Maiwa in Bengal: The Masterclass Day 4

by - Thursday, February 03, 2011

Catharine Ellis (far right) speaks to a group about woven shibori.
January 31 Day 4

Today is a special day because today some of us go along with Catharine Ellis to see and create some woven shibori. This is a technique whereby supplemental threads are added to either the warp or the weft. When the piece comes off the loom these threads will be pulled taut to crumple the cloth and then tied tightly to keep it crumpled as it is dyed. This will create a special resist pattern when the work is dyed.

 We drive to a neighboring studio where we will be able to use the sample loom to create some woven shibori.

The loom and the lines of the supplemental weft.

Catharine was impressed by how every one of the weavers grasped the concept immediately. An important part of the process is the actual gathering of the threads. “I have never seen a group spend so much time concentrating on the gathering. They were meticulous. Everyone helped someone else with the process. Nobody works alone. None of the weaving is done alone, none of the pulling is done alone and none of the untying is done alone. In North America people work in a much more individual way.”

The shuttle goes between some warp threads.

“I had no idea really what to expect. These are really really fine weavers and they were very open to something new. I don’t always experience that. They were genuinely intrigued and open to a new application.”

Jane Stafford was also with us. She found Bengal a kind of weaver’s paradise. “I was blown away. The skill of every weaver here was astonishing. I’ve been looking at these fabrics for years and now I see them quite differently. We indulge ourselves with weaving as a pastime but here it is a way of life. It is a culture of weaving, where everyone in the family participates.”

We are at the family loom, so it is no surprise that the family shows up to see what is going on.

Catharine was particularly impressed with one of the young Bengal weavers. “I’ve never met a sharper weaver than Gautham. He understands everything immediately. This could be because so many of the weavers here are also dyers. It is the level of skill which is surprising. The other thing which got me was the quality of the cloth.”

 Swarnalata (from Assam) takes a turn at the loom.

Because India has a sari tradition we had the opportunity to see woven shibori on very fine threads and fabrics. That was unusual.

Jane Stafford loves weaving. "I Just can't believe I'm in Bengal at one of the looms."

Catharine sums up “On a personal level it is a thrill to put something that I developed out there where the people have the ability to develop it in their own way. With all the teaching I’ve done none of it has had the potential to be transformed the way it does here. These people think like weavers and they solve problems like weavers. They can use this to develop new ideas for their products. That pleases me. I mean, there are people who say to me ‘why did you give this technique away?’ but really, giving it away and teaching it has given me a very interesting life.”

The work, off the loom with the threads being tightened.

During the next couple of days the finished work will be put into some of the dyebaths that are being prepared. Some of them will receive different mordants before going in. Everyone is keen to see the results.

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  1. How exciting to see this play out! Thank you for sharing!

  2. ApSc263 Engineering students who are currently working on the India projects are also reading the blog to gain a better appreciation about what it means to dye and weave fabric.

  3. Thanks Joanne. For our readers who wonder what this is about please see our post about collaborating with UBC engineers.

  4. Jenny Balfour-PaulMarch 11, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    Brilliant work in India! Congratulations.


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