Traveling Textile Stories Can Weave A Real Peace

Do you ever wonder why we textile folks love to travel the world in search of the chance to meet other textile makers and lovers? What can be accomplished by passing on the techniques of creating cloth and sharing stories with new artisans we meet? Travel offers a bridge to understanding culture through textiles and their place in our lives.

Much of my travel has focused on the cultural study of textiles, both ancient artifacts and contemporary cloth. One such trip to El Salvador stands out because I discovered the many layers of meaning that cloth can bring to a place where history, politics, and people are enveloped in the blue of indigo.

In 2007, after a long journey from Guatemala to El Salvador, members of Weave A Real Peace arrived at Hacienda San Juan Buena Vista and heard Grace Guirola’s personal story, one that spans generations and seemed destined for a bright blue future. Grace’s great grandparents produced and processed indigo in the distant past, but her family fled to the safety of the United States during the civil war in El Salvador, the land taken by cooperatives during the agrarian reform. Years later she was able to buy some of her family’s land from the cooperative, return to her beloved landscape and begin a long journey of restoring her ancestral home and building a life based on indigo and cloth.

We walked the ground where Grace had planted two varieties of indigo, shared stories over a meal and delightfully dyed yarn in her indigo vats after dark. It was a memorable experience that resulted in a small treasure trove of dyed items to carry home. But the indigo had penetrated more than cloth, it had created a memory to carry, one more woven story in my mind.

Indigo memories in cloth.

I have been fortunate to travel many places around the world and these international experiences have completely reshaped the way I think about our global environment. The exhilarating experience of being thrown into the unpredictable miasma of a world market—be it the plaka, the souk, or the plaza—will change a person. And everywhere in these world markets there are textiles, dye plants, and the stories and memories of women.

The textiles in our lives are so much more than beautiful objects, they contain the stories of our lives and the world. You are stitching a part of WARP’s story and each story reflects country, culture, ideas, ideals. Cloth, in all its various forms, is a powerful agent of change in many regions of our world – cloth can be transformative and reach across the widest gap.

So, what can we do? First, how about being a Textile Ambassador? Check into ClothRoads and sign up for their email list and you will be able to download a wonderful pdf on how to be a Traveling Textile Ambassador. Next, pack your bags and get ready to travel to Mexico and meet people who love cloth as much as you do. Let’s go find new friends and create new woven stories to share.

Get out – travel – join us – share your story on FB and Google Groups; together we can Weave A Real Peace

 

Good Reads and Resources for Oaxaca travelers…

Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping, 2016, Sheri Brautigam. Fabulous book and just what you need for Oaxaca. Available at ClothRoads and ThrumsBooks.

Zapotec Weavers of Teotitlan, 1999, Andra Stanton. The culture, legacy and techniques of Zapotec weaving.

The Unbroken Thread: Conserving the Textile Traditions of Oaxaca, 1997, Kathryn Klein, ed. Conserving the textile collection at the Regional Museum of Oaxaca.

Artisans and Advocacy in the Global Market:Walking the Heart Path, 2015, Simonelli, O’Donnell and Nash, eds. The latest on working with artisan groups, including our own Christine Eber’s work in Chiapas. She will be bringing two women to the meeting in Oaxaca.

A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas, 2011, Walter Morris Jr., if you are going into Chiapas!

Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas, 2015, Morris Jr. and Karasik, a history of the cultural textiles of the Maya of the Chiapas area.

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.

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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

Tajikistan Bound Part Two: The Program

This is part two of a post by Cindy Lair’s, Chair of the WARP board, efforts to get a loom to Tajikistan. In the previous post, Cindy talked about helping to get a donated (nonfunctioning) loom to Tajikistan. The loom was destined to assist a group of rural women who weave incredible mohair blanks. Before she tackled the loom project, she wanted to learn as much as possible about the program that would ultimately make use of the loom. By studying this one project, Cindy gives us an insight into the intricacies of international development. To see more photos from the project, visit our Pinterest Page.

Tajikistan shepherds show off their colored angora goats.  Photos Courtesy of Marilyn Murphy
Tajikistan shepherds show off their colored angora goats. Photos Courtesy of Libra Brent

The project in Tajikistan focused on a small group of shepherds in the mountainous regions of the country. An effort to improve their breeding stock for fleece weight and quality and to establish small scale fiber processing was started by Dr. Liba Brent, a sociologist from Madison, Wisconsin, under the auspices of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Fleece for sale.
Fleece for sale.

Hang with me here, there are a lot of long names and complicated cooperative relationships. The IFAD is a specialized agency of the United Nations dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. The IFAD has many different grant programs available to fund agricultural related development. One of the available grants is the Community Action in Integrated and Market Oriented Feed-Livestock Production in Central and South Asia. The International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) is part of a global partnership under the umbrella of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) applied for and received the Feed-Livestock Production grant. ICARDA’s involvement in the region attracted the attention of the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, a branch of the Aga Khan Development Network dedicated to improving the life of the people of the mountainous oblasts of Tajikistan.

Collectively, all these complicated funding, research, and development agencies and organizations were seeking to promote the rights of women through increased skill development and access to global markets and income opportunities. In particular, one focus of ICARDA’s is value chain management for sheep and goat farming communities in Central Asia. Value chain managment—also called value added agriculture—focus on creating more value at the “farm” gate, so that producers receive more money for their good. Value is added transforming raw goods into finished projects by increasing the quality of the goods that may already be in production.

A spinner transforms mohair fiber into yarn.
A spinner transforms mohair fiber into yarn.

In the past three years, these collective efforts, have raised the income of participating families by as much as 50%. For example, in 2010, Dr. Brent arranged for semen from the top buck at the 30th Annual Angora Goat Performance Test Sale in Texas. This buck’s clean fleece weight produced 13.1 pounds of fiber with a lock length of 7.2 inches! This hearty fellow helped improve the fiber of the Tajik goats. In turn, the women of the village transform the improved fleece into yarn that they used to weave higher quality blankets. These efforts enhanced women’s standing in their families by enabling them to become wage earners.

As I learned more about this project it became closer to my heart, since a large portion of the project involved not just weaving, but spinning, as well. It motivated me to do my part to get them better tools to support their families.  Since they only had one loom that ten weavers had to share, sending them an additional loom essentially allowed them to double their production.  How’s that for impact, and all of this was accomplished without every leaving my community.

To purchase yarn from Tajikistan, click here.

For more information about the funding agencies, visit these websites:

IFAD www.ifad.org

ICARDA www.icard.org

Aga Khan Foundation www.akdn.org

To learn more about projects like these, like WARP’s Facebook page. To learn more about WARP, visit our website. To see more photos from Tajikistan, visit our Pinterest page.

Tajikistan Bound Part One: The Loom

Cindy Lair at her office at Schacht Spindle Company. She spent a year in traveling by armchair to assist a rural community in Central Asia.
Cindy Lair in her office at Schacht Spindle Company. She spent nearly a year traveling by armchair to assist a rural community in Central Asia.

This is the first of a two-part post about Cindy Lair’s efforts to get a donated loom to Tajikistan. Cindy is the WARP’s board chair and the Planning Manager at Schacht Spindle Company, a loom and spinning wheel manufacturer. Part two will be posted on March 17.

I have spent a great deal of time in Central Asia over the last several years, not literally, but in my mind. I have neither the time or the money to travel, so for me, my imagination must suffice.

During Weave A Real Peace’s 2011 annual meeting, Marilyn Murphy of ClothRoads asked if I could help ship a loom to Tajikistan to support a group of village weavers. I have spent the last two decades working at Schacht Spindle Company, a spinning wheel and loom manufacture in Boulder, Colorado, so I know a thing or two about shipping looms.

The Loom Arrives

The loom had been donated in the hope that it would assist the weavers in Tajikistan make their sumptuous kid mohair blankets. I was expecting a functioning loom dismantled for shipping. What arrived was an old counterbalance loom that sadly would not be of much use.

The loom when it arrived
The loom when it arrived

My curiosity and inability to leave well enough alone got the better of me. With only a photocopy of the once functioning loom, I began the journey of reconstruction. Old looms are like puzzles, and everyone’s curiosity about the partially set-up loom was piqued, inspiring help and generosity of spirit that makes me proud to work at Schacht.

Marilyn had sent me a photo of a weaver and her daughters holding up a beautiful kid Mohair blanket. At a ClothRoads trunk show held at Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder, I was able to see and feel this blanket for myself. What an incredible pleasure! It was so luxurious, I wanted to cocoon myself in it and never ever move again.

The blanket was made by ten weavers that share a single loom. I posted the photo of the blanket and its makers nearby to remind myself and others that this effort was a shared journey. Although these weavers and I may never meet, our lives have intersected making us a part of each other’s journey.

During the reconstruction process, I was stumped by the braking mechanism made of beautiful old cast iron. No matter what I did I could not get it to fit on the loom. I did some research on the internet and dug through the library of books at Schacht and my personal collection with no results.

Deborah Chandler, founder of WARP, came to mind. Maybe she had run across a similar breaking mechanism during her year’s of work in Guatemala? Deborah emailed me photos of a field solution she has encountered many times—a stick jammed against the beam to keep it from moving. That made me laugh, and was my kind of solution! However, I wanted something more functional than practical for the women of Tajikistan.

The assembled loom!
The assembled loom!

In the end, I used a modified braking system similar to one that is used on Schacht looms. After a month of trial and error, the loom was back in working order. We replaced some of the wood parts with metal to be sure that the loom could withstand a lot of use and so that the parts would be long lasting in a place where woodworking tools are scarce.

Shipping The Loom

I labeled and photographed all the parts during disassembly to make reconstruction as easy as possible. While I was at work on the loom, our shipping expert was looking into costs and box sizes. How indeed would the loom get to Tajikistan?

Whenever I give tours of Schacht I like to start with shipping, because the design of the final product must adhere to shipping restrictions dictated by the companies moving the product. All countries have rules and regulations about the size and shape of product moving into and out of their borders.

Our first information was that Tajikistan would only accept packages of certain dimensions. This loom was far too tall to fit the requirements. I began to ponder how to reduce the size and the height of the loom without compromising performance. Fortunately, I hadn’t sawed the loom in half yet when we received new information based on volume that would allow us to meet the requirements. YES!!

The photo of a Tajikistan weaver and her daughters that kept Cindy inspired. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Murphy
The photo of a Tajikistan weaver and her daughters that kept Cindy inspired. Photo Courtesy of Liba Brent.

Off the loom went until it reached Istanbul where it stayed put for a month until the Turkish airways decided to start flying to Dushanbe again. After a long truck journey, the loom was finally delivered to the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme. What a satisfying experience!

Coincidentally, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is a sister city to Boulder, Colorado. Boulder was the recipient of a stunning tea house built by Tajik craftsmen. When the annual Weave a Real Peace meeting was held in Boulder in 2012, we began our conference at the Tea House.

The loom is hard at work in its new home, in the Tajik Pamir Mountains where it will continue to serve to increase the status of women. I was able to help this small mountain community thousands of miles from my home, because I have a specific set of skills and access to a community of experts that know a thing or two about making and shipping looms. Anyone with a willingness to learn and share their skills, can become involved in a project that can better the lives of others. For this WARP member and armchair traveler, all that was needed was an opportunity to use the resources in my own neighborhood.

Stay tuned for part two of this post, and discover what Cindy learned from her research about the many funding agencies that support this one small community of shepherds in Tajikistan. To purchase yarn from Tajikistan, click here.  To learn more about projects such as these, like WARP’s Facebook page. To learn more about WARP, visit our website. To see more photos from Tajikistan, visit our Pinterest page.

A Connecting Thread

Joan Ruane has championed cotton spinning for decades. A chance e-mail from a local woman in Uganda created a connection between Joan and a group of crocheters. We asked Joan if she would share her experience with us.

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Allen Nansubuga, founder of Crocet4Life in the small village of outside of Kampala, Uganda, took a chance and e-mailed Joan Ruane, an avid cotton spinner and educator in the United States to ask if she could assist them to utilize their native cotton. Using only the internet, they found a way!

Allen Nansubuga, founder of Crocet4Life in the small village of outside of Kampala, Uganda, e-mailed me in in February of 2012 to ask if I could assist them in utilizing their native cotton. She had stumbled upon my website and thought perhaps I could help her solve a supply problem. 

Allen, a cancer survivor and an electrical engineer by training, works with School Net Uganda and World Links for Development as a technology specialist. Acrylic yarns were all the women had to work with, but cotton grew all around them. Allen wondered if I could help them turn that cotton into yarn that they could use for their crochet projects.

My first step was to mail Allen ten takli spindles and my DVD called Cotton Spinning on the Takli. Within less than two weeks of receiving the spindles, I received photos of the yarn Allen had spun and said she was ready to teach others!

With the support of many fiber friends, the group now has workspace that boasts five spinning wheels, cotton carders, two rigid-heddle looms, and a variety of other tools and equipment. The group meets every Saturday.

About every other month, I send out a package of supplies. What we take for granted like masks, gloves, dye equipment, and buttons are all treasures to them. I wrap the supplies in children’s clothes, cloth bags, or old towels. Everything is used and appreciated!

Allen keeps me abreast of what is happening and sends weekly photos of the groups progress. It is so gratifying that, via e-mails, I can still teach the women the skills they need to be successful. For instance, when Allen first started to ply her singles, I recognized that she was plying in the same direction as the yarn was spun causing the yarn to be unusable. I quickly told her to ply in the opposite direction. She once complained that it took so long to weave. I realized that she was not using the rigid heddle to lift and lower the warp yarns. You can feel the smiles come through my e-mails with each new skill they master!

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The women of Crochet4Life at work in their new space.

It has been a wonderful journey with Allen and her Crochet4Life group. In June of 2013, Allen’s group was approved as an official non-governmental organization (NGO) associated with the United Nations. Since Crochet4Life was started using one fiber technique, but now also incorporates spinning and weaving, Allen wanted all fiber artists to be welcome. The official NGO name is Fiber Your World Uganda. The group has grown to 30 women and still expanding.

Who knew how one email would change my life and theirs for the better.

—Joan Ruane

To learn more about this group and how you can help, e-mail Joan at spincotton@yahoo.com and put Crochet4Life in the subject line. Like to hear more stories about the connections being made between fiber enthusiasts? Like our Facebook page! WARP’s 2015 membership drive is underway; click here to become a member today!