Raw materials for textiles are abundant in Nepal, and with the contrasting climates and altitudes there has been a wealth of materials which for centuries have been extracted, spun, twisted and woven into a multitude of textiles. Animals and plants are the sources, and from animals they include sheep’s wool, yak hair, cashmere-like hair from goats, and more recently silk from the Bombyx moth larva. Fibers from plants are the seed fibers from cotton, the stem fibers from nettle, jute, hemp and bamboo, and leaf fibers from the sisal family.
All of these textile processes can be observed throughout Nepal, in a true traditional sense in the hills and mountains, and in a more commercial sense in the cities and the Terai. Other fibers such as bamboo and sisal are also utilized in the production of household goods and clothing. And the dyeing an integral part of the process still uses Indigo, Barberry, Walnut, Sorrel and Rhubarb.
Yak hair is made into shelters, ropes and clothing, yak skin for shoes, saddle bags and straps.
Sheep’s wool was made into rainproof Nepalese woolen blankets that were used for trading items 2,000 years ago; and now woven clothing, blankets and rugs are still in use in the mountain areas. The most common sheep is the BaruwaL a hardy sheep which produces a short fleece with little crimp, springy, strong and easy to spin, with the sheep shorn twice a year. The most attractive Sherpa woolen front apron is woven from sheep’s wool, hand spun and colored with multi colored natural dyes.
Cashmere, Pashmina — although cash- mere shawls became famous from shawls woven in Kashmir the fiber came from goats from Tibet and Central Asia. ln Nepal the shawls woven from cashmere hair are referred to as pashmina shawls, pashm being the Persian word for ‘wool’. And here in Nepal, too, the wool comes from Tibet and China, although in Dolpo and Mustang there are Pashmina goat cross breeds producing milk and a coarser fiber. The pashmina shawls are in demand in Tokyo, New York, Paris, London, etc, and often the tassels are beaded, and lately even small Rajasthani style mirrors are sewn into the shawls.
Silk-There are two main types of silk fiber in Nepal – the high quality silk from mulberry in the hills, and eri silk from castor mainly from the Terai in the southern plains. This silk is also used in the pashmina and silk combined shawls.
Himalayan Giant Nettles (Urtica heterophylla) – Allo — are woven into nettle cloth, whereas before it was used for ropes, sacks, mats, cast nets and rough clothing, now it is woven for curtains, and blinds, and has a ‘designer’ potential (weaving with nettle fibers was known since the early Bronze Age, as a fragment of cloth found in Denmark has revealed). Hemp (Cannabis Sativa)
Hemp has three main products, a white best fiber from the stem; oil from the seeds; and the ubiquitous narcotic.
Jute — Jute goods and raw jute are important export items for Nepal to India and Bangladesh. Within Nepal the jute is sold to the mills in the Terai where it is machine spun and made into sack cloth and rope.
Cotton — A very special cotton thread, the sacred thread worn by high caste Hindus over the left shoulder and tied under the right arm, is spun and plied six-fold. Once a year, at ]anai Purne during the full moon in August, the thread is re- placed by a new one by the family priests.
Textiles in Nepal are woven, knitted, crocheted, plaited or braided. The most remarkable and visible cotton textile are the intricately patterned, colorful cotton panels used for caps for men, and blouses and shawls for women, called Dhaka- cloth. The traditional colors were black, white red, and orange, but now the colors used range through the rainbow and produce beautiful effects. The name is a little confusing, and has a few explanations as to the origin of the name, and one is that as the cloth and thread came to Nepal from or through Dhaka, Bangladesh, that it was given the name Dhaka cloth. Then it was also thought that maybe Hindu weavers, fleeing from Dhaka at the time of the Muslim invasion, settled in or near Nepal and influenced Nepalese weavers. A lovely cotton, with a very free design, very much up to the individual weaver, with no two pieces the same, unless mass produced to order. The Lirnbus and Rais of the mid-mountains are famous for their Dhaka cloth. Block printing on cotton, with two layers of muslin, one on each side, are produced as bed covers, doona covers, and shawls, using quite traditional red, black and orange colors. The doonas themselves are filled with cotton, and each year the cotton men call at the house, undo the doona, beat and fluff the cotton and fill up the doona again.