Home / From Novice to Monk 25
“Bhikkhus, I allow you three robes: a double-layer outer robe, a single-thickness upper robe, and a single-thickness lower robe.” - Mahavagga (VIII.13.4-8) In accordance with standards set in Thailand, a candidate for monkhood at Abhayagiri must sew and dye a set of three robes, which will comprise most of his wardrobe until it wears out and must be replaced. This “triple set”consists of the sabong - a lower robe worn daily around the waist; the jiworn - an outer robe covering the whole body; and the sanghati - a double-layered robe folded up and worn over the shoulder during formal occasions. With very little experience sewing or dyeing, novice monk Dhammavaro had six weeks to complete this undertaking before his ordination ceremony in May 2020.
- Having sewed and dyed a formal robe, novice Dhammavaro hangs the cloth to dry in front of a skeleton used for contemplation. A candidate for monkhood at Abhayagiri must sew and dye a set of three robes before his ordination ceremony.
- Dye for monks' robes often comes from natural sources - in Thailand, monks use the heartwood of the local jackfruit tree. Dhammavaro collected bark from the native madrone tree and dyed his robes at the monks' utility building, pictured here.
- After daily chores and the midday meal, Dhammavaro sews his three robes. The “triple set”consists of the sabong - a robe worn at the waist; the jiworn - an outer robe covering the body; and the sanghati - a double-layered robe for formal occasions.
- Hundreds of lines must be sewn and errant stitches picked out by hand and then sewn again until the result is satisfactory. Novice monks may have little familiarity with sewing, and the robe-making process represents a trial-and-error process.
- Doubly-thick, the sanghati requires one to sew four layers at once in a garment sized approximately 300 x 200 centimeters.
- Familiarity with an industrial sewing machine can take time - foot and hand coordination is required to add stitches and maneuver the cloth successfully.
- The patchwork of connected squares and rectangles reflected in the design of a monk's robe was the brainchild of the Buddha himself, who instructed his assistant to sew a prototype that evoked the pattern of rice paddy fields in Magadha, India.
- After sewing is complete, Dhammavaro washes the sanghati with soap and water - this removes any oil his fingers may have left on the garment so that dye will hold to the cloth.
- In the first stage of dyeing, the cloth is soaked in mordant - a solution which will help dye adhere to the garment. After rinsing off excess mordant, the cloth has a slight coloration, seen here.
- Dhammavavro applies mordant to a robe alongside Ajahn Ñaniko, the abbot of Abhayagiri, who dyed a robe at the same time. It's common for a novice to have dedicated help through this process from a more senior monk.
- A robe soaks in the mordant bath, where tone begins to appear on the cloth.
- Dhammavaro pours bark from the madrone tree into a pot of boiling water, where it will "steep" and color the liquid just like tea leaves brewing in a tea cup.
- After straining the madrone bark, Dhammavavro moves the weak dye liquid to another pot, where it will be boiled and reduced. To stay on schedule, he spent four nights' vigil in a cold basement retrofitted with dyeing equipment.
- Dhammavavro separates madrone bark from the initial, weak dye solution before moving it to the reduction bath.
- Dhammavavro stirs madrone bark in the steeping pot as Ajahn Ñaniko looks on.