Weaving Jute Fabrics: A Trip to Tangail

A few weeks ago I was able to join a short visit to Tangail with some of the board members from the Jute Team in Germany (TARANGO’s German counterpart).  It was really great to see the entire process from dried jute fiber to finished textiles.  These beautiful fabrics are used to make the bags that TARANGO sells.

Tangail is an area that is historically known for dying and weaving fabrics.  They have a lot of experience creating saris (which come in an amazing array of beautiful hues) in the region, which is why TARANGO chose this area for the dying and weaving aspect of the process.  After the fabrics are finished, they are shipped to Dhaka for sewing and assembly into finished products (including beach bags) for sale to foreign markets through our handicrafts program.  This program provides skills and work to impoverished women.  The profits also help to provide approximately 50% of TARANGO’s budget, which goes into providing other services in districts across the country (including a shelter for abused women, training courses, village savings programs, etc.).

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Note: this post contains a lot of pictures (for my slow internet friends) and videos of the same things (for my fast internet friends who want to see how things really work),  Don’t worry, the videos are all super short (like under 10 seconds).

The trip turned into a very long day.  Although the journey was supposed to take only 2 hours each way, I was on the road for a total of 16 hours (including only 4.5 hours in Tangail)!  It took about 4 hours between the time I left my house (at 6 am) and when get got to Tangail at 10am (including picking up various people ate different locations throughout the city).  After touring all the workshops and houses, we had lunch by 1 and were back in the car by 2:30pm.  It was around 6:30 by the time we dropped the Germans off at their hotel, and 10pm by the time I was back in my apartment (it’s only supposed to be a 30 min drive from their hotel)!  To give you some perspective, I was talking to Steve on the drive and he went to work in the morning when we dropped off the Germans, but by the time I got home he was on lunch!

To sum up everything I learned I thought it would be best to show you all of the steps for making jute fabric, starting at the beginning (even though that’s not how it was presented to me),  If you still have any questions afterwards let me know!  Below are the 10 steps required to turn jute string into jute fabric:

Step 1 – Take a large roll of jute string and, using a spinning wheel (Sleeping Beauty style!), put the string onto smaller bobbins.

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Step 2 – Place multiple bobbins on this large machine, in order to create large loops of string.

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Step 3 – Take large loops of string and place in a dye bath.  The dye is created from mostly natural materials (when the colour allows, such as black, grey, brown, red, etc.) by boiling it and then adding it to a cold bath where the string will sit for a specified amount of time (depending on the desired colour).

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Step 4 – Dry the dyed jute outside in the sun (normally on a clothes line).

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Step 5 – Set up the loom with various colours of jute (sometimes cotton is also used, especially to get a white colour) in the right locations (depending on the type of pattern you are creating).  The loom can make large rolls of fabric or smaller detail pieces such as handles.  The looms use a “punch card” system, similar to old-fashioned computers that your parents might have used back in the day.  The experts in Tangail can look at a pattern on a piece of paper, and recreate it on the loom using punch cards with holes in the correct locations.  Some of the looms also require a bit of complicated footwork to make sure the right colours go under and over at the right times for the perfect pattern.

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Step 6 – Work at the loom for hours/days to create a finished length of cloth.  Some women come to our workshops to make fabric if they don’t have space for a loom at home.  However, after working for TARANGO for awhile, most save up to expand and improve their houses and are able to work from home afterwards (where they can watch their kids and cook at the same time, and make the fabric according to their own schedule).

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Step 7 – Cut fabric off of the loom.

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Step 8 – Place fabric on the floor (or other surface) for inspection and measurement.  Use a metre stick to measure how long the fabric is while cutting off any loose threads or other imperfections.  After each piece is measured it is rolled (always at least 20 metres long, but can be up to 50 metres long).

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Step 9 – Tie up roll and a tag with pertinent information (length of roll, name of weaver, code for the pattern style).

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Step 10 – All rolls are stored in the Tangail office until enough is accumulated and they are transported to Dhaka for storage (and use in handicraft products).

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Since I’m not allowed to go many places I was extremely grateful for this short trip.  Although we spent more time in the car then at our destination, it was lovely to get out of the house.  I learned a ton about the complex processes involved in making the beautiful products I see in the office everyday.  I’m extremely impressed with what these women are able to create using very simple materials.  It’s amazing to see how many steps are in the process to make one simple bag.  I think I now have a better perspective on the main program that TARANGO runs, and I’m excited to learn even more in the future.  I’m also hoping to create some graphics for the website so that I can transfer this knowledge of the complex process to future buyers and donors.

P.S. I will explain more in future blogs about the process before and after the fabric is created, such as harvesting the jute and creating the bags.

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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