Indigenous women of the Chakesang tribe from Leshemi, a remote Naga village in the mountains of North East India, continue to weave nettle shawls, unique to their own identity, on back-strapped looms.
A hallmark of the timeless and self-sustaining Naga lifestyle, the classic Thebvora is made of handpicked, hand spun and hand woven stinging nettle. (Thebvora literally translates to 'nettle shawl' in the language of the Chakhesang Khuzhami tribe. The fiber-to-fabric journey is entirely local and self-sustaining, although the cotton yarn, once locally grown, is now sourced.
The spinning and weaving of stinging nettle is increasingly rare. Stinging nettle is foraged from the wild once a year in early winter. In a long and labourious process, strips of nettle bast fibre are retted, dried, thigh-reeled into twine, and hand-spun using a drop spindle. The yarn is then steeped in a local rice broth to bleach and soften the fiber naturally. It is alternated with cotton in the warp and weft, strip-woven on back strap looms, and seamed skillfully by hand to make large shawls. The flexibility of the portable loom enables women to work from their own home.
Originally used as body cloths and blankets, today old shawls are worn as a durable carryall in the rice fields. The nettle shawl is increasingly a luxury, and new ones are prized and reserved for ceremonial occasions.
Unique to the Leshemi identity, a minimal black centre stripe forms a key design element and highlights a restrained aesthetic. The black dye is a completely local natural dye.
Chakhesang women are highly skilled weavers, working complex extra-weft patterns on a primitive back strap loom. Women weave in the time between agricultural and domestic chores, and those who make it their livelihood, work extra hard. The co-designed collection reflects their unique identity and aesthetic, and responds to the innate texture, colour, and structure of this densely woven fabric.
The Leshemi Origins Collection has been exhibited at the IMC Fashion Show, 2018; Textile Society of America, Vancouver, 2019; Japan, 2019; Selvedge World Online Fair, 2021, 2022.
Credits: Images by Rokovor Vihienuo and Radhi Parekh