Sikkim, the home of three distinct races, the Lepchas, the Bhutias, and the Tsongs plays a predominant role in handloom weaving. Handloom weaving in Sikkim is synonymous with the Lepcha weave. In ancient times, the Lepcha’s of Sikkim were said to use yarn spun out of stinging nettle (sisnu) plant to weave clothes. Today cotton and woollen yarn are used together with vegetable dyes and synthetic colours.
Lepcha women folk work on traditional back-strap loin- looms that enhances the quality of the fabric. The vertical frame loom with a back strap used by the Lepcha women is indigenous in Sikkim. The weave frame is made from bamboo or various types of wood which is available. Nearly all types of weaves can be woven in the loin loom. On a loin loom, the possibilities of weaving pattern are unlimited. The cloth woven by the women is used for women’s traditional coat material. Cotton yarn is the basic material where as the woolen yarn is utilized for the motifs over the coat. The raw material used by the Lepchas for their garments is cotton, and for blankets they use sheep wool. Lepchas rear their own sheep for the wool and some wool is also bought from local traders. The yarn is dyed and dried for at least a week before being put on loom for weaving. Both vegetable dyes and synthetic colour are used in dyeing. The colours are mainly white, black, red, yellow and green etc. The handloom products are ranged from plain to intricate patterns. Traditionally sheep wool was used, but with the intervention of the Directorate of Handlooms and Handicrafts now cotton and acrylic is also being used. Therefore, attractive colour combination and designs can be made today.