Spindle Envy

When we woke yesterday morning, we saw there had been fresh snowfall in the night, quite a bit further down the mountains. So in the afternoon we bundled up and headed towards Rohtang. We pulled off the road and played around in a snowy field until the snow started falling in earnest again—then it was time to make our way back down before the road became too dangerous. While we were driving, some women who are interested in knitting for Nisha’s project called to invite her/us to dinner. Which meant, as these sorts of things do, sitting around a tandoor while everybody is talking around me in languages I don’t understand (if I have enough context, I can usually catch a bit of the conversation in Hindi, but when the locals are all gossiping in Kulluvi, forget it). Luckily I’ve figured out to always have a project with me, so I pulled out my drop spindle and got to work. I have to say, in the last few days since I lent my Tibetan spindle to Tripura I’ve been experiencing spindle envy—the ladies are SO FAST on the takli, and the drop, while handy for spinning while on the move, is not exactly suited to spinning while sitting cross-legged on a floor cushion. But everyone here is fascinated by the drop spindle—apparently even though we saw them in other areas, right here in this neck of the woods it’s not so common and is considered quite difficult.

Before dinner, of our hosts had to go outside to get something, so she put on a pattu over her clothes before heading out into the rain and cold. The pattu is this plaid woven rectangle that women wear here, wrapped in a manner sort of half-way between a great kilt and a peplos. It’s secured at the shoulders with 2 pins connected by a chain. (Sorry to go so fiber nerdy here, but I’m fascinated by the ways people figure out to make a rectangle of cloth fit around a lumpy human body). After dinner we found out that she had woven it herself, and then she went to the cabinet and pulled out pattu after pattu that she had woven, some with handspun wool. They had a variety of twill grounds, and elaborately patterned borders similar to the designs we had seen in Kinnaur. So beautiful! She said that she makes them as gifts for weddings, and only wears this “everyday” one herself (which was still some pretty badass weaving, just sayin’).

Nako and Malling

Next stop: Nako in Kinnaur. People warned us that the road was closed at Malling (pronouncing “mulling” as in “it over” or “spices”), but we got through fine. After we passed the uncertain part, we got out of the car and danced. We stopped for lunch in Nako—thukpa and momos, a welcome change from dal-chaval-roti. While people were finishing lunch, I headed out to walk through town. A tiny little girl saw me and said, “Hallo, Auntie?” in a sort of confused tone of voice, which the women with her found quite amusing. A woman with a table full of goods for sale tried (unsuccessfully) to corral me into her shop. She wanted to know if I was alone, how many people I was with, etc. It was my first experience of the sort of hassling I’d been warned to expect, and it wasn’t really that bad. Brighu saw me wandering off on my own and came to collect me before I got myself into too much trouble.

Mr. Dorje worked his networking magic and found out about some weaver families in Malling, so we headed back there. We had to clamber down a steep slope and over a low stone wall to reach their houses. Finally—the real deal. They had 4-harness pit looms set up facing the valley and the mountains on the far side—a much better view than what I have.

weaver at malling weaver's view in malling

Several weavers were actively working on shawls. All the patterning is done manually, with just the plain twill sections in the center done with the harnesses (fellow fiber geeks will know what I’m talking about). I watched one woman weave a pick of patterning—it took about 2 minutes.


They said that one small pattu takes about 30 days of work from morning to evening. I felt very guilty about the half-warped plain-weave project that’s been sitting on my loom for months gathering dust.


These weavers all started when they were about 12 years old. There were a couple kids running around, but their parents say they don’t want them to become weavers—they want them to get an education, and if they can’t get any other job, then they could take up weaving. Even though they are absolutely master artists, weaving is considered a lower-class profession. So I think they found it baffling that a white girl from America would want to learn. One of the weavers said that I could stay there for the night—I wished I could, but we had to push on towards Pooh.