Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Three: Factory Tours

Sunday April 1. 7 am.


I need to record the fact that I woke up naturally with the chirping birds at 5 am or my Mom will never believe me. She doesn't need to know I fell asleep at 8 pm. I was even awake before the rooster, who crowed and crowed at 5:30 am. (Note: I later learned that the roosters don't just act as an alarm clock - they crow all day for no reason at all.) While falling asleep last night, I could hear the stray dogs barking and howling outside. There are tons of feral dogs here, wandering the streets, sleeping on stoops and snuffling in the gutters. There is also lots of litter. It is strewn and rotting everywhere: on the streets, flowing down embankments, burning on the side of the road (there are not really sidewalks, exactly), or being picked through at night by people scavenging.

10 pm

Today was so full I hardy know where to begin. The solar panels weren't working, so there was no hot water to bathe. When I need to, I will have to go next door to Jackie's room and use hers. We had a nice breakfast with the women in the family. I'm not sure exactly how many people live here. The two grandparents, two brothers and their wives, plus about six-seven kids ages 3-14 (I think). Plus lots of erroneous people, cousins and sisters and please don't ask if I remember their names. I have a hard enough time with English names.

The Showroom.
Felt birdie.
After the meal, we toured the factory with Bindi who is a kind of manager / quality control and oversees production. She is beautiful, short with gleaming, long black hair and is very quick to smile and laugh. Her English is excellent, but she thinks it's terrible. My favourite Bindi quotes: "This is no good, I think"; "Kelly looks like doll"; "When we get Ambler order [new samples] in mail everyone is so happy!" The factory is a four storey building with marble floors, large windows and lots of space. We started in the showroom. It's a huge room with mostly felted goods of all kinds, but also some knitted scarves and sweaters. The amount of creativity contained in that space blew my mind. We saw all kinds of Christmas decorations, stuffed animals, shoes and slippers and even rubber soled boots, bird houses, gingerbread houses, gnome treehouses, bags and purses, felted hats; things that were beaded and embroidered. 

Checking out felted bags.
Felted boots.
Venturing further up into the building we began to learn about the production side of the business. Women sit on the floors or at conference tables and work on their projects. They all seemed very curious about us and act reserved, even grumpy, but are quick to return a smile. I watched women create pom poms in seconds, wind tangled yarn into balls from their ancient looking wire swifts, and haul huge bags of fibre around as if it was no effort at all. There are sacks of goods everywhere: huge bags of finished felting projects, scraps from felting and raw wool. I've never seen so much fibre in my life! There is stuff everywhere!  

Working on production.
Working on production.

The felting processes were fascinating. They felt small balls and sew them into rugs, purses...almost anything. We saw the die cut machine in operation where they cut felt shapes to sew onto hats and bags. They machine knit large pieces of fabric, felt them, hang them from the balconies to dry and then cut what they need. To make the balls, they roll them under a flat stone with soap and water. For the larger items, they roll them by hand and knead them on large tables, using a roll of plastic for the center. The water and lather of suds drains off the table into a bucket. 

Felting small balls.
Felting by hand.

Drying felted fabric from the balconies.

There are rooms full of unspun batts of wool dyed all colours and some fabrics, too. These are stored on large bamboo shelves. Those four rooms adjoin the receiving room where trucks can back up to the doors and unload the enormous bags of fibre. This room gives way to a few rooms at the back that are bursting with wool. Shelves and bags of wool of all kinds, fibres and weights. A veritable utopia for someone like me.

The Storeroom.
There is also a sewing room. Their machines use the old, wide foot pedals. There was a man in there using a tabletop cutter to slice trough a stack of felt about 3" thick. When they get wool in rolls, they spread it out to dry outside on the rooftops or wherever they find space. For the felted projects, they lay them out on the balconies to dry. The sight of hundreds of felted Santas is a sight to behold.

Drying fibre.
Drying fibre and felted balls.
Drying Santas.
Everyone here greets and says goodbye with "namaste", a small smile, close your eyes and drop your chin. You do this all day long and I think it's lovely. If my hands are full, I simply nod and smile, namaste. Everyone here seems to have a cell phone (something I don't own and don't miss). 

Yarn winder/swift.
Nepali notebooks.
Everywhere you go you are offered tea (which I don't mind in the least). We took a break and went back to the house for lunch. There was a German lady there who imports felted goods from Nepal. We had dal bhat (rice and lentil soup) with curried veggies. There are always plates of fruit (orange slices, apple slices, papaya and grapes) and lots of flavourful sauces to eat with the rice. I hope they teach me to cook properly...

A typical meal (dal bhat).
Kathmandu apartments.
After lunch we toured the dye factory. The drive there was incredible. I simply can't describe what the street and different districts were like. Some areas were more Western and I even saw some skinny jeans and bare shoulders. The people here are very affectionate with each other and it's not unusual to see two grown men walking down the street holding hands or with their arms around each others shoulders in a friendly way. Of course, what they say about cows hanging around the streets is true. I even saw three bulls lining up to eat from a trash bin. 

Dogs are everywhere, eating trash and lolling in the heat, stretched out on the pavement or in the dirt, although some have collars and must belong to someone. Always you see dogs curled up peacefully on steps or on the shop floors and I want to adopt them all. Two dogs "guard" the Everest house and factory although they don't seem to have a mean bone between them. Both are German Shepherds, Jack and Jill. 

Rabin and his guard dogs, Jill and Jack.

Passing through the streets, there seem to be a lot of people sitting around, drinking or holding children. Many people have a sparkle in their eye and joy on their faces that you just don't see very often in Canada. There are many people roasting corn over small fires, squatting in the street. Many people wear face masks to protect against pollution. I also saw two men squatting over what looked like checkers with stones.

There is constant honking when you are in traffic, but it's not angry honking like in our country. It's more to say, "I'm coming up behind you!" There are motorbikes everywhere, tuk tuks (three wheel buses that are always full to the hilt with people), and large colourful trucks from India that are painted to perfection and say See You on the back.

Tuk tuk (bus).
The dye factory.
Maheswor and corn husks.
The dye factory is gated and guarded. They use corn husks to power a huge furnace. Approaching the building you are greeted by a golden mountain of husks behind a matching mountain of gray ash. Inside is very dark. They have tall vats with hoses for the hot water to go in. Someone stands on the vat while someone else passes up a bucket full of dye (powdered chemicals dissolved in water) and pour the it into the top without spilling a drop. It takes several hours for the dye to set. Then they dry it (mostly) in a large drum, like a salad spinner. There was a huge room full of undyed wool and large bundles of finished product.

Dye vats.
Rinsing skeins.
Stoking the furnace.
Behind the building was a treatment plant area where they filter the dye water run-off and there are enormous concrete pools of smelly dye water. Behind the wall of this area is more treatment and they said they have to plant a bamboo-like grass all around to help absorb the run-off so no chemicals enter the environment.

Behind the yarn factory.
When we were done the tour, of course, we had some tea. They serve it here always with milk and sugar. We had some laughs with two of the owners and learned a lot about their culture. The women do all the housework and take care of the children. Most people have had arranged marriages, but the trend with the new generation is to choose your own spouse (but not always). There is also more divorce now. There is still a caste system in place, but it's not as rigid as it once was. 

Carding raw wool.
Carded wool.
After that tour, we drove (on the bumpiest road I've ever been on) to the yarn factory, which was right in the city. On the way, we saw a monkey randomly climbing a building like Spiderman - hilarious! It was very dark and smelly in there (we were advised to hold hankerchiefs to our faces). We saw raw wool being tossed into a small room where a machine carded it and then another machine pulled up this fine gauzy wool and scrunched it into batts. This was spun by another machine into strands and wound onto spools. They wound wool from the spools onto a long wheel-like apparatus that winds by a hand crank (to make skeins). There was raw wool everywhere!

Maheswor taking a turn at the crank.
Weighing and packing skeins.
 I must sign-off - too exhausted to continue tonight and we have an early day tomorrow!


  1. Hi. I wonder if this is the right place to ask this question. I love to crochet. But the problem is that larger size crochet hooks are not available in nepal. And i have no idea where i can get one.

  2. Hi. I wonder if this is the right place to ask this question. I love to crochet. But the problem is that larger size crochet hooks are not available in nepal. And i have no idea where i can get one.