards …The cap is generally a piece of goatskin with the hair turned inwards, or else a woollen one edged with skin or coarse red silk …[the women] frequently wear long great coats and leggings like the men; but I have also seen them dressed in three or four thick woollen petticoats, and a sheepskin jacket with the wool turned inwards over the coat … Subsequent visitors to the region wrote about the textiles worn and used, while others contributed to the visual archive of craft and textiles of Ladakh Figure Bosshard was a member of an expedition to Chinese Turkistan that travelled through Ladakh in Photograph from Durch Tibet und Turkestan: Throughout Ladakh, the loom is commonly referred to as thags-cha and the weaver as thags-mkhan.

While weaving is widely practised throughout the region, differences exist. The craft is generally passed down from father to son but there are no strict rules proscribing this. Women are prohibited from weaving though they are involved in the preparation of the fibre. Male weavers allege that if a woman was to weave, her hands would burst into flames or the mountains would collapse. Similar to weaving, dyeing and tailoring were traditionally predominantly male occupations.

In contrast, among nomads, both men and women weave.

Fabric of Life - Textile Arts in Bhutan

The looms are portable and are made from wood, rope, wool and metal. Looms are usually inherited and one loom can last a few generations. Nomads weave with the fibre from their herds—sheep and yak wool bal and kulu respectively , goat and yak hair ral and sitpa whilse pashm le-na from goats is always traded. Along with a difference in looms, men and women have a fixed repertoire of items they make and fibres they work with.

Women weave only with wool, making coverings for saddles, floors, tent walls and blankets, containers for foodstuffs and personal belongings, as well as the fabric used to make all clothes Figure In contrast, men work with hair— weaving tents, blankets and saddlebags in various sizes Figure While women dye the woven cloth, men cut and stitch it. A woman trims the pile of a floor covering — the ground is woven from yak and sheep wool, with the designs in acrylic yarn. The black tent rebo woven by men on the Changthang, from goat and yak hair.

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While it is mandatory that all women, including nuns, weave; it is not essential for a man to weave and monks are not permitted to weave. From a very young age, girls start helping their mothers clean and spin wool, and by the age of 13 they begin learning to weave. In contrast, men learn at a much later age, generally around 20 or even as late as While most men stop weaving as they age and their agility decreases, women continue for as long as they are able to.

There is a local narrative that talks about this; it also relates the origin of the craft of weaving:. These demons were very strong and powerful; they destroyed everything in sight and even ate their own children.

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Some even say that the female demons bdud-mo ate the male demons. One day a big Lama came and told these demons that they must stop their bad ways and live peacefully with all living creatures. But the female demons did not.

Fabric of Life - Textile Arts in Bhutan

They still went around creating havoc. So the Lama taught the female demons how to weave. Then they became women. But in order to stop them from becoming demons again and going back to their wicked ways, they had to keep weaving. That is why, even today, women are kept busy weaving the whole day so that they do not stray back to their bad ways.

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Viewed as dangerous and marginal to society because they originated from the demon, women are controlled through weaving. It is said that a woman who is preoccupied and absorbed with her weaving will have little time to think wicked thoughts or commit sinful actions. It can thus be said that the making of cloth is linked to notions of feminine virtue and morality.

This is also supported by the fact that Buddhism recognises men to be more spiritually advanced than women. An interesting association between Buddhism and weaving is made through the female loom where the weaving process is associated with Buddhist beliefs and teachings. There is a song in which these analogies are made:.

See the back-strap, which holds the loom around your back, as the casting of samsara behind you,. See the two wooden pieces of the front roller as the wooden covers of a religious book,.