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Bhutan's Textile Tradition
Bhutanese traditional fashion

From rigtht:

Winner of the traditional design, a Mentse Marthra Shilochem style, silk on silk, designed by Gaki Y. Dorji;

winner of the pesar design, a new Ngosham style, silk on silk,
designed by Karma Choki

winner of the innovative style collection "Bhutanity"
designed by Kencho Dema and Sonam Tshomo

Not long after the opening of the National Textile Museum, on June 12 2002, Bhutanese textiles have reached new heights as one of the most visible traditional crafts and as a distinctly Bhutanese art form.A national design competition packed the Thimphu sports complex hallas young Bhutanese men and women modelled rich and finely woven clothing which one visitor interpreted as the "living arts of Bhutan". Spectators saw the textiles as being "rich and vibrant". And many saw them as representing the real "wealth" of Bhutan. Painstakingly woven traditional garments with complex designs like the mentse martha shilochem gho, and mentse martha methochem kira, both silk and synthetically dyed, were displayed by models.

Participants were also encouraged to come up with their own designs, called the pesar. Ghos and kiras in intricate designs, silk on silk, cotton on cotton, silk on cotton, which were synthetically dyed were also displayed. Aside from the traditional and the pesar designs, the participants came up with innovative designs some of them western-influenced clothes but clearly Bhutanese.

Some even displayed jeans, shirts, and trousers with Bhutanese patterns done on the sleeves and legs. The entries were judged for their dyeing skill, colour schemes, texture, complexity of the patterns, innovative patterns designs, and creativity among others.


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Gaki Y. Dorji of Thimphu took the prize of Nu 50,000 for the best traditional designs. Karma Chuki and, Kencho Dema and Sonam Tshomo took the same prize amount for best pesar designs and best innovative designs. The second and third prize in all the three category was Nu 30,000, and Nu 10,000. "I was not aware that such assorted ghos and kiras existed in Bhutan. It was an eye opener," said one Bhutanese spectator at the show.

Organized by the National Commission For Cultural Affairs (NCCA) and the National Textile Museum, the competition and the fashion show aimed to recognize and promote the weavers of Bhutan. "Textiles are a rich and complex art form," said the secretary of the NCCA, Dasho Sangay Wangchug. "Our best weavers have a visually stunning mastery of colour, pattern and composition. They are also skilled in using and combining various fibres like wild silk, nettle, wool and yak hair from within the country, and cotton, domesticated silk, metallic yarns and machine-spun cotton from India and China."

At a time when Bhutanese are increasingly turning to cheaper factory-produced textiles from outside, many felt that such an encouragement for traditional weavers could not have been more appropriate

"This will not only give our weavers a much needed boost and income but will also refrain them from selling it to unscrupulous private collectors who later brag about how they fooled the weavers for a few measly dollars more," said a concerned resident.

According to Singye Dorji of the national textile museum, weaving had become a secondary option in the villages because of the shortage of manpower. "Lured by urban developments, many of the folks have gone, leaving just few at home to farm," he said. In the past, weavers were employed by local nobility to weave for the household, including exquisite garments for special occasions. Others wove for barter and sale. "The weavers today are stressing quantity rather than quality," Singye added. "They are inclined towards factory made materials and simple designs to overcome the cost and time factor." He pointed out that this could lead to the loss of intricate pattern designs, natural dyes, and traditional raw materials.

Many people fear that such practices would smother the tradition of the textile arts being passed from mother to daughter. It was keeping such concerns that led to the national design competition and fashion show to showcase the products of Bhutanese weavers.

"The royal government recognizes the need to preserve and promote this indigenous knowledge base, to revive traditional skills, and to ensure that the creativity and the innovativeness of the textile art form will be sustained" Dasho Sangay Wangchug explained that weaving, or thazo, which was one of Bhutan's 13 traditional crafts, differed from the other 12 crafts in three ways. It produced the largest volume, it involved the largest number of people as producers, and it was the only craft dominated by women. "There were many people who have already quoted in our auction brochures," said Singye Dorji.

The cost of traditional and pesar garments ranged from Nu 7,000 to Nu 63,000. Some were not for sale. According to Singye Dorji, the proceeds from the sale of tickets, costing Nu 500, Nu 300, Nu 100 and the sales of garments, would go to the weavers, to promote the weavers of Khoma and Lhuentse, and also towards a museum fund. Most of the spectators expressed their surprise at the high standard of weaving displayed. "The designs were complex and fine and so painstakingly done that just watching the clothes was sheer beauty," one young man told. Christel Dekena of Germany, who was one of the judges, described the traditional and pesar dresses as "exotic and pure art". The United Nations System in Bhutan, along with the Swiss Development Co-operation, sponsored the national design competition and the fashion show. Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, patron of the Textile Museum, was the chief guest.

This article was contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2002

Gho and Kira
National Textile Museum
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