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Kira of Raw Silk And Cotton With Geometric Pattern

Bhutanese, Kurtö region, ca. 1900

The kira—a large rectangular panel composed of brocaded cloth strips—is the primary garment worn by Bhutanese women. Wrapped around the body over a blouse and petticoat, fastened at each shoulder with silver brooches and secured around the waist with a sash, kira serve not only as a functional part of traditional Bhutanese costume but also convey important social and spiritual information to the community. A style of dress that has been worn in Bhutan for centuries, kira consist of three panels of silk-brocaded cotton (or cotton and silk blends) joined together in the warp direction—but oriented horizontally on the body— terminating at each end with self-fringe. Kira are woven by women on backstrap looms, often in special rooms within the household dedicated solely to weaving. Typically, a single woman would produce all individual panels which form a whole kira; the decoration and colors were chosen at her discretion to indicate aspects such as age, wealth and status. Patterning is usually consistent amongst the individual panels, and the weaver’s aim is to closely match the banded ends of each length, forming an unbroken border.

This particularly fine example, collected in Bhutan, displays the hallmarks of Bhutanese weaving. The cotton panels, connected with careful hand-stitching, are patterned with thrima, a brocading technique which resembles chain stitch embroidery. A complex and exacting method, thrima requires great skill and dexterity; because of this, the most complex types of kira can take up to two years to complete. In addition to the thrima motifs which so richly decorate this kira, thin stripes of geometric patterns are created in the sapma brocading technique which approximates satin stitch embroidery. Very few of the supplementary brocading wefts are visible on the reverse of top-quality kira, and this piece demonstrates such a level of refinement. All motifs are done with raw, unglossed silk in a dazzling palette of natural and synthetic hues.

Kira of Raw Silk And Cotton With Geometric Pattern(detail)
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Fittingly, the predominant lozenges composed of many small diamonds seen here are called phub, meaning rainbow. Surrounding these are variations on the dramé, or eternal knot, an auspicious symbol of Buddhist origin. Other traditional patterns incorporated into the banded ends are continuous, interlaced yurung and therpochay motifs, both ancient designs also common in Chinese textiles. The incorporation of tenkheb—multicolored triangles which mimic the patchwork silks found at Buddhist shrines—at both ends of the kira are meant to evoke long life for the wearer. An unusual feature of this kira is the alternating red-and-blue striped ground; though many kira have precise names, such as blue-ground ngosham or the striking white kushüthara, this unique striped combination has no known nomenclature. Red and blue, achieved with lac and indigo dyes, respectively, are symbolic of the two complementary forces of the universe.

In Bhutan, the intellectual and religious aspects of weaving are integral to the creation of kira and other indigenous textiles. Artistic pursuits and the contemplation of color are viewed as forms of spiritual exercise—in its execution, design and palette, this impressive garment embodies these essential concepts.

A similar nineteenth-century kira, also with the combination of red-and-blue stripes, is illustrated in Thunder Dragon Textiles From Bhutan: The Bartholomew Collection (1985), plate 16, pp. 28–29.

110” H x 54” W

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