Monday, April 14, 2008

Apatani traditional textile techniques 1

Tanii people are reknown for their rich and exquisite traditional textile making. Particularly the women folk of our community engage themselves in making cotton tissues of various designs for different purposes. In this article I shall introduce the techniques involved in our traditional textile making as it starts from spinning of thread out of raw cotton. Cotton (empya) never seems to have been cultivated extensively in the valley due to unfavorable climatic conditions, but was usually exchanged or bought from neighbouring groups, especially from Nyishis, as observed by anthropologist F├╝rer-Haimendorf :

"Cotton does not rank high among the crops of the Apa Tanis, even though their weaving is more developed than that of any of their neighbours. They used to buy almost all their cotton from Nyishis, often obtaining it by bartering rice, but of late they are also able to purchase imported yarn in the shops of Hapoli, and rarely from Nyishis" (1980 : 34)

The Nishis grow a large amount of cotton in the valley of Palin and Panior.

Traditional process of cotton spinning

In very first stage, raw cotton has to be spun into threads. For this purpose Apatani ladies uses 4 tools, namely lekho, tafo, pikhii and hornanii.


  • Ginning (separating fibers from seeds) is done by using a thin, slim and smooth surfaced stick locally called lekho.











  • Tafo is basically a stick inserted into an earthen ball used to combine and twist fibers together to form thread or yarn. As this spindle is dropped downward with a twist, a thread is pulled from the pack of unspun fibers and wound onto the stick.
This Tanii lady is spinning a thread from cotton using tafo made of clay.

A closer view of earthen tafo
  • Plying the spun rough thread into desired types of threads for various weaving purposes is made by using an indigenous tool is called pikhii, consisting in a stick inserted into a nut obtained from a local (still unidentified) tree. This operation is essential to gather the twisted thread so it may be used as yarn for the loom :


  • Once cotton fibers have been turned into thread or yarn, a bamboo frame known as hornanii (literally "making a loop of thread") is used for making loops. Such a disposal of the thread is also appropriate for adding dyes.
  • Loops are finally made into balls by means of a bamboo framework known as piirii-e, resembling a spinning wheel. The base is made to sit on the ground and the wheel is powered by hand.

  • Before this thread or yarn is woven as cloth on a loom it is usually dyed. Earlier Taniis used to make extensive use of vegetal dyes, especially plants such as tamin (Rubia cordifolia) and sankhii (Eurya acuminata var. euprista). The roots, stem and leaves of tamin produce a reddish orange dye, whereas the leaves of sankhii produce a brownish yellow color after boiling. Because the dying agents contained in tamin have poor affinity for cotton fibers, the two species are often combined as sankhii enhances the dyeability of tamin due to the presence of aluminium in its leaves. A recent study has shown that this "biomordant" can even compete with metal salts used today as mordants in commercial dyes.





































Pictures of the 2 plants from : S. Vankara, Rakhi Shankera, Debajit Mahantab and S.C. Tiwari, "Ecofriendly sonicator dyeing of cotton with Rubia cordifolia Linn. using biomordant", Dyes and Pigments 76/1 (2008) : 207-212.


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