Nettle is like gold dust in Nagaland’, says Radhi Parekh, founder of the Artisans Gallery in Mumbai, of the deep traditional regard for the plant that grows in the wild in this north-eastern state of India. In a time-consuming and labourintensive process, the plant is harvested once a year in the dry winter season, hand-processed and hand-spun into yarn, and stored for the rest of the year for weaving shawls. Nagaland is home to sixteen major indigenous tribes, broadly referred to as Naggas who gave the state a name. The state has a distinct identity stemming from different factors such as its geography, a landlocked mountainous forested state, the people, belonging to the IndoMongoloid ethnic group, their religion, the Nagas originally practised animism and now are predominantly Christian, their culture, as manifest in their craft, music, dance, language and their practises; such as kitchen gardens, community farming and age-group identity whereby every member of a village belongs to an age group and contributes towards certain activities according to this age-group. Naga women have traditionally been skilled weavers, with the know how being passed down informally from elder women to the next generation. They weave a range of textiles with wool, cotton and nettle yarns, on back-strap looms. Of these, their shawls –that often indicate the identity of their tribe, social status, attributes of bravery and merits, traditionally hosting lavish feasts for the community, through their colours, motifs and patterns - are striking and symbolic. While women wove for their family and themselves, in recent years they are weaving for NGOs and other organisations, thus spreading the reach of Naga textiles. During Parekh’s travel to the state in May 2016, Zhachuno Medikhru arranged for her to visit Leshemi village. Parekh was mesmerised when she watched a theatrical enactment at the village, by a group of Naga women from the Chakhesang tribe, of the entire processing of the stinging nettle yarn accompanied by age-old folk music that narrates the story. The women wore nettle shawls, draped across the body and knotted at the shoulders, as they sang and demonstrated the many steps in converting stinging nettle into yarn and cloth. The charming setting of the performance in an open space near their homes; the soulful acapella harmonies of the music and spinning; the organic beauty and tactility of the nettle shawls left Parekh marvelling how a rough, wild plant with a sting was transformed into a shawl infused with softness, warmth and a gentle aesthetic. And the skill of the weavers in weaving fine neat motifs had her thinking of exploring the possibilities for promoting and co-designing a range of products with the fibre. Parekh learnt that the nettle shawl is called ‘peuke phe’ locally that translates as thick rough cloth, and has a unique identity as it is warm, waterproof, strong and durable. The shawl is draped in different ways to create a pouch in which different things, including agricultural implements for cutting paddy, are carried. It is worn for ceremonies, festivals and special occasions. The distinguishing feature of the nettle shawls woven by the Chakhesang was a natural-dye indigo, (earlier shawls) or a natural black (recent shawls) line running lengthwise. Most of all, the nettle fibre-to-fabric journey is almost completely local and self-sustaining with the women involved in the processing of the fibre, production of yarn and weaving of textiles. For obtaining nettle yarn, ‘the bvo’ or stinging nettle is foraged once a year from the wild, the stems are carefully cut, the leaves removed and the stems left for retting to soften them. The stems are subsequently dried in the open, split to remove the pith, and the nettle stripped off the stalks lengthways. The strips are then thigh reeled to be spun into yarn with a drop spindle, that turns with gravity, with the spinner holding the yarn up high in her hands. The yarn is then scoured and starched with rice flour to make it a tough yet smooth fibre amenable to weaving. The warp is then prepared by alternating one yarn of nettle with one of cotton, and the weaver weaves in nettle and cotton weft. This fabric construction gives the woven textile a wonderful ribbed texture, with tones of white from the cotton and brown from the nettle, which itself has gradations of colour. The bringing together of cotton and nettle conserves nettle yarn which is relatively expensive, due to the effort that goes ... To read the full article click on the Selvedge Articles icon below from issue 94.