Thursday, 9 February 2017

'Nepalese Textiles', a talk by Karen Haggis

A miserable cold February afternoon was forgotten as we were transported to lush, beautiful Nepal in Karen Haggis's talk and slide show about the textiles of that mountainous country. We had a whistlestop tour of the hugely varied landscape, from plains to the high Himalayas, with descriptions of the varied life the people lead there. Apparently there are 100 languages!  Karen went there many years ago with her husband's job, and fell in love with the country, and has visited many times since. Tenacious she must be, because the methods of travel sound rather adventurous, with long train journeys, rickety buses up mountainous roads, followed by long walks to the remote places in the hills. Not to mention the squat toilets!

Then we were shown how the women of the villages make textile out of the Himalayan nettle, a six foot giant complete with stings. The plants grows wild, and is harvested by hand. The pith of the stem is discarded, then the stem and bark are 'retted' by soaking it in pots of wood ash and water, then it is beaten with wood to separate the fibres from the bark, which washes away down the river. The fibres, up to a metre and a half long, are subject to various natural processes until ready to be spun into thread. The women use traditional whorl hand spindles, and the speed at which they spin is astonishing. The natural fibres resembles jute, but is softer and can be spun very finely, and can be mixed with other fibres such as cotton, wool and silk. It can be dyed or left in its natural state. It is then woven into lengths of cloth, or knitted into lacy scarves, a recent innovation. Everything is eco friendly, with no chemicals or processes polluting the environment.

Karen had brought along a good selection of textiles and raw materials, the fine detail of many of the pieces was amazing considering that the people had no electric light to work by, and much of the work is done at night after the days chores in the fields are finished. It really was an inspiring and interesting talk and an insight into another way of life. Karen also arranges textile trip to Nepal, and those intrepid enough to be interested can contact her on

Spinning the raw fibres on whorl spindles
Spun undyed nettle thread

The thread being woven on backstrap looms
A gorgeous woven blanket, with traditional natural dyes
Counted thread embroidered cloths

Handmade bone buttons
Another woven cloth

Knitted lacy scarf,