Textiles imitating textiles: Tibetan hothra jalo in Bhutan

Last year at  the tsechu (festival) in Bhutan, I noticed several women wearing kiras reminiscent of Tibetan Hothra.

Here is an older woman wearing a well-loved woollen hothra jalo.

This kira has been assembled from the narrow strips of woollen cloth produced by the Tibetan-style frame loom. The bands are created weft-wise, as opposed to the warp bands used on the wider cloth woven on backstrap looms (see the kira worn by the young woman walking with her).

What intrigued me was that the hothra-style kiras in the photo at the beginning of this post were created with an entirely different technique to the woolen Tibetan kiras that inspired them. Let’s look more closely:

These hothra-style kiras had been woven on a backstrap loom, with the bands oriented warp-wise. The red and blue crosses had been created with supplementary weft yarns with the sapma technique instead of being stamped on as they were on the traditional woollen hothra jalo. The crosses had also been scattered more widely and offset in alternate bands.

Here is a closer look at the traditional woollen hothra jalo. You can see the faded stamped-on crosses:

Here is another example of the modern interpretation. Notice that the design has been adapted to conform to the Bhutanese tradition of creating a border of narrower bands at the bottom edge of the kira (and at the top edge, but that is hidden under the taego or jacket.)

The next day in Khoma, I found a woman weaving one:

This gave me the opportunity to confirm what I had guessed the day before about the techniques used:

The fact that this weaver was creating a new hothra-style kira, together with the fact that fashion-aware young women had been wearing them to tsechu the day before, indicated to me that this is a current fashion. By contrast, I have often seen older women wearing original woollen hothra kiras to tsechu.

On returning home, I consulted texts on Bhutanese textiles to find out more. I remained perplexed by the assertions made there (and online) that the crosses on the traditional woollen hothra jalo were tie-dyed (some sources say stamped/tie dyed).

Looking closely at a very new example I’d photographed in 2011, I can see evidence of folding, but the fabric does not seem to be tie-dyed as I understand it.

Tie-dying involves tying the fabric tightly to keep the dye colour out, creating a negative design in the original fabric colour. These crosses are a positive design. Perhaps the fabric is folded and dip-dyed rather than immersed? Maybe the fabric is clamped to resist the dye spreading beyond the boundaries of the crosses?

So I searched a little further on the internet. One of the Bhutanese texts indicated the Tibetan name for hothra was thigma or thigthra. Google showed me that in Ladakh, thigma-paabu are felted shoes/boots tie-dyed with circular motifs, and the centre of those motifs formed resist crosses similar to the ones I saw on hothra jalo!

Did thigma perhaps refer to the crosses seen in these tie-dyed patterns? Looking again at the crosses on the older woollen hothra jalo, I saw that indeed their arms do get wider toward the tips as they do in these tie-dyed designs:

 I found that thigma also inspired modern Tibetan-inspired rug designs…






… and was reminded of a hothra-inspired carpet I saw being woven in Paro last year:

For anyone wondering about jalo, this refers to the rainbow stripes between the bands with crosses. Ja (rainbow) is also used in jadrima meaning “arranged like a rainbow.” Hothra means Mongolian, or from Tibet.

I will leave you with another hothra-inspired kira, this one with metho (flowers) decorating the wide bands. I have seen this referred to as hothra metho. This one would be more prestigious than the ones with the woven crosses as these flowers have been formed with two types of thima: the ones I through of as diagonal thrima and satin thrima when I learned them. This kira would be more valuable because thrima takes more time to weave than the sapma used in the kiras discussed earlier, and also because the denser patterning would take more time to execute.





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