Dumbara weaving

One of the craftsmen I interviewed in Sri Lanka was a Dumbara weaver. Saman Yapage comes from a family of weavers, but he only took up weaving in 2004 after he lost a leg in the Sri Lankan army.

Dumbara weaving is named after its place of origin, near Kandy. Mats were traditionally made on home-made looms by musicians who wove when they were not required to play for state occasions.

As with any other weaving, the warp threads are arranged parallel to each other and held in tension, and the weft threads wind under and over the warp threads to create the fabric. The shuttle (nadava) carries the weft thread, and wooden heddles (aluva) separate the warp threads. The weft threads are pressed together with a quick, sharp action using a sleay.

In Dumbara weaving the distinctive motifs are achieved by inserting thin sticks to turn and twist the thread to the required design. It is a time-consuming process that needs a lot of patience and skill.

Traditionally, weavers used hana, a kind of hemp. The leaves were scraped against a log with a sharp implement to remove the fleshy part, leaving behind the fibre. The fibre was then dyed with natural dyes, as in the  photo above.

However, Saman uses cotton. He is also changing the patterns and colours to suit modern tastes, as in the cushion covers I bought below.

I also bought a throw (not made by Saman) that is a kind of sampler of many different Dumbara patterns.