nettle fabric

Nettle Fabric

This fabric comes from the Giant Nettle plant, Girardinia Diversifolia, which grows wild in areas above 3000 meters in altitude. The plant can be up to 8' high, prefers shade to sun, and has been cut and used by local people for thousands of years.

At harvest time (annually between September and October), a team of Tibetans go to the mountainous areas where the nettles grow. We form a line and walk across the mountainside, cutting the plants down with long-handled scythes. We must leave the plants in place for at least five hours after being cut to allow the stinging chemicals to dissipate. After this time has passed, we come back and gather the cut plants into piles and carry them on our backs down the mountainside where we set up a temporary fiber plant transformation center. At this transformation center, we break the plant husk open and pull the pulp out from the center, discarding it to leave only the bark.

The bark is then collected and brought back to a textile processing center in our village. There the bark is boiled and the skin is removed, leaving only the fiber in its "woolly" stage. At this point, people skilled in the art separate the finest fibers from the others to be spun by specially skilled artisans into extremely fine thread to be used for shawls (see fabrics page).

If a lighter colored fabric is desired, the wooly fibers are soaked with white clay and dried for two days. The resulting combination is beaten and shaken to remove the clay, leaving only the bleached fiber. The woolly fibers are then spun by hand -- using either spindles or wheels -- into the nettle thread. The thread created at this stage is available for purchase.

Thread is then woven into cloth either using a backstrap loom (for cloth up to 20" wide) or a hand loom (for cloth up to 36" wide). During this process, the loom threads must be coated with wheat or rice starch to allow the shuttle to slide easily across the threads. After weaving, the fabric is soaked over night in warm water. It is then taken to a clear stream, where the running water rinses the remaining starch from the fabric.