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  • How Wool blankets are made: The Basotho Blanket Story

    6 min read

    A person is making wool blanket

    Basotho Heritage Wool Blankets, The Jacquard Loom, And The Industrial Revolution

    The invention of the Jacquard loom was vital to weaving intricate textile design, but it also introduced automation which served as the bedrock for computer programming.

    Basotho Heritage Wool blankets are weaved on modern Jacquard looms, which function similarly to the original Jacquard loom introduced to England in 1820. In hindsight, we see that uprisings against automation plagued the industrial revolution yet only served to prolong the inevitable.

    Two men in village in front of green land with wool basotho blanket

    This tipping point could have changed the history of Basotho culture.

    What became the face of Basotho culture was being destroyed in those early days of the industrial revolution.

    Before the early 1800s complex textile designs were woven by hand, labor-intensive, and costly. The Jacquard loom, developed in 1804, transformed the weaving of patterned textiles from a home-based industry to mass production without compromise on quality. 

    The automated Jacquard loom meant that lower-skills workers could create products equal to skilled weavers for a fraction of the cost. This snowballed into widespread job losses for skilled weavers, and the Luddite movement was formed to crush automation within the industry. A series of violent protests erupted, targeting textile mills and destroying their looms.

    From the ashes of these protests, new skilled workers emerged, and new employment opportunities soared in different areas of expertise. There was a need for educated maintenance and construction workers and skilled artisans to translate designs to the looms' punch card system. These new skilled workers prospered in their new positions and became the gears that kept turning the wheels of the industrial revolution that ultimately led us to contemporary times.

    The Jacquard loom survived the industrial revolution, and the grey drab of many commoners was quickly transformed. Stylish textile designs paved the way for the creation of the middle class, which altered the hierarchy that softened the divide between the elite and commoners. 

    A man standing outside of a building wearing thula tula blanket

    Stripes on Basotho Wool Blankets became a noted statement.

    The original Basotho Heritage Wool Blankets were made in Yorkshire, England, under Wormald and Walker blanket mills,

     Who exported the blankets to Frasers and other traders in Basutoland as early as 1877. Wormald and Walker were taken over by AW Hainsworth, who still hold the rights to the Victoria England brand that is part of the Basotho Heritage Blanket range. 

    The stripes on Basotho blankets are said to result from a weaving error, yet this fact appears to be disputed. AW Hainsworth also made the Hudson's Bay point blanket traded in Canada and the U.S. The point blanket was named for short stripes, which indicate its size when folded but also had large stripes on a white background. These vertical 1cm pinstripes were also incorporated in the design of Basotho blankets which was commonly accepted as a weaving error by the Basotho people. Yet, they liked it as it symbolizes growth. The stripes have since become an essential part of Basotho blanket design.

    Here are two different blankets with different designs for people living on different continents yet made by the same textile mill. The thought that it was indeed an error is plausible and most likely holds truth, but fact or fiction, the stripes were accepted and have remained a common theme in Basotho blankets. When wearing a Basotho blanket, the stripes must always be displayed vertically.

    A women wrapped with thula tula stripes throw blanket

    Basotho people can feel the authenticity of an authentic Basotho blanket. 

    Aranda Textile Mill owns the entire Basotho blanket range, barring the Victoria England brand (owned by AW Hainsworth), for which they have a royalty agreement to manufacture in South Africa. The relationship between the Basotho people and Aranda is unique in that only the Basotho royal family being the custodians of their culture, may approve new designs. At the same time, Aranda's work ethic and meticulous attention to detail and quality provide a finished product that the average Basotho person can identify by simply feeling the fabric.

    To understand this beautiful symbiotic relationship between Aranda and the Basotho people, it's necessary to look to heart matters and the profound dedication to preserving Basotho culture. A deep-rooted kinship between Aranda and the Basotho nation goes beyond sustaining the perfect business model. A connection is made with every newborn Basotho baby wrapped in a Basotho blanket at birth and will be gifted with many blankets through each milestone of life. The texture and feel of an authentic Basotho blanket are part of each day in the life of a Basotho person, and they will call out a knock-off if it doesn't match this familiar feel they know so well.

    The making of Basotho blankets is interesting. It's not as easy as automation suggests. On the contrary, the Jacquard loom does a stunning job weaving the various design patterns but produces more of a firm rug than a soft blanket. The following processes transform the woven design into a soft, durable Basotho blanket.

    I'm sure you must be intrigued with how Basotho blankets are made, and Avenida Miramar puts it so bashfully in an interview conducted on the very subject.

    African women wearing thula tula blanket

    The making of authentic Basotho blankets. 

    The Jacquard loom is used to weave the base design, layered with the stripes that have become synonymous with Basotho blankets. Interestingly, Avenida mentions that the stripes were originally a weaving fault on the old looms used in the U.K.

    Although the Jacquard loom is used to weave other blanket types from different fabrics, it masterfully weaves double-faced wool designs for Basotho blankets. With the yard at the top and the bottom (double-faced weave), the loom will keep two colors separate; one will always be on top while the other will be at the bottom. This creates the inverse or exact opposite of the top design with a different color on the bottom.

    When the weaved blanket comes off the loom, it looks like a yarn carpet, firm and without surface texture. It's as hard as a rock. It then goes through the washing process, and the tedious task of brushing the blanket begins to give it a beautiful felted finish.

    Basotho blanket quality begins with sourcing the best wool. 

    Aranda sources the very best Merino wool from selected suppliers, then spun into yarn on the premises. It is a different process to making acrylic yarn which is also done on the premises. A proper wool spinning process creates a much more durable yarn that is dense to start with. This critical facet of the entire process is carried through to the finished product. The weaving process creates a thick and functional fabric that will protect the wearer from Lesotho's harsh cold, windy climate. Warmth and durability set the quality benchmark for Basotho blankets. 

    All-natural fibers get washed at Aranda to ensure uniform quality. The brushing process gives the thick warm blankets a soft felted texture that doesn't resemble the bubbly appearance of wool in its natural form. The felted finish provides the blanket with a soft neat appearance associated with luxury quality.

    In Lesotho, sheep do very well in this cold mountainous region, and there are big sheep farmers and a multitude of subsistence farmers with small flocks of sheep. These operations are scattered over the kingdom, giving the population a direct link to wool besides blankets produced in South Africa.

    Basotho involvement in the creation of their blankets.

    Over the years, the Basotho people have become more involved in designing new blanket concepts which still have to be approved by the royal family. This keen interest in keeping their culture alive has introduced some remarkable designs that are matched with exceptional quality. Quality to Basotho people is paramount as it defines their unique association to their blankets' cultural richness. Avenida put it so well; "And I think we always say the Basotho are so in tune with their blankets and the quality of their blanket that they immediately know just by touching it if we've changed something, and it's so incredible."

    The Basotho do not take kindly to fake Basotho blankets as it soils their heritage. They will inform Aranda of any faux blankets being offered to the communities. Quality and authenticity are recognized by simply feeling the fabric between their fingertips, which is incredible.

    A phenomenon viewed as strange to western cultures is the attraction to quality noted among the Basotho, who will always opt for the better or higher quality blanket. Oddly enough, this is not unusual at all. It's pretty normal human behavior, especially seeing that the quality you seek is motivated by using the product daily. Why would anyone settle for an inferior product that could be life-threatening in harsh climate conditions?

    The Basotho nation is exceptionally proud of its heritage and culture, which is evident when crossing South Africa's border into Lesotho. You will notice that the overwhelming majority of people will be wearing blankets, which is picturesque. The underlying benefits of wool cannot be more abundantly expressed than among the people of Lesotho.

    Read More about Basotho Blankets

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