During our recent trip to Nepal, we met Tibetans who are trying to save the art and culture of “pangdens”…the colorful woolen aprons that Tibetan women wore as part of their traditional dress. Even though many of these Tibetans are now in exile in Nepal, India, or other places, many women still wear their aprons, the stripes of which identify their home area and village..
Today, sadly, synthetic materials are replacing the original woolen fabrics, which were dyed and woven in traditional ways.
In the traditional old ways of animal husbandry, the wool was considered purer if the animals fed on uncontaminated, clean grass.
The “pangden” striped apron is sewn of three narrow pieces of horizontally striped fabric woven on a “pit loom”. Weaving on a portable loom enabled nomadic Tibetans to carry their unfinished work along with them when they moved their flocks of animals.
The warp is usually woven from wool or cotton, and the weft from wool. The dyes were natural, vegetable dyes, except for a pink chemical dye with which the women liked to brighten their work. The vegetable dyes were grown in the wearer’s home area, which contributed to the unique quality of each apron. You could identify a Tibetan lady’s home village, just by reading the “language” of her apron’s different colored stripes.
In Kathmandu, at one of the world’s greatest Buddhist sites–Boudhanath–we met a man, Tsering Pasang, who has dedicated his life to preserving this very beautiful textile art. Born and educated in exile in Nepal after his family fled from Tibet, Pasang has devoted his life to preserving this fragile Tibetan culture.
He buys old aprons and torn fragments of aprons and then cuts and designs them into works of art.
The largest remaining pieces are sewn into beautiful quilts, using designs such as the mandala. Smaller pieces end up as table runners and cushion covers (some of which we now have for sale in our store).
The money earned in the export of these items goes to support Tibetans in Nepal. Worn-out aprons are unravelled and the woolen thread is used again in weaving rugs. In addition, Pasang is teaching young weavers the craft of making new items of good quality.
Sometimes older Tibetan women are delighted when they can see a part of a design which represents their home village. In this way exiled Tibetans can continue to feel a link to their past and to their home country of Tibet.