Nestled in the himalayan foothills – 20 kms from Mussoorie in Uttarkhand – are tiny farming villages with hamlets that have been home to timeless crafts such as weaving and carpentry. Looms are traditionally part of the interior design of homes and are displayed with pride to guests. The shawls and clothing woven from these looms are prized and admired for their beauty, design, and functional warmth. In the long and harsh winters here, they offer comfort and keep families well-dressed for their daily chores. Shepherds claim they can spend months in snow and rain if they are wearing garments woven from their looms.
Anita – Penelope of ‘Ithaca/Home forests:
In 1978, my mother moved to these emerald forests that were to be her home for the next forty years. During this time, she set up a womens’ cooperative comprising of weavers from twelve neighboring villages. Legend has it that the french designer, Pierre Cardin, visited here and personally bought shawls for his line of cashmere in Paris.
After her demise, this cooperative went defunct and women lost their jobs. When I moved here from Denmark, it took me three years to restore her legacy of weaving but now we are duly reincarnated as ‘Himalayan Womens’ Enterprise’. It took the lockdown to bring us back into full swing.
We operated from looms and sewing machines left by my late mother in homes of women weavers. By mid-April, the looms were repaired and new sewing machines installed. In weeks, we were busy as mythic Penelope of ‘Ithaca’ in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. Only, our tapestries were cashmere shawls woven from wool I had brought back the previous year from remote regions of Ladakh and soft as clouds. They were also to be worn and appreciated rather than unwoven!
Each week, a trekker on way to the local market would drop off a small harvest of exquisitely woven treasures at my doorstep. It seems that the women weavers had found a new livelihood and also creative energy. Slowly, in increments, we built up a stock for future prospects and even began to diversify into embroidered shawls and garments.
My mother’s, Anita, forte had been weaving pure cashmere shawls from wool she brought twice a year from Ladakh and Hirsil. Sadly, her own stock of shawls had been taken by people after her death. In 2019, I travelled to Ladakh and Hirsil and brought back a fresh collection of purest cashmere wool from herders. This was then carefully spun into fine threads for weaving. In her time, my mother had won several awards for her entrepreneurial courage in creating the Womens’ Weavers Cooperative Society of Uttarkhand.
We began by weaving cashmere shawls in natural colors and then, gradually, diversified into organic dyes and pigments. The sizes are full length – 2 meters by one meter and stoles are 2 meters by half a meter. The shawls and stoles are available for purchase through the auspices of ‘Himalayan Womens’ Enterprise’. The price range is 10,000 Rs for a full length of two meters and 7000 Rs for a stole length. Those with embroidery are a little more expensive. The sale of these shawls benefits himalayan women weavers of twelve neighboring villages here outside of Mussoorie in Uttarkhand.