This twisted and dyed outer thread is then wrapped around the bundle of filler fiber while simultaneously catching a bit of the previous bundle with the needle. All this is done in one continuous overlapping spiral and, in my mind, is related to the construction of an igloo with its spiral of slowly changing radius. All this, of course, sounds much easier than it is. It is desirable for the “thread” to lie flat and fully cover the filling material which may be of a contrasting color or value; however the thread must be twisted to have its full strength. This means that the needle is pulled through flat but that the needle is then spun in the finger tips at the end of each stitch. This is a wonderfully complex movement. The raw “threads” are being held between the toes; the needle is run through and then flattened against the bundle with the other hand. Then the fingers holding the needle twirl it between thumb and forefinger to give it a bit more strength while the wrist then gives it two or three light tugs to cinch it tightly into the bundle.
While this stitching process requires total mastery for anything near consistent results, there are other aspects of the whole production process that seem to require more attentiveness. Splitting the palm leaf, collecting the other plants that are used for dying and collecting the young chunga palm fibers at the right time, are each steps with exacting demands if the product is to have the desired quality. I am reminded of my years of conducting glaze tests for pots, but I at least had reference books, and I didn’t have to keep all my notes in my head.
Strolling around the village I see beautiful fans of fibers everywhere. They are laid out neatly on some smooth patch of ground or on top of hedges to dry and bleach in the sun. They are not yet separated into individual threads but left on the main stalk for easy gathering and turning. I see that there are many styles and types of fiber containers from big open-weave “back-pack” affairs to small rather square “waste basket” shapes. But for the market though there seem to be only three identifiable categories. Any of them can come from a woman, or girl, of any age.