The backstrap loom, common among the Gurung and used by the women of WSDO, is thought to be the oldest form of loom in the world.
In the region of Pokhara, where WSDO is based, along the slopes of the Annapurna Mountain Range, live the Gurung, whose cultural traditions incorporate elements of both Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan origins. The Gurung were traditionally herdsmen, but in the early 20th century they became skilled agriculturists and reputed soldiers (Ghurkas). The continued employment of Ghurka soldiers in the Nepalese, Indian, British and Brunei military has been a valuable source of income for the community. A smaller but longer established source of income was, and continues to be, based on the extraordinary skill of the Gurung weavers who most likely started the textile trade in Nepal. They are famous for their traditional woolen blankets (rari), which are still valuable trade items today.
The primary feature of the backstrap loom, an entirely non-mechanized instrument, is that the lengthwise threads (warp) are secured from a post or other stationary object to a backstrap that a woman wears around her waist. By moving her body, the woman can control the amount of tension in the warp threads throughout the weaving process.
a. warp bar; b. shed rod; c. heddle rod; d. sword; e. bobbin; f. backstrap; g. warp lashing; h. heading string; i. lease cord; j. leash cord; k. warp; l. weft
To weave, the threads are stretched in a horizontal direction and a means is provided so that the threads are separated into two or more parts. A width-ways thread (weft) is then drawn through, inserted over-and-under the warp threads. The warp threads can then be reversed and a weft thread passed through again. By repeating this process, fabric is woven creating a strong and tightly bound cloth that allows a remarkable variety of beautifully inlaid designs.