Jigmi Wangdi

As the country aims to work towards digitalisation, a new endeavour is creating an avenue that allows traditional weavers to incorporate digital technology into their crafts.  

The Royal Textile Academy (RTA) organised a first-of-its-kind competition called ‘From Pixel to Fabrics: Digital Design in Traditional Weaving’ to preserve Bhutanese cultural heritage in textile design with digital technology and improve weaving conditions as well as supporting women empowerment.

The competition featured around 100 participants comprising of teams with a digital designer and a weaver. The digital designers designed a traditional piece which the weavers manually crafted for the competition. 

Renowned artist, Wang Rana Gurung and weaver Tsheten Yangzom were the winners of the competition. 

Wang, who is 30 years old, shared that when he heard about the competition, he was interested to take part and so, searched for a weaver. “I was looking for a weaver who was based in Thimphu and was doing this full-time. After asking around, I was able to get in touch with Tsheten.” 

Wang said that the mixture of traditional weaving and digital technology could help the weavers experiment before even starting to work on something, be it Kira or Gho.

“When our weavers use colour palettes, they first use yarns, which has its limitations and it is also a long process. Digitally, they can experiment and try using the colour palettes to create different patterns and compositions. Once they find something they are happy with, they can start weaving,” Wang said. 

Tsheten Yangzom, 36, sustained her livelihood by weaving Kiras and Ghos, mostly for Bhutanese who lived in Australia. For Tsheten, this was a completely new frontier for her, but she realized the weaving process could be made faster using the digital technology.  

“This new form of weaving can benefit us in the future. Normally, it is quite time-consuming when we sort out colours and think of designs for our products. But with such digitalisations, everything can be easily done on a computer,” Tsheten said. 

Since most of the weaves were uneducated, they could face challenges using the digital apps on their own but the apps are fairly easy to use once they got a hang of it. 

Tsheten Yangzom said that she will encourage her fellow weavers back in her village to take the opportunities. 

“Currently, we have different organisations working with weavers to promote their products. But my focus would be to create a community where weavers can come together. We can create digital portfolios for them, consisting of their products and other information about them,” Wang said. 

As winners of the competition, Wang and Tsheten will soon go to the World Bank headquarters in Washington D.C. in the USA, where they will participate in an international exhibition and showcase the traditional textiles of Bhutan.