Dress (kira), womens, hand woven, cotton / silk, maker unknown, Bhutan, 1920-1960
The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has a long weaving tradition with textiles playing a central role in Bhutanese culture as art, clothing, in religious practice, social identity and exchange, as commodities and forms of payment, as well as indicators of wealth and social status.
The kira is the principal form of dress worn by women in Bhutan. It is formed from three lengths of cloth stitched together to create a rectangular panel which is worn wrapped around the body, folded into a wide pleat in front and fastened at the shoulders with brooches (koma). Tightly belted with a kera or waist cloth the cloth is bloused about the waist to form a pouch where personal items can be carried.
Fashion and dress etiquette are important aspects of Bhutanese dress and while the form of the kira (wrapped dress) remains basically the same, the textile expresses the social identity of the wearer with variations in weave, colours, fibres and decoration used to reflect their social and economic status, age and regional identity.
The cloth is designed and woven by women who pass their skills in designing, dying and weaving on to their daughters. Creativity and innovation in design are valued with women free to combine and interpret traditional motifs while also inventing new motifs and patterns.
This textile is produced on the Bhutanese back strap loom which is operated by one person and so named because the weaver leans back against a wide back strap to keep the tension on the warp threads. The use of the back strap loom limits the width of the textile resulting in long narrow strips of weaving which are joined together to form a piece of material wide enough for the kira or other forms of dress.
Weaving is predominantly carried out by women (men specialise in tailoring, complex cutting, stitching and embroidery) for domestic needs, as gifts and as an important source of income. In designing and weaving cloth Bhutanese women express their individuality and creativity and the resulting textile will incorporate traditional designs and motifs as well as new combinations, interpretations and motifs reflecting their personal aesthetic. Innovation in patterns is valued and 'new patterns admired, copied and reinterpreted.' From the Land of the Thunder Dragon, textile arts of Bhutan. Eds. D Myers and S Bean. 1994.
The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is situated near ancient trade routes for Tibet, China, Southeast Asia, and India. Bhutan has developed its own distinctive textile culture but the design, production and uses of textiles in Bhutan also reflect centuries of material, religious, decorative and technological exchanges between these countries.
Bhutan has a long weaving tradition of both secular and religious textiles with textiles playing a central role in Bhutanese culture as art, clothing, in religious practice, social identity and exchange, gifts, as commodities and forms of payment, as well as indicators of wealth and social status.
Up until the Twentieth Century most of the fibres used in Bhutanese textiles were produced, dyed and woven locally. More recently Bhutan's textile heritage has been altered and threatened by imported fibres, dyes and factory made cloth which have become widely available and are now commonly used by Bhutanese weavers. Chemical dyes are favoured over natural dyes as they are inexpensive and easy to use while the natural hand loomed yarns are being replaced by less expensive, easy to wash synthetics.