Acheik Technique

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Luntaya acheik, the celebrated “100-shuttle” tapestry fabric from the Mandalay area of Burma, is woven with tiny shuttles with tapered ends that allow them to do double duty as pickup sticks.

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The shuttle end is inserted between the warp threads at the point where that weft colour is to begin, and popped up between the warps where that colour ends.

The clatter in the background is the automated loom weaving plainweave nearby.

The weaver uses a turning motion with the shuttle as she seeks precision when using it as a pickup stick:

As there is no ground weft, each weft colour needs to be interlinked with the neighbouring weft colour so that the fabric is not full of holes where the weft colour changes. This linking does not show on the front of the fabric:

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The fabric is woven with the back side facing up so that the weaver can twine each weft thread around it’s neighbour:

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Here’s how the same piece looks from underneath:

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And here’s how it’s done:

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Only two shafts of heddles are needed for tapestry weave…

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…but the fabric is so wide that two or three weavers sit side by side, with a pair of foot pedals each, attached to those two shafts:

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So we see 4 pedals operating 2 shafts:

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The silk used in this workshop was sourced from both Burma and China, and wound on bamboo spools to be inserted into the tiny shuttles.

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The weft uses 10 threads as one, so each tiny bobbin unspools 10 filaments at a time.

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The warp, on the other hand, is incredibly fine and you can see right through it – don’t even ask me how the weaver can tell precisely where to insert the little shuttles! This may be why I mostly saw teenage girls weaving acheik as their eyesight is still good.

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For the weavers among you, I was told that the sett on theses acheiks is around 100 epi. Non-weavers: that means that across the 2 yard width of this fabric there are around 3600 threads.

 Imagine controlling so many fine threads when preparing the warp on this equipment:

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My guide translated that each warp will make 7 longyis, and it takes 1 month to weave the 2 yards needed for one longyi, so there must be well over 14 yards of those 3600 threads to keep untangled as they are mounted on the loom.

Some acheik designs use very few colours…

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…but I was told that acheik designs often involve around 30 colours, and I later saw one that had 50 different colours.

These weavers do keep a written code of the patterns pinned to the loom in front of them:

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I saw some looms with 5 pages of pattern pinned up, and was told they can have 1 – 10 pattern pages to follow.

The factory owner said that some patterns have more than 100 different rows, but he couldn’t remember the precise number of rows. (I was told later at another workshop that around 120 rows are required for a pattern of medium complexity, and that patterns may be up to 300 rows before the sequence is repeated.)

My guide told me that the twisted rope patterns that appears in so many acheik fabrics are called teik kaung tin kyo:

IMG_5509You can see the finished fabrics from this workshop at Mandalay Area: Acheik and I will be posting again later with images from small family workshops, including the piece that had 50 colours.

4 thoughts on “Acheik Technique

    • Hi Deanna, I’m sorry, I don’t know who in the US might be importing those little shuttles. I bought some in a Burmese village, and live in Australia. All the best in your search, Wendy

  1. This fascinating documentation of an ancient village craft, given a fresh twist through quality of yarn and a contemporary colour sense. I visited this area of Myanmar in mid 1981, but only recall these complex multi-coloured woven patterns being used on borders for women’s longyi and on scarves. In the village I visited – somewhere between Mandalay and Heho – I saw people weaving from cotton yarns and a beautiful lustrous retted fibre prepared from lotus leaves and their stems. No silk, but perhaps their choice was determined by orders placed at the time. They also produced fine cotton checked longyi, and a coarsely spun, warm beige cloth for making jackets which men wore with their longyi. What hasn’t changed over the years are the rice paste beauty spots young village women wear on their faces, which I really loved then.

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