Nepali Woven Cotton & Buffalo Leather Bags – The Process

Modern tanning, of mass produced leather, is widely known to be extremely damaging to the environment. Nepali Buffalo leather is different. Made by rural villagers in the Himalayan Mountains, traditional vegetable tanning methods are used – making these bags one of the most environmentally friendly leather products you can buy.

Villagers buy Buffalo skins from surrounding communities which helps to distribute much needed income.

Step1: The Buffalo skin is soaked in a small, lime water filled, pit for 22 days. The hide is then cleaned of any unwanted material.weavers-nepal-1

Step 2: Villagers collect a medical herb leaf called “Dhaeru” from local forests. Dhaeru repairs any cuts or wounds in the hide and also acts as the vegetable tannin that turns the hide into leather and provides a rich natural colour.weavers-nepal-2

Step3: After the cleaning process is finished, the hides are once again kept in a small pit with a mixture of Dhaeru and water for 7 days. The Dhaeru tanning process is repeated three times over 21 days using fresh Dhaeru for each batch.weavers-nepal-3

Step 4: After tanning the hides are sun dried then immersed in fresh water for a day. This softens the hide for slicing and cutting.weavers-nepal-4-2

Step 5: The softened leather is now ready to slice with a tool called a “Bagh”. The Bagh is used to slice off excess material to reduce thickness of the hide. Rough edges are also trimmed at this point. A skilled trimmer can finish 2 – 3 hides in a day.weavers-nepal-5 

Step 6: The hides are then pounded with stones to soften them. A vegetable mustard oil is applied and worked into the hide with foot manipulation. Once again, the hides are sun dried.weavers-nepal-6

Step 7: The leather is then shaped and polished with a soft clean cloth.weavers-nepal-7

Finally, after 45 days, we have Buffalo leather ready to make bags from.

Step 8: Cotton fibres are hand spun, and dyed, into the colourful yarns used to weave traditional motif textiles.weavers-nepal-8

Step 9: Hand weaving on a foot-powered loom.weavers-nepal-9

Step 10: Finally the textiles and leather are cut and sewn into the beautiful bags, wallets and packs you see.weavers-nepal-10