These are collected images and notes from my 2006-2007 research of traditional textile production in Western Ladakh. The research was done in the villages of Skurbuchan and Bodh Kharbu.
Women in Ladakh spin sheep's wool on a supported, whorl-less spindle called a phang (pronounced with a hard P and a long A, 'ah'). This is a generic word for spindle in the Himalayan region, but in Ladakh it refers specifically to the women's supported spindle.
The spindles are carved by hand and sold in the market or the village. The man below is selling spindles, dried apricots, and walnuts in Leh, the capital town.
The spindle may be spun in a bowl, or simply on a flat surface. The drafting technique is specific: wool held between index and middle finger, with thumb and ring finger guiding the draft. A longdraw is used, with some people double-drafting. The spindle is kept in motion continuously. Sonam Lhamo, in the top two images, can keep it going even as she works out slubs with both hands. She (and most other Ladakhi women I met) learned to spin at the age of six or so. Here's a short video of her technique, from 2006.
After two-ply balls have been wound (as in the top photo), the yarn is plied using a very tall frame and up to six spindles at once. The two-stranded yarn is wound onto one spindle and secured on a second, after being run through hooks at the top of the frame. both spindles are set in motion counter-clockwise, to add plying twist. When the twist fills the expanse of yarn between the two spindles, the plied yarn is wound onto the second spindle and a new length is unwound from the first, ready to ply.
The handspun wool yarn is woven into a twill fabric on a four harness floor loom. In Western Ladakh, the weaving is done by men. They often set up their looms outdoors, and some have an itinerant practice, carrying their equipment from place to place in order to weave up fabric from handspun.
This handspun, handwoven wool cloth is known as nambu, and is made into traditional robes for men, women, and children. They are often dyed dark red if the wool is white, and black if the wool is dark. The boys below wear robes, or gonchas, and belts made of nambu. The belts are decorated with resist-dyed patterns. The children are dressed up for a school program, in Skurbuchan. On the rise behind them is the old palace.
More notes will be added. In the meantime, the presentation given at the 2008 Textile Society of America Symposium in Honolulu is available here:
Handspinning for Traditional Garments in Ladakh (click on title to access full article)