Ethiopian tradition of handloom weaving

A blog article about the traditional handloom weaving art in Ethiopia.
The methods of making Shimena’s textiles have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.

The village of Dorze - Place of origin of Ethiopian weaving

The culture of handloom weaving in Ethiopia was spread throughout the country both during and after the reign of Emperor Menelik (1890s). The Dorze are a small ethnic group with about 28,000 members in Ethiopia. They live mainly in the south of the country in villages around Chencha and Arba Minch in Semien Omo district, part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region. A major occupation of many Dorze is traditional weaving.

Local weaver making her own loom.

Handcrafted in Ethiopia

These days, the word “Dorze” is also used as a synonym for weaving in Ethiopia.  Another meaning of “Dorze” is to describe the weavers from the highlands. The weavers from the Gamo highlands are among the pioneers of weaving in Ethiopia. Because of their excellent skills in producing exquisite textiles and garments, the weavers and their design, style and structure are highly regarded. The art of weaving is passed down orally from generation to generation, from father to son. Weaving and its associated activities are family and community oriented, so each member of the family has a task and work area in the community. Traditionally, men are the ones who take on weaving and the production of textiles and garments as a task. Shimena wants to change these structures and also enables women to learn this ancient weaving culture. Firew Konjo, the founder of Shimena, plans to expand the network of local, self-employed weavers, to teach unemployed young people how to weave on the loom and to employ them on a long-term basis in the different areas of the production chain.

A handloom near the property of an employee

Most of the weavers build their own looms from bamboo and eucalyptus. All materials are sourced locally from the village of Dorze. The weavers set up their handloom near their traditional hut on the grounds of their homestead or in a separate area. This area is used entirely for weaving. With the help of the traditional and manual handloom, the different types of textiles are made from warp and weft yarn (threads). The main purpose of the hand loom is to maintain the tension of the warp threads to facilitate the weaving in of the weft threads.

An Ethiopian handloom consists of the following parts:

Parts for handlooms - reed, reed frame, fabric beams and cable harness
A winding wheel
Shuttles and bobbins
Bamboo reed
A Shimena employee at the craft of weaving

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