The women weavers of Panchachul


Hand knitted shawls made from the fibre of the giant Himalayan nettle.

nettle shawl_ S_160_detail3

Nettle shawl

The giant nettle

In the Himalayas of northern India, on the border between Tibet and Nepal, is Kumaon, one of the most beautiful and untouched areas of India. From there you can see the five snow-covered peaks of the Panchachuli mountain range. Panchachuli means “the five brothers” and is one of the highest mountain ranges in India. At the foot of the Panchachuli range is a cooperative of village women who use their traditional skills to produce beautiful products from high-quality raw materials.
Panchachuli Women Weavers is a development program, which facilitates economic and social independence for women in the Indian Himalayas using the traditional arts of weaving and knitting. The project has given the women an alternative way of earning their living and has contributed significantly to the structural development of the Kumaon region.
Over 800 women from a total of 32 villages in the region are involved in the processing of raw materials and the production of high-quality woven and knitted products. The women are all shareholders in the cooperative as well as receiving regular wages.
A speciality of the Panchachuli women weavers is the treatment and processing of the giant nettles which grow in the Himalayan plateaus. The plant grows in large quantities in the region each year and is collected by the women in spring in the woods and fields. The nettle, known locally as allo, boasts the longest fibres in the plant kingdom producing exceptionally strong, hard-wearing but soft products. The processing of the nettle bark into yarn is a complicated process: the fibres are boiled, beaten to a pulp, bleached with chalk and then soaked. Then they have to be washed before they can be further processed to make the fine thread which is then knitted into these beautiful shawls.

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