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In the middle range of the Himalayas lives one of the most sustainable plants, the Himalayan giant nettle – Girardinia diversifolia – locally known as ‘allo’. This treasured plant provides a source of food, medicine, fodder and most of all fibres.
“Without Allo we can do nothing. In Rai culture, we must have Allo”
This indigenous nettle grows at high altitudes of 1500 – 3000 metres, often on steep slopes where its widespread root system is a catalyst for soil preservation. From the stem of allo, very long fibres can be extracted; some of the longest in the plant world. Allo is unique for its incredible strength, smoothness and if treated properly silk-like lustre and lightness.
For centuries natives from the Rai, Gurung and Magar ethnic groups extracted and spun the allo fibres. This abundant plant is woven into fabric, especially customary of Rai culture. Its fibre is used for tying the umbilical cord of new-born babies, and for many other purposes in between times, such as for making bags and clothes. An old saying in Rai culture is: “Without Allo we can do nothing. In Rai culture, we must have Allo”.
This is one of the most sustainable plants, since no pesticides or fertilizers are required for its growth; and if cut well, it can really grow profusely! It also has several herbal health benefits.
Traditional process for Nettle weave
Allo harvesting takes place towards the end of the monsoon season around August and goes on until December when the plant begins to flower. Locals harvest from designated areas, often hours walks away from their homes.
The stems are cut around 15 cm off the ground. The stinging thorns, on both stem and leaves, make the cutting of the stem perilous, but harvesters protect their hands by a bundle of cloth.
After all the stinging hairs and leaves are rubbed off, an incision is made in each stem to separate the outer bark, which contains the fibre, from the inner core. The barks are dried and stored in bundles or processed whilst still lush: boiled over the evening fire with water and wood ash and left to simmer until the fire goes out. In the morning, the exposed fibres are beaten and washed. Before hanging to dry, the fibres are coated with clay soil to prevent them from sticking together. This allows easier separation of the fibres during spinning.
For spinning, women use light-weight hand spindles which are usually elaborately carved, often by the father or husband of the spinner, generally made of bamboo. Prior to spinning the clay-rubbed fibres are opened up. Women spin the fibres carrying them in their daily tasks.
Warping and Weaving
Allo is traditionally woven during the winter months when there is little work in the fields. They would normally work on back strap looms.
Traditional Nettle Products
Allo weave has traditionally been used to make sacks, mats, bags and headbands (attached by rope to a traditional woven basket, still used today, for carrying vegetables and water or construction matter). It was also used to make elaborately embroidered jackets.
Nettle in Marina Vaptzarova Design
At Marina Vaptzarova we focus on high quality and refined designs using natural and sustainable raw materials; allo is definitely one of them! An original and beautiful texture!
Allo weave appears and feels a little like linen; although much more rough in texture than linen, allo is nonetheless agreeable to the touch. This rich and sensual texture that is featuring more and more in my designs. Despite being quite thick, it gives the best contrast when accompanied by other textures like Daphley (an innovative vegetal leather), daphne paper and hemp weave.
Its attractiveness lies in its natural colour and touch; it feels it was just harvested straight from the forest!
Through the intrinsic part of these weavings, you are able to feel the work, know-how, love and care. It allows you to enter go on a cultural journey; connect to the villagers who wove it and to their ancestors in a distant past who were doing the same. Sensitivity exists in its roughness.
The future of Nettle
In a time where contrasts and disparities are the new aesthetic, allo weave has the potential to be part of what is called sustainable luxury.
The contrast of a beautifully designed allo product against a modern background creates a juxtaposition bringing out nature, character and nostalgic emotion from another time or place into your now.
As a designer I love to work with the details of such textures. Allo weave may have imperfections, but manufacturing with appropriate design and proper finishing quality, allows to showcase this rough texture as something really special, adding value to its rawness. It is especially important for such raw textures to be worked in the right way or could otherwise look unsophisticated and not giving it the value it deserves.
By working with allo weave, Marina Vaptzarova is committed to preserving and exposing the value of traditional skill and trade, especially of those in rural and remote parts of Nepal. This creates a link between the beholder of a Marina Vaptzarova design and the know-how, skills and culture of the past, participating in the diversity and liveliness which we long for, knowingly or unknowingly.
About Marina Vaptzarova
From Himalayan traditions to the trends of Paris Marina Vaptzarova designs celebrate a meeting of the old and the new. Marina Vaptzarova’s exquisite collections are the expression of dedicated quality and exceptional craftsmanship. The brand actively works towards maintaining a sustainable trade on an environmental, economical and social level. Marina Vaptzarova has recently been awarded the Butterfly Mark by Positive Luxury.
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