All Fiber Arts

Weaving on the Atayal Loom - All Fiber Arts

Weaving on the Atayal Loom

by Kathleen Forance Johnson
As the weaving progresses, the weaver slides the finished cloth around the cloth beam at her waist to the under side of the warp loop and continues working with new, unwoven warp exposed on the upper surface. When all or most of the circular warp has been woven she will have a large tube of cloth which can be cut across the last of the unwoven warp, taken off the loom and opened out to make a flat piece of cloth. Most of the clothing of the-Atayal is made by wrapping, folding or tucking flat pieces of cloth or by making smaller tubes of cloth and then sewing the tubes together into simple garrnents. The woven cloth is seldom cut to shape and tailored to fit the body. For weavers who are familiar with weaving terminology, I should point out that this black and white pattern woven on one heddle rod plus a second shed created with a shed sword/beater. The simple cloth produced is similar to the patterns typically woven on the inkle loom.

By using a thin stick to pick up selected individual warps and inserting an additional colored weft thread the Atayal weaver can make beautiful and intricate (although time consuming) patterns such as the one shown below.

Atayal diamond pattern made by picking up individual warps and inserting
additional colored weft thread.

Antique Ramie Textile, The Sung ye Musem of Formosan Aborigines, Taipei

The lines and broken bands of black and white remind the Atayal of the tattooed patterns they once wore on their faces diagonally part way across their cheeks. I was told that these tattooed patterns were marks of beauty, and identified the wearer as a member of a particular tribal group. Apparently they functioned as a kind of "passport" as people moved in and out of their own tribe's territory. In former days many of these groups were head hunters an you'd want to be sure to be able to identify yourself quickly!

I was told a lovely story by an Atayal weaver acquaintance. She said that long ago her people believed when a member of their tribe died the person's tattoo was also the "passport" which allowed him or her to cross "the Rainbow Bridge" to where deceased friends and relatives await the soul on the other side!

Photo taken during the period of Japanese occupation of Taiwan

* For more information about Taiwan aboriginal culture and history contact
Ms. Yi-Ting Cheng at the Sung ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines 282, Chihshan Rd., Sec. 2, Taipei, Taiwan

** Kathleen Forance Johnson is a weaver and art educator, and has recently returned to Washington D.C. after living in Taiwan for three years where her husband was Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (formerly called the USA EMBASSY). She is a member of the Waterford Weavers Guild.

Kathleen kdnjohnson at starpower dot net