Mekhela Chador-Inspired Shawl

Bonnie Datta


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88 x 27 | 50% muga silk & 50% mulberry silk

As a teenage university student (many years ago!),  I spent several months in India in the remote north-eastern state of Assam, where its silk production of unsurpassed quality has been renowned since ancient times. Handloom weaving is still a vital part of that industry today, with many individual proprietors crafting these fine fabrics from home. Such a rich tradition harbours the untold life stories of the tens of thousands of these craftspeople, largely women. For this show I wanted to pay homage to these stories as well as give myself a new challenge for my weaving practice. I chose as my inspiration the Mekhela Chador, comprising a tubular skirt and a draped shawl, traditional attire for the women of Assam.

Muga is a wild silk, spun by the Antheraea assamensis moth. Its silk is almost exclusively produced in Assam, and its undyed colour is naturally golden. For centuries muga has been woven into highly treasured textiles, including wedding clothing. But due to the strength and durability of the fibre, these precious garments are also excellent for everyday wear, and can be passed down through generations.

The piece I wove for this show had to be muga, and weaving a very open structure was a challenge. Open weaves always need special attention to keep the beat even, and because silk is so slippery even more care is called for. Weaving this piece seemed like a good way to test my skills.