Book Reviews

Living Fabric

Weaving among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya

by
Monisha Ahmed

2002 192 pp., 9 b & w plates, 178 color plates, 3 maps, 29 x 22 cm., hardbound.

ISBN-10: 974-8304-87-6 $50.00
ISBN-13: 978-974-8304-87-8


Living Fabric

Weaving among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya


Based on Monisha Ahmed’s doctoral research at Oxford University, Living fabric concentrates upon the Rupshu area of eastern Ladakh, the part of the Indian state of Kashmir that borders Tibet, whose population is overwhelmingly Buddhist. Since both men and women in this area of Ladakh weave Ms Ahmed was able to compare the different types of weaving done by each gender. The book discusses the physical setting of the Rupshu area, its Buddhist population, the animals that produce the fibers for weaving, shearing processes, spinning techniques, weaving on several types of looms, and the vigorous annual migration cycle of usually twelve places in order to provide sufficient fodder for the animals.
   The study is particularly important as life in the Rupshu area is changing, commercial dyes are appearing in the women’s weaving, synthetic fibers are often blended with the natural, and the nomadic life is followed by less and less people.
   Yet many traditional values remain. Women are expected to weave and marriages fail if they can not. The author notes an incident of a bride “the groom’s parents had said that their son was returning the girl: she was not pretty, she was lazy, and never did any work. She did not know how to cook, and besides, she could not weave.” (p. 97) Men and women weave different articles needed by the family. While women can assist the men in shearing and certain types of weaving, men never assist women with their weaving responsibilities. Women use back strap looms to weave household objects, the saddle bags used in their migrations, and clothing. These are the articles which now usually have commercial dyes and polyester threads. Men’s fixed-heddle loom weaving concentrates on producing the tents the family lives in as well as various articles necessary for the trading trips they frequently make (saddle bags of various sizes for the different animals, and blankets). Men never use dyes but produce designs from the yarn of the different colors of animals in their herds. Each family has distinctive weaving designs that are inherited through the generations. The designs play an important role when people gather and have lots of bags as everyone knows which bag belongs to whom by its design. While the families herd sheep, goats, and yaks they only weave the sheep and yak wool or hair. The goats are the prized capre hircus which produce the famed pashmina wool. Rupshu being one of the highest areas in Ladakh with many grazing areas exceeding 15,000 feet elevation, correspondingly has some of the coldest weather, which produces some of the finest pashmina. Given the prominence of pashmina in international fashion, the numbers of the noted goats in the herds have been steadily increasing.
   Line drawings and color photographs further document the written text. Ahmed has produced a visually attractive and insightful volume that discusses tradition and modernization/globalization of a people living in a very remote part of the world.

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