The Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom was founded in 1957 by Sikkim government in an effort to preserve and promote traditional arts and crafts. With time it evolved as a centre for sustainable development of the region focussing on utilising the traditional knowledge and human resources. In modern perspective the centre serves as a important tool for providing employment and self-reliance across the strata of society covering diverse region, income rang and education. The centre has now expanded to 32 training centres with 650 trainees and 13 production units. The head office is located in Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim. It provides training in carpet weaving, handloom, thanka painting, handmade paper, wood-carving, cane & bamboo craft, soft toys and multi-crafts. Training period ranges from 2-4 years depending on the craft. After that the artisans can either work in the centre’s production units or work outside on their own. In order to promote the initiative the government also gives stipend to the students.
In ancient times, the Lepcha’s of Sikkim were said to use yarn spun out of stinging nettle (sisnu) plant to weave clothes. Today cotton and woollen yarn are used together with vegetable dyes and synthetic colours.
Lepcha weaves or ‘thara’ is woven in vertical looms with a backstrap. Such looms are of small width. Traditional design with different colours are used to make tharas which are used for making bedspreads, bags, belts, curtains, cushion covers, table mats, tray clothes etc, apart from their traditional dress.