I didn’t expect to see plush living room furniture in the open air of a back yard. I thought, “Did they set this up for us?” The context didn’t fit the dusty bumpy village roads we had been traveling. We were a group of nine Zizira explorers on a quest to meet and learn from traditional weavers. Excited to be meeting the first weaver on our list. We had 6 more villages to explore to find eri textiles.
If You’re Not a Lady Farmer, You’re a Lady Who Knows How to Weave Silk!
We were greeted and ushered to sit on the comfortable couch under the outdoor canopy. I noticed the large wooden loom collapsed and pushed to the side. Saila, the weaver, welcomed us with enthusiasm. Our interview began. Local Ri-Bhoi tea was served. It was delicious. Other women brought out loads of snacks while we continued with our conversation about Saila’s lifestyle as a weaver. Her home was in the middle of Mrangar (Borkhatshari). A small village consisting of 75 households. We learned that every woman that wasn’t a farmer – was a weaver. To be precise: a weaver without a market to sell her ware!
With that learning, the conversation turned from casual talk to intentional inquiry.
Questions About Eri Textiles Rolled Off Our Tongue:
- What type of silk yarn do you use?
- Eri silk, cotton, or synthetic?
- Handspun silk or mill spun yarn?
- Natural dyed or chemical dyed yarn?
- Plant-based colored yarn dyed at home?
- Can you show us textile designs and patterns?
Oh! What Designs We Did See; But Not on Natural Textile
Saila’s eldest daughter came out of the house and began to showcase beautiful tribal patterns on various hand-loomed fabric. While exquisite, the use of chemical color and mill spun yarn did not fit the standard we were in search of.
The patterns we loved! The fabric and color we didn’t. We clearly understood that she was weaving for the local market. A market that demands a less expensive product. We were looking for handlooms created with natural materials. Our quest:
Revive and regenerate the traditions and treasures of the past.
Suddenly we noticed a bandage on Saila’s hand and learned that she had burned herself while making homemade rice beer for her daughter’s wedding. Aha! That’s when we connected the dots…
- The living room furniture outside
- The small house full of people coming in and out
- A circle of friends sitting in the yard
“It’s our tradition for everyone to come together and help our neighbors for such events. Everyone here worked together to help with my marriage celebration.” Explained Saila’s daughter.
“When was your wedding”, I asked.
We all burst out congratulating the bride and groom!
It Takes a Village to Give a Wedding
The circle of friends gathered on the side of the house were there to help clean up. The same neighbors who came together to help host the wedding. Gayatri, our curious Zizira connector left our discussion with Saila and went to sit among the circle of men and women. Speaking Assamese as a bridge language, Gayatri joined in their conversation. She was fast to discover all the women in the circle were weavers.
The villagers listened to Gayatri explain that Zizira was on a quest to work with a group of weavers who would be interested in weaving in the traditional way:
- Handspun eri weaved in silk
- Natural plant-based dyed yarn
- Work with a designer to fuse traditional and customized styles.
Before we knew it Gayatri’s personal agency and a curious mindset lead to a discovery I will share in my next post. For the nine of us the next encounter would be what we named ‘a dream come true’.
Learning #1: We Supply Eri Silk Yarn to the Textile Weaver
We closed with Khraw placing our first sample order for a shawl. We will supply the eri silk yarn. Our visit came to a quick end as we were anxious to reach our next destination.
We celebrated and toasted the newly married couple with the most delicious rice beer of Meghalaya. We cheered each other on as we drank the tasty beer. An inner celebration united the Zizira team. We left discovery #1 equipped with learning from locals and the motivation to connect with and find more eri silk weavers.