On my last visit I was hunting for textiles in Nepal. I find that most places I visit have a specific type of textile that is used in  a quite specific manner.  In Nepal I was looking for two specific textiles, one traditionally used by the Sherpa group and one from the Kathmandu valley.

I began looking for the aprons the married Sherpa women wear at all times.  These aprons consist of three panels, woven in brightly coloured stripes using wool or silk.  Initially the fabric is woven as one long piece before being cut into three. These are then offset so that the stripes do not match at all and hand sewn together with very fine stitches. Two long ties are added to the top corners and an apron is made.  Now, these aprons are mainly for decoration as they are the symbol that tells everyone that the wearer is married.

Two Sherpa women wearing their aprons. They are married!

Two Sherpa women wearing their aprons. They are married!

The large one worn at the front is called a Gewe and the shorter apron worn at the back by single girls is called a Metil.  In fact, when the women are cooking or gardening they will cover their apron with a plain, more serviceable apron, so keep it clean. The ladies in this photo turned their ‘dirty’ aprons around so that I could photograph their lovely, ‘clean’ aprons!

As we walked higher into the Khumbu region I began looking in all the little stores to see if I could find an apron. When I got to Namche Bazaar, I began to ask the ladies in the stores if they had any.  They were quite delighted that I knew about them and would delve under the counter and bring out the two or three they had. They only kept stock for the local ladies to buy, Westerners do not buy them.  I had great conversations with them about the aprons and how and where they were made.  Asking for something unique made it easy to chat with the local ladies who were so happy to help.

On our walk above Namche Bazaar we had tea with a local family in the tiny village of Syangboche. Here I met two lovely, friendly women, one who made and sold jewellery and the other was knitting the gorgeous yak wool hats that are so popular with trekkers.  Both were wearing the colourful aprons.

Back in Kathmandu I saw shops in the Tibetan area around Boudhanath Stupa with the aprons displayed in an array of brilliant colours.

Dhaka cloth in Patan

Buying Dhaka cloth

We then went hunting for a cloth woven in the eastern regions of Nepal and in Kathmandu Valley called Dhaka cloth.  It is used to make the traditional hat or Topi, worn by the men and the traditional blouse and shawl worn by the women.  No two lengths are every exactly the same because they are all hand woven.  It may take several days to weave a shawl.  They are made from cotton and silk and usually a combination of them both.  Sometimes two people weave together if the piece being woven is large.  The textile produced is very fine and can be worn easily as a scarf or shawl. Some families weave Dhaka cloth in the evenings and when seasonal work in the fields is not as intensive.

Treadle sewing machines

Treadle sewing machines in Kathmandu

Some families have set up cooperatives to weave, market and sell their cloth.  To find them we walked from Thamel towards the Patan area.  On the way we saw parts of Kathmandu that most tourists bypass.  We walked past the street selling treadle sewing machines – reminding us that the electricity supply in Kathmandu is quite unreliable! We also saw local markets selling wonderful, fresh produce.  Eventually we came to the an area with stores owned by tailors and dressmakers showcasing some lovely clothes.  In amongst them were a couple of stores selling the traditional Dhaka cloth.  Such a choice! More conversations were had with lovely people and finally purchases made.

I met some lovely local women who I would not have met if I had not been looking for these textiles. I also now have some treasured memories to keep as well as some examples of the textiles unique to Nepal.