Creating Connected Textile Communities in the US

This month Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen  has written a guest blog about her work with textile communities in the US.

The International Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, is a welcome center for new Americans. Serving immigrants and refugees from over 80 countries, the International Institute provides language classes, employment training, and a wide variety of community integration support services. The Institute is, for many, one of the first steps towards establishing a new life in St. Louis.

As part of the employment training program, I teach a sewing certification course in alterations and commercial sewing. Beginning with the basics, students learn to use domestic and industrial sewing and overlock machines. We cover many aspects of garment construction and tailoring, from simple zipper replacements to constructing clothing from patterns to altering blazers and pantsuits.

The International Institute has a large staff, and the employees are our practice clients. During class hours, they are invited to visit the sewing studio and bring garments that need altering or repair. These projects provide my students with hands-on experience taking measurements and making alteration notes. Most importantly, they ensure each student has a diverse assortment of items to practice on and learn from.

In my classes, there is a range of prior sewing experience. Some students may have worked in the textile industry in their home countries while others have never used a sewing machine. As most students have very recently arrived in the United States, the majority are learning English while simultaneously learning to sew. It is rewarding to see the simultaneous development of language and craft, and to experience the openness with which my students approach one another and their work, even when communication is difficult.

The International Institute is committed to helping its students establish careers in each discipline. In the St. Louis area, there are garment factories, small-scape alterations businesses, and other opportunities in the fashion and textile industries. After completing the certification program, the Institute continues to work with each graduate on their job search – through guidance with applications and interview preparation, and follows up to ensure success.

Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen
Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen

Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen is a textile artist & educator living in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been a member of WARP since 2010, when she was a graduate student at Arizona State University and received the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship to attend the annual conference.  Kelsey currently teaches sewing classes at the International Institute & community workshops from her studio in St. Louis.

Norma Schafer: Guide for the WARP Conference 2017 in Oaxaca Mexico

As we approach the 2017 WARP annual meeting in Oaxaca, I wanted to feature Norma Schafer on the blog. Norma is a cultural navigator who lives and works in Oaxaca. She has close relationships with indigenous artisans in her community and develops travel programs that are focused around textile traditions. And she is WARP’s cultural navigator for our 2017 meeting.

The annual meeting will run June 8-11 in Oaxaca. More information and registration can be found here.

Norma is both a fiber artist and photographer who has worked extensively in university administration positions. She has been the executive director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006. Norma is assisting WARP with the development of the two-day program which is posted on the WARP website. Highlights include keynote speaker Marta Turok, an applied anthropologist who focuses on socio-economic artisan development in Mexico. She is considered one of the foremost experts on Mexican Folk Art.

Norma has also arranged for a Saturday program of visits to artisan studios with demonstrations and discussion of the natural dye tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico. Participants will meet weavers of rugs, home goods, handbags and clothing in their home studios where we will see the weavers working on the flying shuttle loom and tapestry loom, as well as doing traditional carding, spinning and dyeing methods using cochineal, indigo and other local plant sources.

 

Norma writes:

“I am committed to preserving the arts and cultural traditions of indigenous people who have lived in the Oaxaca Valley for over 8,000 years. My vision is to facilitate intercultural exchange programs with Oaxaca artists and artisans and to broaden opportunities for visitors to have authentic, personal learning experiences in Oaxaca.”

“I’m excited to welcome WARP members to Oaxaca for this very special textile event. It’s going to be a great weekend that includes visits to artisan home studios where weavers work only in natural dyes. I want to add that despite the inflammatory political rhetoric flying around about Mexico from the newly elected US administration, Mexico is safe and welcoming. I am in Mexico City now, and everyone I meet in shops and on the street tell me how happy they are I am here. Oaxaca is very safe and secure. It is a walking town with large pedestrian avenues and depends on tourism to keep the work of our artisans vibrant. We have a robust ex-pat community and we all feel safe and supported.
I would encourage all who are thinking about coming to hesitate no further. It is a wonderful time to be in Mexico with the strength of the U.S. dollar. Our textile artisans welcome you and need your support.
Plus, we have an outstanding program that will stimulate your senses!
Bienvenidas,
Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC”

Textile Education in Public Schools

In November, my fellow CSU student, Joe, and I delivered an interdisciplinary textile education workshop to the Colorado Art Educators Association in Breckenridge.

 

Joe is about to complete his degree in Chemistry education, and I am half-way through my MFA in Fibers. We combined our interests in chemistry and textiles to create a lesson plan that art teachers can use in their classrooms for ages 10-18. The textile portion of this workshop was a lesson in dyeing with indigo and using shibori resist methods. Although textiles make up very little of most K-12 art classroom curriculum, many textile techniques are dynamically helpful for children to learn skills in math, science and design thinking.

 

In our workshop, Joe and I discussed the origins of indigo dyeing and explained the difference between indigo that is processed from the plant, and pre-reduced indigo. We chose to demonstrate the use of pre-reduced indigo because of its ease of use as well as the fact that it requires much less harsh chemicals.

This tension between ease of use and preservation of tradition, gave Joe and I the opportunity to suggest questions that art educators may ask their older students in order to look deeper into these issues. We discussed the effects of synthetic indigo on the economies of communities that used to produce plant-based indigo and how this affects the stability of the tradition in those regions.

 

 

My favorite part of teaching indigo dyeing is watching the faces of first-timers as the fabric is removed from the dye-pot and slowly turns from green to blue. During the workshop, I demonstrated stirring techniques that keep oxygen out of the dye-pot while Joe described why oxygen is reduced in the dye-pot, and how oxygen changes the color of the fabric when it is taken out of the dye-pot.

 

The art educators that came to our workshops were eager to learn and put our ideas into practice in their classrooms. I’m excited to see what students learn through the rich and challenging tradition of Indigo dyeing.

Textiles and Economic Development in Ghana

This month Jackie Abrams is our guest blogger. She writes about her work with textiles and economic development in Ghana and how it has impacted her basketry.

 

My earliest recollection of being intrigued with Africa was in 3rd or 4th grade. I built an African village as a class project. I remember one of the huts – cardboard wrapped with raffia. I kept that hut with me for many years but somewhere along the way it got lost.

 

In the 1970’s, I started to collect African baskets, and books of West African painted mud homes. They spoke to me in so many ways. Both the colors and the designs started to influence some of my work. One piece in particular caught the eye of a good friend and fellow WARP member, Steve Csipke. We recognized our mutual interest in Africa. He was the man who helped my dream of working in Africa become a reality.

transparent-img

My first trip was in 2005. I had the incredible good fortune to make eight trips to Africa, most often to Ghana, primarily for the purpose of helping to develop micro-craft industries with women. My last three trips, in 2008 and 2009, were in the town of Pokuase, Ghana, teaching women to crochet bags using discarded plastic bags. The goal was for their crocheting enterprise to be sustainable and for them to be able to sell their work without being dependent on me. This project was possible because of the existence of Global Mamas which is a wonderful organization that supports women making handmade products. I would say we were moderately successful in achieving our goal.

 

I learned an enormous amount about fair trade, cultural mores, and how much I will never understand about Ghanaian culture. These trips changed my life and my (art) work. The word, “simplify,” best describes these changes. I could plainly see that having any kind of joy in one’s life was not dependent on ‘stuff.’ We need enough, but we don’t really need more than that. (Who can define ‘enough’?) I feel the same about my work. I have moved away from complex forms and techniques, challenging myself to express what I want to express with more simple / straightforward techniques and materials.

I was most intrigued by the women I worked with. Informed by their lives, fabrics, and stories,  my “Women Forms” series began to develop. Each vessel tells the story of a woman. Some of them stand alone, either in strength or in sorrow. Others rejoice in the company of other women – daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. The forms contain and are shaped by the woman’s layers of experience. The inside of each piece reflects her inner strengths – strengths not always visible, that may require careful looking.

 

Textiles and economic development in ghana
Jackie Abrams

I went to Africa with the hope of enabling the women I met to create better lives for themselves and their families. In the process, they did the same for me.

Jackie Abrams just ended her term as a WARP board member. After many years as a travelling instructor, she now focuses her time on her studio practice.

Please enjoy more information about Jackie’s beautiful work at- www.jackieabrams.com

And many more stories at- http://www.jackieabrams.com/africa.html

Catharine Ellis at Growing Color-Natural Dyes Symposium

WARP member, Catharine Ellis, will speak at the event Growing Color- Natural Dyes From Plants Symposium in North Carolina.

 

The Growing Color Event

This event will be hosted by the North Carolina Arboretum. Here’s how to get involved if you are near Asheville!

Where: The North Carolina Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806-9315

When: November 5, 2016

Timing: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Admission: Registration Fee: $70 Member/$75 Non-Member

Catharine, Sarah Bellos and Ashley Case are the featured speakers for this event. Anne de la Sayette is the keynote speaker. Along with the speakers, there will also be vendors and exhibits. Find out more and register here.

A little bit about Catharine

Catharine taught the professional textile program at Haywood Community College for 30 years. Since retirement she has continued to learn and to teach, researching and developing new applications for the use of natural dyes in her own textiles and her classes.  The study of natural colorants has taken her to France, where she has assisted in the filming of the Natural Dye Workshop DVD’s with Michel Garcia, to India for a natural dye master class with Maiwa Handprints, and to China, where she recently completed a residency at the Jinze Art Center.

Natural Dyes

Catharine has always combined both weaving and dyeing in her work and is the author of Woven Shibori, with a new, updated version of the book focused on natural dyes, released in 2016.

After attending the 2012 WARP conference in Boulder CO Catharine and Donna Brown, in collaboration with Debra Chandler and Mayan Hands, began a project to teach natural dying in Guatemala. More details of that project can be read in an article published by The Journal for Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers.

http://www.ellistextiles.com/media/journal_natural_dye_project.pdf

Catharine serves on the Board of Directors of the Textile Society of America in addition to being the founder of the Western North Carolina Textile Study Group. Currently, Catharine is working on a book on natural dyeing, with co-author, Joy Boutrup. It is intended to be a handbook for the studio dyer.  Schiffer Press will publish the book.

Where to find more of Catharine’s Work

Website: http://www.ellistextiles.com/resources/ 

Blog: https://blog.ellistextiles.com 

 

Traditions of Slow Clothing in Central Mexico

This is a guest post on slow clothing by author and textile collector Sheri Brautigam.

The concept of slow clothing – hand-made artisan clothing – has been a reality for most of the world until very recently. Commercial goods either weren’t available or too expensive for people in developing countries to buy, so making your own garments from cloth you had woven, or even further back, animal skin you had scraped and cured was the norm.

ladies-dying-web
Natural Dyers Gather around the Dyepot. Photo Credit Sheri Brautigam

Has it become a buzz word now because we have become aware of the realities of sweat shops in Asia, employing mostly women, who work long hours under wretched conditions to be paid very little per piece they construct? All this so we can buy a dress for $19.99? Our American culture has the luxury of asking these questions because we have options. But the real question is: Are we willing to pay a fair wage to someone to construct our clothing and are we willing to wear it day in and day out like most of the world?

mazahua-natural-dyed-quechquemitls_capes-web
Mazahua women in Naturally Dyed Quechquemitl Capes. Photo credit Sheri Brautigam

Either it was pure luck or my destiny to end up in an area of central Mexico with spectacularly dressed Mazahua indigenous women, who appeared at the market and on special religious holiday occasions. After several such encounters I decided to find out who they were and found my way out to their little town. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to experience ‘REAL slow clothing’. Were these brightly dyed handwoven embroidered garments for sale? I was told they were very difficult to make and probably weren’t for sale, but there was a revival project going on to teach some of the techniques necessary to make the elaborate and heavy costume.

regina-web
Regina being tied into her skirt. Photo credit Sheri Brautigam

This visit turned into a several month documentation of a very old ‘traje’/costume made of hand spun wool, which was then dyed with natural indigo, cochineal, and wild marigolds. The skirt length was easily 3 yards long, woven on a back-strap loom and weighed close to 15 lbs. The top was a small poncho type caplet called a ‘quechquemitl’ – very unique to central Mexico but with antecedents way back to pre-Columbian times. The Mazahua ladies were on the verge of losing the skills necessary to make these ‘trajes’ which are an important part of their cultural identity but worn now mainly for their ceremonies and festivals.

spinning-web
Spinner using a drop spindle to process wool. Photo Credit Sheri Brautigam

The story goes, that a young Mazahua girl, in order to take her place in the community as a woman/adult, needed to hand-spin the wool for her traditional ‘traje’. This probably took a bit of time as the two pieces weigh close to 15 lbs. She didn’t necessarily need to know how to weave but needed to promise something in return ‘treque’ /exchange- some thing she could do or had, perhaps (chickens?) to trade the woman weaver. Then it needed to be sewn together and embroidered on the edges. Perhaps her grandmother did that for her. After all it was 18 feet and had to be finished at each end. A ‘traje’ went through ‘mucho manos’/many hands and usually took at least a year to make.

skirt-in-progress-web
Weaver using a back-strap loom to weave skirt panel. Two panels of this size will be sewn together to create the full skirt. Photo credit Sheri Brautigam

Today very few young girls are drawn to learning the skills to make this costume, so they borrow their relatives older pieces for the fiestas. Sadly there is acrylic knock-off material that mimics the fine stripes and colors of the heavier hand woven skirts. It’s now popular and the go-to material if you need a skirt as they are so much lighter to wear and so affordable.

Will REALLY slow clothing survive in this Mexican Mazahua village? There will be a semblance of the highly complex and laborious costume because after all this is how they identify themselves and their community from other Mazahua.

 A years worth of labor passing through many hands to make one spectacular costume!

REALLY slow clothing. Would you be willing to pay to have them made?

Sheri Brautigam is a collector, and documenter of traditional textiles of Mexico. She was training Mexican English teachers when she first started following her textile passion and visiting many famous Fiestas, artisan fairs and markets all over Mexico.

cover-webShe has just published: “Textile Fiestas of Mexico – a travelers guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping” – THRUMS – available on Amazon.

Visit her blog to learn more about slow clothes and Mexican Textiles: 

 http://livingtextilesofmexico.wordpress.com

Etsy Shop for collector textiles:

www.etsy.com/shop/livingtextiles

WARP Conference Reflections 2016

International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe
International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe Photo Credit Bridget Thompson

This year WARP’s annual meeting was held at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were extremely fortunate to be staying just down the road from the International Folk Art Festival!

The two recipients of the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship that attended the meeting this year were Bridget Thompson and Carrie Miller. In this post, we will share our experiences of the meeting and a little bit about ourselves!

Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel
Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel                   Photo Credit Bridget Thompson

bridgetpic
Bridget Thompson at International Folk Art Market                                 Photo Credit Bridget Thompson

Bridget Thompson is from Marin County, California. She recently graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a BA in Anthropology. Her senior thesis was titled, Fashion Conscious: Sustainable and Ethical Textiles in the Guatemalan Highlands, and focused on the interaction between contemporary designers and traditional artisans. Now back in San Francisco, she is working for local retailers, and pursuing fashion development and production that champion radical transparency as well as vertically integrated business practices.

Bridget’s comments about the conference were:

“It was an incredible opportunity to have been a part of the conference and to have visited the International Folk Art Festival as part of an ongoing education in textiles. Visiting the market and seeing all of the arts and crafts, and the traditional clothing of the participants, as well as the various countries they were coming from was impactful. I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to WARP and all of its members for having me this year. I learned so much while in Santa Fe, and not to mention, had a truly fantastic time exploring the area and getting to know the members. You all are so wonderful!”

Carrie Miller
Carrie Miller

I (Carrie) am an MFA student at Colorado State University focusing in Fibers. My academic and professional work revolve around education and women. I’m very interested in the intersections of new technology and traditional methods.

My experience of the WARP meeting was defined most by the opportunities it gave me to meet many members and learn about their incredible work. I was overwhelmed by the group’s generosity in helping me think through my aspirations.

Members of WARP sharing on the Lawn
Members of WARP sharing on the Lawn

As an artist, and as an educator working with girls, I felt inspired to see so many examples of women and children being supported through textile work. One of my dreams is to use textiles as a medium for development and prosperity in the lives of teenage mothers. I was excited to hear how Weaving for Justice and the Cuzco Center for Traditional Textiles are providing opportunities for women to be part of the preservation of their traditions while developing their economic stability. I still don’t know what this dream will turn into, but I believe that it is possible.

.

.

Bridget and I would like to extend our gratitude to WARP for giving us the opportunity to experience the 2016 Annual Meeting and the International Folk Art Market. We learned so much!

fabrics

I am very excited to currently be interning with WARP and working on getting the word out to prospective young members. If you are interested in writing a blog post for WARP please send me an e-mail at carriemiller24@gmail.com.

We welcome any fiber related topics!