The woollen chaddar and khasto form an important part of the spectrum of Nepalese textiles. The raw wool is processed and the threads spun out on the spinning wheel (charkha). The threads are then dyed with natural dyes and sun dried after which they are woven on a small loom. The weaving tradition followed is similar to that followed for cotton weaving.
Sheep’s wool has been an important textile fibre in Nepal for millennia, both for home use and for trade. More than 2,000 years ago the rainproof Nepalese woollen blankets were mentioned as trade items in India. The most common breed of sheep in the country is the baruwal. The majority of these are raised in mountain areas where the flocks move with the seasons between the middle mountains and high-altitude alpine pastures. In the more northern Dolpo area, the Tibetan sheep breed known as byang-lug is more common. Valued for its wool and suitability as a pack animal, its soft wool has been traded from Tibet into Nepal for centuries and is particularly suitable for clothing.
PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
Sheep may be sheared twice a year, in March and September, before and at the end of the warm monsoon season – the yield is usually less than 1 kg per shearing. Traditionally, the bundles of wool are cut with a 30 cm-long knife. Scissors are never used. Hand shears have been introduced in recent years and are used in some areas. The cut bunches of wool are then sorted according to colour, which varies from white to beige-brown, and black. Sometimes the wool is gently rinsed in water and spread out on mats to dry; otherwise, the process of bowing also serves to free the wool from dirt.
The water used to wash the wool with is filtered in a potasi, a vessel with a number of holes at its bottom. First, a layer of straw is spread on the inside bottom of the vessel. A thick layer of ash is spread on the straw – this ash is piled nearly up to the mouth of the vessel. This vessel is then placed over another big vessel made of copper called phosi.
The water passes through the thick layer of ash and collects at the bottom of the lower vessel. This processed water is called ‘khala’, meaning ‘alkaline water’. The wool is thoroughly washed in this water by kneading and is then pulled out and exposed in thin layers to sunshine. When completely dried it is re-cleaned and any matter still adhering to it removed. The wool is then cut into small pieces with a sharp iron knife (chulesi) and subsequently beaten thoroughly with a bow-like beater. The wool – beaten into a fluffy mass – is drawn out in threads on the charkha. The process of weaving is identical with the processes used for cotton weaving. The woollen yarn placed on the small spindles inside the flying shuttle supply the weft.