Norbulingka has been training artisans in traditional crafts since 1995, giving new purpose and employment to many young Tibetans in exile. We interviewed a few, who have been apprenticed since they were very young, to better understand and appreciate the work they have devoted their lives to.
Continuing with our series – Interviews with Traditional Craftsmen, we bring the focus to the art, the artists and the creative process.
Today, we speak with Lhamotso, Lhamotso was born in 1975 in Ritoma, Zorgey, a part of Amdo, Tibet into a nomadic family. At Norbulingka, she works together with our designers to create special, one-of-a kind collections, made with an eye for quality, durability, and comfort. Lhamotso has managed to overcome all her hardships over the years and worked hard to attain the mastery over tailoring and currently heads our tailoring units with her skill and expertise.
She is the definition of a self-made woman, and one of Norbulingka’s greatest success stories.
When did you start your training and your reasons to join Norbulingka’s tailoring unit?
In my village in Tibet, I was lucky to have attended school until class eight, which was rare for girls at that time. Growing up, I remember the clothes of the family were primarily made by the women of the house, and so was exposed to basic tailoring from an early age. After I completed my schooling at the village, I spent a few years helping my family look after our herds, but I still wanted to study further. So, I decided to leave for India, hoping to attend one of the schools established there for grown refugees coming from Tibet, and to receive the blessing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Upon arrival in India, I enrolled in a Tibetan school in India determined to secure an education, but because of medical problems, I was forced to drop out. Under the care of a relative, I slowly recovered, but after my attempts at gaining an education had not been successful, I had to find work to sustain myself in India in exile. It was then that I came upon opportunity to work as a tailor at Norbulingka and decided to join the tailoring unit in 1998, as I already had some familiarity with the craft.
How was your journey into the art of sewing and making clothes and furnishing?
Traditionally in Tibet, the tailors stitched the traditional clothes completely without patterns, I remember my uncle would take the measurements of the family and then applying these measurements, would cut the design directly out of the cloth. The women in our family then stitched the parts together into the full garment.
After I made the decision to join the tailoring unit at Norbulingka, we were required to have some knowledge of stitching, but I passed that exam with ease and began to hone my tailoring skills. Despite all the hardships, I made the most of the situation I was in and completely dedicated myself to my work. Studying after-hours under the instruction of one of designers volunteering at Norbulingka at the time, I learnt a lot and also managed to learn the art of patternmaking within a short period of time. The designer would teach me how to make one item of clothing each night, and after that I would practice myself trying to master each garment. In just a few weeks I had become a fluent patternmaker.
Please describe the nature of your work and what do you like about it?
I worked many years as a tailor at Norbulingka and in the process was able to hone my skills and also learn about other aspects of tailoring, most importantly the importance of quality in one’s work. The quality can set your work apart from other similar things. In 2005, the tailoring unit was divided into two sections; tailoring appliqué, which makes Norbulingka’s soft furnishing, and tailoring design, which creates our signature clothing and accessories. I was appointed head of the tailoring design section in 2005 and in 2019 was appointed to head both the sections. Our tailoring unit is now Norbulingka’s biggest department, with over 30 artisans and 95% of who are women.
I oversee each process of creating our products at Norbulingka and I try and teach my team about the importance of quality in the products we make. When the pieces finally reach our showroom and gets shipped to different parts of the world, we receive wonderful feedback from our patrons, I feel a great sense of pride and excitement to see our work reach and touch many people from all parts of the world.
How do you see yourself as a Tibetan artisan and especially after you have attained mastery over your art?
I strongly believe that each person must contribute the skills that they have to benefit Tibetan society as a whole. Those who are educated should contribute their knowledge and administrative talents, while those skilled in craft should dedicate their know-how. As society is made up of many kinds of people, and each kind of person is necessary for a society to flourish. It is important that that Tibetans recognize the value of all others, and work together in harmony.
As for myself, I had worked tirelessly over the years and am happy at the place I am at. My husband and I have created a safe and stable family with our two children here at Norbulingka. Looking back at the hardships I faced, I am proud to have come this far with my dedication and work ethics. I am also very grateful to Norbulingka for the opportunity I have received.