Bhutan: Transforming Traditions

I recently encountered a Bhutanese kira that is unlike any other I have seen. The weaver has pushed the boundaries both literally and figuratively. Traditionally, kushutara designs for kiras are built up with bands of designs that run horizontally around the body of the wearer.


These bands of supplementary weft patterning are separated by narrow bands in one or more contrasting warp colour.

There is a great deal of scope for creativity on the part of each weaver, with infinite combinations of colours and designs available to choose from to express herself within this design tradition of working bands between warp stripes.


Perhaps the weaver of the kira in question felt the need for even more creative scope, as she has broken the boundaries of this tradition by crossing the boundaries usually provided by the warp stripes.

This weaver has retained the use of traditional sapma and thrima techniques, along with already-familiar motifs, but has chosen to weave without warp stripes dividing her pattern bands.


From a distance, the traditional pattern bands are easily discernible:

P1190408Up close, we can see the weaver’s efforts to weave across the imaginary dividing lines, and the newness of this approach shows in the tiny inconsistencies in how she does this.


(The only place where there is a truly straight line dividing two pattern bands is on the seam in the middle of the kira where the two loom lengths are joined.)

As a weaver, I am fascinated by this quite significant break with tradition and have enjoyed “reading” the resulting fabric to imagine the thought processes and design decisions the weaver made as she produced this striking piece.

The process of seeking the design solutions the weaver has employed in a move toward ultimately connecting the motifs in each band remind me of descriptions I recently read in Eric Broug’s beautiful book Islamic Geometric Design.

Broug discusses the design solutions employed by Islamic artisans, and his description of the challenge of finding a way to join the geometric design chosen for the base of a dome to that chosen for the top of the dome is echoed in the design process I sense this weaver is embarking upon. So far she has only crossed the line, but the next step will surely be to connect the designs in some way.

Iran Mahan tomb of Sufi dervish Nematollah Vali

When my copy of the MAIWA Textile Symposium 2015 calendar arrived, I was excited to see Broug would be offering workshops, but it turns out my workshops will be run a month after his and I won’t be able to attend his lecture after all. Oh well, another time.

Considering the creative impulse of the artisan, the desire to invent new designs, and the positive energy I know from personal experience this releases, brings me to a recent article by Judy Frater published in HandEye’s online magazine. When we speak of empowering artisans, we are often referring to connecting them to opportunities to earn from their art. But there is more to it than that.

As Judy has noted, “…creativity [is] as critical to empowerment as income.”

She goes on to observe:

“…the worth of artisans’ knowledge and communication has diminished as their creative capacity is squandered on production work. Activating creativity can rejuvenate the valuable dimension of meaning. … Traditions are sustained when they live, grow and reflect the contemporary environment – and most of all, when the stewards of those traditions can remain vitally creative.”

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