Sikkim is home to three distinct tribes – the Lepchas, the Bhutias – immigrants from Bhutan, and the Tsongs, hailing from Nepal. The three races coexist and the muted harmonious colours of the Lepchas can be seen along with the gay silks of the Bhutias and the heavy ornaments of the Tsongs.
Lepcha-weaving is native to Sikkim and goes back to ancient times when the Lepcha’s used yarn spun out of natural fibre – nettle, also known as sisnu, for Handloom weaving. The Lepcha weaves, locally known as thara are woven on back-strap loin loom and thus, results in a short fabric width. Cotton, used as a base material is combined with multi-hued motifs woven in woollen yarn. Although, vegetable dyes were used extensively earlier, over the years synthetic colours have also been introduced as the yardage is converted into several products – bags, belts, furnishings and Lepcha’s traditional coat material.
Locally available sheep wool is also utilised and combined with cotton to weave blankets, shawls, Lepcha duree – width ranges from 30 to 36 inches, woven jackets. While the design decides the volume of colour, traditional colours are white, black, red, yellow and green.