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

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

An Alice Brown Scholarship Recipient, “WARP Changed My Life!”

Club de Chicas
Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen, past Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship recipient with member of Club de Chicas, daughters of PAZA members.

I became a member of Weave a Real Peace (WARP) in 2010, when I received the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship to attend WARP’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.  I was in my first year of the MFA program in fibers at Arizona State University, and I was searching for a way to expand beyond the framework of my classes  and studio.   I was fascinated by the common thread between textiles, history, and community in society’s worldwide. I didn’t see myself as solely a studio artist, and was unsure how to make a place for myself in this vast legacy.

The 2010 meeting was just the spark I needed. WARP members run the gamut of textile enthusiasts—writers, artisans, teachers, learners, travelers, activists, conservators, and merchants. Each person I met was dedicated to affecting real change in the world through the very thing that was near and dear to me, textiles. I met WARP founder Debora Chandler, whose book Learning to Weave I had read to teach myself to weave.  I also met Dorinda Dutcher, who invited me to visit PAZA, a weaving cooperative in Bolivia.

That weekend, one of WARP’s longtime members asked me, “What will you do now?” This question continues to propel me forward. I left with a sense of purpose, something that had been missing before.

Warping with a PAZA Master Weaver
Kelsey warps a loom with Doña Maxima, Bolivian master weaver and leader of PAZA

I traveled to Bolivia to volunteer with PAZA later that year, and the following year I spent the summer with Mapusha, a women’s weaving cooperative in South Africa. Two years later, my MFA thesis focused on the universality of shared stories, skills, and empowerment for women through textiles.

I now live in St. Louis, Missouri, where I am involved in the Craft Alliance and St. Louis ArtWorks, both programs allow me to use my knowledge of textiles as a vehicle for conversation and community engagement. The WARP meeting is my yearly jump start. It gives me a chance to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. Hearing about projects, discussing issues, and sharing time with this group of like-minded individuals generates a year’s worth of excitement and energy. With great confidence, I can say that WARP has changed the course of my life.

To see Kelsey’s artwork visit her website.  The deadline to apply for the WARP’s Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship to attend this year’s annual meeting in St. Louis is March 15, 2014. If you are planning on attending the meeting, there is an opportunity for you to donate to the scholarship fund right on the registration form. 

A Postcard from Tinkuy

At right, Doña, Katie, and Dorinda
At right, Doña, Katie, and Dorinda sort dye plants during a natural dye workshop with Nilda Callañaupa during Tinkuy.

In the past few blog posts we have seen a recurring theme that travel leads to stronger connections among weavers of different nations.  Katie Simmons sent this remembrance of one instance during her recent journey to Tinkuy a gathering of weavers in Cusco, Peru. Katie and other WARP helped raise funds to support Doña Maxima’s journey to Tinkuy.  Thanks to everyone who make this cultural exchange among weavers possible. To see more photos from the gathering, we have Tinkuy board on our Pinterest page. 

I sat still among a sea of color gazing at the elaborate clothes for a celebration that I know nothing about.Weavers wear unique hats, skirts, made in styles of weaving and spinning unfamiliar to me. In this crowded room, I make eye contact with fellow WARP members without whom I would not be here. Although many here are strangers to me, we all share a common bond through cloth making. I am in the middle of the Tinkuy: A Gathering of Weavers.

Wandering over to join a spinning circle, I am sad that I left my pushka (drop spindle) at the hotel. Lo and behold baskets of pushkas and fiber are available! A coffee colored alpaca fiber speaks to me and sit down to start spinning. Bolivian, master weaver Doña Máxima spindle is already filling up in the moments it took me to choose my fiber. She stops only to start my spindle and goes back to her work. Dorinda Dutcher, founder of PAZA gets caught up in the moment and joins in the spinning. All around us people are spinning. Some are learning for the first time, while others have been spinning their entire lives. Laughing together, Doña helps Dorinda untangle her yarn.

The spinning contest starts with dances in between. Doña Maxima takes second place, spinning almost five yards in the allotted time.  During the last dance the dancers on the stage flow into the audience. Doña is swept up, then Dorinda, I turn to get my camera and I, too, am pulled into the dance. As a dancer myself I relish that shared experience. I have no pictures of that dance. It is a rare moment for the three of us to dance with weavers from around the world, but it is not needed because I will always hold that dance in my heart.

Katie Simmons is a member of the WARP Governing Board. 

If you are interested in learning more about the weavers of Peru, be sure to pick up a copy of Faces of Tradition: Weaving Elders of the Andes by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez and Christine Franquemont, with photographs from Joe Coca.  It is a treasure.