APIC: Rinzin Pem, 40, has spent more than half her life on the loom, but she soaked her hands in dye for the first time last  week.

A light-red juice was extracted from onion waste and put under extreme heat for hours.  Rinzin then rinsed the yarn in cold water and hung up to dry.

Rinzin Pem was among 23 housewives from Changjiji housing colony who attended a weeklong training on dyeing at the office of National Housing Development corporation in Thimphu.

Some of them saw the dyeing process for the first time.

Rinzin said she depended on ready-made threads available in the market and never tried the traditional way of dyeing.

“I was amazed that traditional dye has ability to produce required colours,” said Rinzin Pem. “In fact, traditional dye looks by far better.”

The group learnt traditional method of making dye, using leaves, roots, tree barks, vegetables, flours, lac and wood.

Karma Choden, manager of Craft Bazaar and Cluster Development under the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Craft (APIC), said weavers were taught two ways of dyeing.

The traditional way of dyeing is organic.  Colorants are derived from buckwheat flour, turmeric, lac, and dried fruit, among others.  Fruits, leaves, stems, roots, vegetable, limewater and ferrous are used for natural dye.

The dyeing methods taught were from Pemagatshel, Radi in Trashigang, Lhuentse, Trongsa and Bumthang, where use of traditional dye is still in practice.

Karma Choden said training would not only help promote dyeing culture, but also provide choices to the weavers.

The group learnt how to tighten yarn, colouring steps and processes, how to mix minerals, washing and drying.

Rinzin, who earns between Nu 250,000 and Nu 300,000 a year selling shinglo and hor patterned ghos and kiras, said light colour and natural appearance of traditional dye could help her expand the scope of her business.

“With new skills, I want to make my products more attractive,” said Rinzin.

The group is one of the nine cluster group weavers that APIC helped form to promote hand-woven textiles.  APIC also helps market finished products within and outside Bhutan.

Lam Kezang Chhoephel, APIC’s chief executive officer, said cluster weavers can produce items that can be sold outside, as the market in the country is limited. “For that, we have to focus on quality.”

The government and APIC will also set up a raw material shop in Changjiji with financial support from UNDP.

The cultures of growing cotton in the east, and of extracting raw silk, are no longer in practice.  In the old days, weavers in the east and the south gathered raw silk, wild silk and silk cotton from trees.

Apart from promoting traditional weaving, reviving old culture will give employment opportunities and supplementary income to the middle class group in Changjiji colony.

Ugyen Chewang, NHDC’s chief executive officer, said that, instead of setting idle all day, housewives could now engage themselves in work to support their family.

The programme will also help promote social cohesion and interaction in the colony, where a lot of people from different places with different backgrounds live, said Ugyen Chewang.

Additional reporting by Dechen Tshomo

By Tenzin Namgyel