Product Feature: Backstrap Weavings from Rakhine State

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Written in collaboration with Liam Best

Its been now three years since we first met U Sein Nadi, he came in a rainy afternoon to our first shop with a bag filled with beautiful tablerunners, we bought them all! This was the beginning of a successful partnership with talented weavers from Rakhine State. U Sein Nadi and his sister coordinate and transport weavings from  5 remote villages where over 26 women work to supply the store with their beautiful and intricate crafts. 

The process of weaving in Myanmar dates back centuries and it has been passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. This craft provides a sustainable income to women in resource constrained communities, for example financing their children to go to school. It’s a craft of opportunity for them, it allows women to work from home while taking care of the household chores, provides a reliable alternative to unstable and seasonal farm labour and allows the elderly to earn a wage. Many of the women in this group are over 65 years old, they work together with younger women allowing the old traditions to carry on in a time when globalisation is fast having an impact on Myanmar and its traditions.

The handmade process is arduous and time consuming. It goes from sourcing the cotton threads to creating the dyes. Some of the table runners combine natural and artificial dyes. The natural dyes are made mixing local bark, seeds, fruits and flowers, these range from deep reds to earthy brown and tan colours.

The skilled hands of the artisans carefully choose the threads, bringing to life knotted stories of their villages and their traditions. Each one of the patterns holds a meaning, and most of the patterns and styles are not formally recorded; rather passed down through oral history and taught between family members. According to the weavers, some of the diamond patterns represent villages and bunches of firewood. Other patterns include border work that mimic vines ready for harvest or the village fence line. Some other motives are metaphors for constellations. Some others are less abstract and illustrate their traditional bamboo huts as well as human figures.

The results are truly unique and the time and care involved in producing each table runner is reflected in the quality of the finished product. The weavings are generally made in the family home using traditional backstrap looms. One table runner takes approximately 7 days to make!

Illustration of backstrap loom

Though the techniques and patterns remain unchanged, Pomelo has encouraged and taught some contemporary color combinations resulting in a bright and colourful collection that makes a vibrant addition to any home. This new collection has increased sales and provides cash income in remote villages. We are glad to continue supporting this wonderful craft, a cultural heritage that deserves to be protected and preserved.

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