Name: Nandar Soe Aye
Age: 40 years
Job: Owner/ Founder Hnin Witthmone Natural Dye Cotton Centre
Handweaving and natural dyeing
Started in 2001
My interest in the handweaving technique and natural dyes started at a young age. My mother was a principal at the Saunders institute in Amarapura (weaving and vocational institute).
I prefer to work with natural dyes because it is rare compared to chemical dyeing. The technique fascinates me, and the possibilities are endless. It is impressive to see what colours you can create using natural sources and off course it is less harmful compared to working with chemical dyes.
I also work more towards the use of natural fibres such as bamboo and banana. I am aware of the advantages of the material and for the environment. I believe in the quality of natural fibres and the benefits they have when wearing it. For example, bamboo fibre is great against heat in the warm season and on the other hand, keeps us warm in the cold season. Banana fibre offers excellent protection against bacteria’s.
My workshop started with two people and a loom, and now I work with 23 weavers in my workshop. Some of them are graduates/ students trained at the Saunders Weaving Institute. Others are girls from around Myanmar, who also attend University here and look for jobs. Everyone can weave when they get employed, but they learn to make other types of products/designs and use other fibres. Besides the younger students, there are 14 women. The women live around Amarapura and have been working for a long time in the workshop.
The patterns and designs they work on are dependent on their skills and work experience. Besides the fixed orders we make some personal designs. Together with the women in my workshop, we come up with new ideas and designs that could work on different fabrics.
My future perspective is to educate more people in the technique of natural dyeing and create more awareness around it. Also, I would like to expand my business and employ more women in my workshop.
Ma Wai has been working with Nandar since the start of the workshop, which is 14 years ago. She learned the skills of hand-weaving from her mother and also has two looms at her home.
The most enjoyable part of her work she finds is the weaving itself. It is an interesting business and very satisfying work. The biggest frustration comes with technical errors when setting up the looms or the weaving, as it takes a lot of time to correct them.
She explains the working day starts at 8.00 am and ends at 5.00 pm. However, the working hours are quite flexible. Also, if the design you are working is complicated, you get paid a higher rate. Ma Wai has a family of four children, three boys and a girl. When asked what she wished for her kids, the answer is simple, a good education. Just like most women in the workshop, she wants her children to have the freedom and possibility to study and find a decent job that they enjoy.
From her perspective, a good way to reinvest the profits is in the education of the children of the families who work at the workshop.
Khin Si Thu has worked at the workshop for 11 months. She is 26 years old and comes from Southern Shan state.
After receiving her certificate from the Saunders Institute, she joined Nandars workshop. She is studying at the University of distance education (this is part-time schooling where students have classes in the evening or weekends). During the day she weaves at the workshop, and in the evening she goes to school nearby.
The girls who come from far away live above the workshop. This is common in Myanmar. Staff often live at the places where they work when they come from remote areas.
Khin Si Thu learned to weave in her hometown. At home, they have several looms. Her dream for the future is to open her own business in her home town. She would like to focus on making designs with traditional Shan fabrics, which are bright and colourful.
The process of handweaving designs takes years of experience. The looms at the workshop are made out of wood and bamboo and besides keeping focus, it is also physical work.
For the handweaving, both handspun and machine-spun yarn and thread are used. After the spinning process, the designs for the fabric are set up on the handloom. This takes great precision and knowledge. It is a time-consuming task, which can take up to five days, with no room for errors.
The handweavers use handspun cotton for the weft and machine-spun cotton for the warp to make the fabrics. These get attached by passing the weft yarn through the warp threads with a boat-shaped shuttle.
Natural dyes are an efficient and creative way to reduce environmental impact and enable the use of non-toxic, low impact solutions.
The yarns are boiled in dyes made out of flowers, plants or barks in combination with alum and salt. Alum is a chemical, but it is measured to ensure that it is not damaging for the environment, as the alum soaks into the yarn and doesn’t go in the wastewater. After the boiling, the yarns get dipped in and line dried. This process is repeated multiple times, to deepen the colour.