A Peek into the History of Sri Lankan Handloom!
It’s no secret that we love Sri Lankan handlooms; Everything from the colours, textures, materials and methods to the weavers, make up our fascination with them. But, it’s a bit more layered than that too. Handlooms weave through Sri Lanka’s culture so far back in history, that their story is almost like the story of this island.
Sri Lanka’s story has been ingrained with handloom so much so that the opening scene of our known history begins with Kuvanna—a native Yakkha tribe princess spinning cotton; as a ship nears the shores, carrying a band of bandits led by Vijaya—a part-lion outlaw (yes, you read that right, but let’s not get into that now), who would marry Kuvanna to become the island’s first recorded king. From this point in history two and a half thousand years ago, and probably much further back, Sri Lankan handlooms have been evolving through wars, trading, golden ages, the caste system, colonisation and everything else that shaped the island and its people.
Sri Lanka’s traditional weaver casts are usually identified in two groups; the indigenous weaving communities in areas like Thalagune, and master weavers brought from India by royalty to make gold-woven handlooms. Right now, Sri Lankan handloom weavers are scattered throughout the island, with some of them being traditional weavers who have a generational connection to the craft, while others are entrepreneurs and government trained artisans with home based small businesses or employed in private, cooperative and state operations. The weavers we work with are based in areas like Maharagama and Kurunegala where they are attached to socially responsible organisations, and the rural hills of Dumbara where sustainability is really a norm that has been practiced before the word was even invented.
Although the government programmes to maintain a consistent demand for handlooms through state workers’ uniforms and work attire specifications have kept local handlooms afloat, these projects don’t really encourage artisans to express their creativity or to experiment enough. But, things are slowly changing, and there are really interesting mixes of aesthetics, technology and business opportunities beginning to influence Sri Lankan handloom, and we’re excited to see where this will go.
All in all, we think Sri Lankan handlooms, and in turn, the bean bags we make with them, have a kind of magic; Because caught between their threads, is the memory of a beautiful place in the tropics, its people and their oldest textile craft that has been kept alive through generational knowledge. That’s pretty impressive for a bean bag, we think. But, that’s the thing; these bean bags we make with handlooms are created on the hands of people whose traditions and life stories are as rich as their weaves. So, these bean bags are never just things that sit lifeless in your room; they are alive, we say, because they actually speak about cultures and histories in subtle ways that make your space more intriguing.
Handloom Highlights (2015)
Here's a little footage from one of our first visit to a group of handloom weavers in 2015.