Maiwa made its first visits to Nagaland in 2000 to work with village artisans on weaving revival projects. Nagaland has a long history of exquisite backstrap loom work, where supplemental wefts feature prominently. The supplement typically overshoots the width of the fabric, extending beyond the selvedge and hanging loose in a side tassel. Nagaland is also known for its incredible basketry, which has evolved to facilitate the transport of goods up and down the steep mountainside trails.
When Maiwa first visited, synthetic yarns were de-skilling the weavers, and eroding the market for hand weave. Once a traditional textile, made by hand with natural fibres, moves to the use of synthetic yarns, it is a small step to replace such weavings with factory goods. Hand weavers cannot compete with machine production on any level and so the market collapses.
To reverse these trends, it is first necessary to abandon synthetic yarns. The weavers then re-establish their sensitive relationship to the fibre and the loom. Natural fibres require more skill to weave, as the yarns snap more easily and the entire loom is more sensitive to humidity and temperature. For a revival to be successful, the first step is to replace synthetic yarns with natural fibres. The second step is to re-introduce local dyeing, first with synthetic dyes and then once the community of dyers is established, transitioning to natural dyes. The entire process or revival is a sensitive and delicate one.
Nagaland is a beautiful mountainous state bordered by Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is home to 16 hill tribes who weave their distinctive patterns and motifs on back-strap looms.