New England Weavers Seminar: Bhutanese Kushutara Weaving

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a lecture and take a two-day intensive weaving workshop last weekend at the New England Weavers Seminar held at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. The workshop, Bhutanese Kushutara Weaving, taught by Wendy Garrity, was an amazing introduction into the supplementary weft technique that I previously knew very little about.

Kushutara samples from Wendy Garrity’s personal collection.

The weekend began with a lecture given by Wendy on her experience traveling through Asia and the time she has spent in Bhutan teaching music and learning the fine techniques required to create Kushutara textiles. She discussed the many different textiles in Bhutan including the Aikapur, Kushutara, Yathra, and Nettle cloth. Despite being a relatively small country (approximately 700,000 people), the textiles are quite diverse, as the land encompasses a variety of climates and landscapes.

Close up detail of the wrong side of a Kushutara.

The Kushutara are created specifically for women. Each Kushutara is woven with incredibly fine silk yarns (approximately 20/2) in three long strips and seamed together. (Only two strips are called a Half Kushutara, although it is technically 2/3 of the fabric.) In the image above, you can see the seam line where two panels have been sewn together as well as the supplementary weft pattern colors as they are left in the back of the work. Instead of carefully trimming the thousands of weft ends, they are left on the fabric to show that the piece is handmade, adding to the prestige.

The designs on Kushutara are created using two different stitches, the sapma and thrima. Within the thrima technique, there are four methods: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and satin.

For the workshop, we first learned the sapma, then the variety of thrima stitches. I was amazed how much the application of sapma reminded me of Estonian Roositud! I’m not sure why, but I much preferred working the sapma technique – there was something about the all over and motif-based designs that were easier for me to do. Perhaps the connection to all-over stranded colorwork?

Changing colors in sapma motifs.

L / My full sampler . R / Sampa motifs worked simultaneously.

For the workshop I really tried to “let go” in terms of the look of the final weaving. The whole exercise was in order to learn the technique and experiment, but it was still difficult for me to step out of my comfort zone and just go for it and not worry too much about perfection or the finished project. One of the things that helped a lot was buying  6/1 Faro wool “Yarn in a jar” from Vavstuga in the marketplace during the break on the first day. It was easy to play around with colors with so many different shades to choose from!

I had to cut my piece off of the loom after class was over, as I was borrowing a small floor loom from my dad and couldn’t bring it back home to Pennsylvania with me, but I am excited to scheme up some new ways to keep using and trying these new-to-me techniques!

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