Spinning is a natural activity in most pastoral cultures. Tibetan nomads live among sheep and yak, and have spun and woven their animal’s wool and hair from time immemorial. Most common is spinning sheep wool, a long fiber, with a drop spindle and using the thread to weave cloth for clothing and other household uses. Yak khullu, due to the short and fine nature of its fiber, was difficult to spin, though it was sometimes used for special occasions.
When we started at Norlha, ten years ago, we were surprised to find that most women could spin within days, though many had never even tried. A common activity a generation ago, it has been pushed back by the cash economy and ready made goods available in the market place. Still, most women saw their mothers and grandmothers spin and weave and it came to them naturally.
At Norlha, we primarily spin yak wool, though we do use sheep wool for carpet making. Our best spinners can spin a perfect thread that has qualities unequalled by any mechanical means, through the production is limited to two kilos a month per spinner, so fine it is. We also enjoy going against the grain, and created a line of products made from ‘Crazy’ thread; a thread as uneven as possible, faster to make, but more difficult to weave. Our best spinners tend to get confused by crazy thread, so strong is their habit of perfection, and we tend to hand it to new spinners.