Thinley Namgay   

The Bhutanese textile has evolved over the years mostly based on oral traditions as the country has limited documentation on textiles, weaving, and social identities of weavers in different regions.   

Disasters such as fire and earthquake in the early 17th century damaged most of the historical records on local textiles. 

The chief curator at the Royal Textile Academy (RTA) Pema Choden Wangchuk said that there are records of early British explorers that trace the history of weaving in Bhutan. 

“Mostly, oral narratives and folk tales tell us how weaving originated in Bhutan,” she said, during a session at the Bhutan Echoes. 

Interaction with the weavers and older generations is the usual practice to get better insights into textiles.  

Preservation of textiles plays a vital role as it maintains identity, and showcases the traditions and way of life. Textile is also one of the fascinating areas for research. There is a need to impart textile culture to the younger generations. However, the art of textiles also changes constantly with modernisation.     

An educator and author, from Rajasthan, India, Vandana Bhandari (PhD) said that a better understanding of textiles, and their historical significance could be achieved when people interact with diverse societies.    

“Some people have stored textiles for many years. How did they do it? It is an amazing thing to learn,” Vandana Bhandari said, adding that one should maintain archives from the beginning.  “Photographs are important.” 

She said the textile culture in Jaipur is flourishing today with 36 crafts centres in the region which existed for a long time. 

Vandana Bhandari attributed its textile success to its vibrant ecosystem where all raw materials are made available in the locality, pragmatic policies by rulers, and recognition of people with exceptional skills.   

To maintain proper archives, RTA currently follows an international museum protocol called collection management system which tracks the object of its location, conditions, and assigns a unique catalogue number.    

Through different textile exhibitions and educational programmes, RTA engages youth in textiles. However, mass production of textiles remains a challenge in Bhutan owing to its labour-intensive nature. For instance, kushuthara, which is popular in Lhuentse, takes almost a year to weave in a back strap loom or horizontal frame loom. The modern kushuthara called paysar (new design) is also gaining momentum today.   

Pema Choden Wangchuk said that kushung dress in the eastern and central part of Bhutan, teodung jacket worn by the women of Merak and Sakteng, among others, attaches historical significance.