On the Road with Weaving for Justice

ON THE ROAD
People who love textiles love to travel because of the many opportunities to learn and experience culture through textiles and textile traditions. Traveling is one way to create or be a part of a connected textile community like WARP. But when travel is not possible, you can often connect to textile communities in your own back yard!

Weaving for Justice founding member Christine Eber, took Weaving for Justice on the road in October. Her vehicle was full of woven textiles and handmade items from several womens’ weaving cooperatives located in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. After a stop-over in Tucson, AZ, she headed to California for the 52nd Annual Borrego Days Desert Festival. She happily connected people in Southern California to the Maya textile communities in Chiapas.

WEAVING FOR JUSTICE SUPPORTS WOMEN
For decades Weaving for Justice, a non-profit, volunteer organization headquartered in Las Cruces, New Mexico has worked in solidarity with women’s weaving cooperatives in state of Chiapas. The organization’s goal is to assist co-op members to continue living in a sustainable and respectful way on their ancestral lands, to honor their Tzotsil language and their cultural traditions. Weaving for Justice has helped raise public awareness about social and economic justice, threats to efforts of the Chiapas weaving cooperatives and to issues of human rights in the region.

The collaboration between Weaving for Justice and the cooperatives assists weavers in finding various ways to market their products through a model of fair trade with 100% of the sale proceeds returned to the weavers.

COOPERATIVE WORK
Connecting the cooperatives with artisan groups on the US/Mexican border is one way products are marketed. Women weave to support themselves and their families. Co-op members unite around their work as weavers and common interest in issues of social and economic justice.

STOP IN FOR A VISIT
If you are in Las Cruces, NM stop in to visit La Frontera, the all-volunteer fair trade store run by Weaving for Justice. It’s located in the Nopalito’s Galería at 125 S. Mesquite St. (lafronterafairtrade@gmail.com). You will find hand-woven items from Chiapas, as well as textiles made by women from the cities of Juárez and Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. The store is open Saturdays 9-4 during the months of November and December or by appointment (contact Christine Eber ceber@nmsu.edu).

Weaving for Justice will be on the road again, returning to Tucson in spring 2018 bringing a trunk show hosted by EXO Roast Coffee Co. (403 N 6th Ave.). This is what my community looks like. What does YOUR community look like?

 

Chiapas to Oaxaca – Textile Connections Changing Lives

For many of us a whole new world opens up when we travel. Weave A Real Peace helped two young Maya women, Claudia Pérez Pérez and Celia Arias Pérez travel from Chenalhó, Chiapas to Oaxaca for the annual meeting in June. This was only the second trip for both young women outside of Chiapas and they were deeply moved by the hugs and good feelings generated during their time with WARP members.

During our Friday meeting one of the topics we discussed was the pros and cons of outsiders wearing traditional clothing, including the huipiles of Maya tradition. Here are Claudia’s thoughts, in her own words.

We feel very comfortable when we see a foreigner wearing our blouse. We think that she isnt an egotistic woman, that she doesnt feel that she is better than us. I feel very happy to see that she wears it on her body, that she has a good heart for us. We think that she honors us, that she has great caring for us, that she gives us a lot of support.
                                                            Claudia Pérez Pérez of Tsobol Antsetik, Chiapas, México, June 2017

Both Celia and Claudia gathered ideas from our Saturday tour to several Zapotec weaving and dyeing families in Teotitlan del Valle, including new ways to talk to visitors who come to their co-op’s meeting house in Chenalhó and how they might develop a museum in their meeting house. Christine will give them a boost by returning textiles she has collected from the coop since the 80s to build a collection. I am waiting in line to share my background in museum anthropology and exhibit design – can you see my hand waving?

Upon their return to Chiapas Claudia gave an hour and a half long report on the trip. In a very Maya way she gave an hour-by-hour rundown for the entire 5 day schedule! Claudia since has taken a major step to continue her education. Since dropping out of middle school at 14 to marry she has regretted that decision, but on Saturdays she now attends a school in San Cristóbal, studying computing and English. She loves the experience and Christine is confident Claudia will become a leader of women in her community, following in her mother’s footsteps.

Celia and Claudia were a delight – new friends from Mexico to support and cherish for the work they do in their communities. Christine Eber has spent years working with the women of Chiapas and continues to offer support to them in many ways, including establishing Weaving For Justice in Las Cruses, New Mexico. We thank Christine for sharing this story of how our members create and support connected textile communities. The photos were also shared by Christine.

Celia and Claudia enjoying the Oaxaca experience.

Next month we will learn more about Weaving for Justice, a volunteer non-proift organization in Las Cruses, created to assist the members of the cooperatives in Chiapas to continue living on their ancestral lands in sustainable ways that respect their lands, language (Tsotsil), and traditions.

In the meantime, think about how you create a connected textile community – local, global or in-between and share your story with us on the WARP blog!      Judy Newland, WARP board member

 

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

The Road from Guatemala to Santa Fe

Recently the Cooperativa de Alfombras de Mujeres Maya en Guatemala (Maya Women’s Rug Hooking Cooperative of Guatemala) was accepted into the 2014 International Folk Art Market, July 11 – 14. We spoke to one of their delegates to this year’s market. Reyna Pretzantzin is thirty-one years old and attends Rafael Landivar University studying for her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She divides her time between managing the Cooperative, running a bookstore in her hometown, and working as a consultant connecting highly skilled artisans to exporters specializing in craft development. Reyna has over five years’ experience of working in product development and fair trade with indigenous Maya women. She speaks English, Spanish, and Kaqchikel fluently. Here is what she said about getting to Santa Fe. 

Rug Hookers Meet in Panajachel
Rug Hookers from the many different groups that make up the Guatemalan Rug Hooking Cooperative meet in Panajachel, Guatemala. Photo by Rachel Green

How did you learn about the Folk Art Market?
Artisans from Guatemala have been participating in the Folk Art Market (FAM) for many years now. We learned about it from other weavers and embroiderers.  It is one of the most prestigious folk art events in the world, and it has been a dream of ours to participate and share our hooked rugs with the world.

Was applying for the Market difficult?
Since I speak English, Spanish, and Kaqchikel fluently, the women could share their thoughts and ideas with me, and I could incorporate them into the application.  We know that the organisers are very selective, so we worked very hard on our application and are delighted that we have been chosen.

What is the history of the Cooperative?

The Cooperativa de Alfombras de Mujeres Maya en Guatemala grew from Mary Anne Wise and Jody Slocum’s, co-founders of Cultural Cloth (www.culturalcloth.com), original rug hooking project in Guatemala. Mary Anne Wise gave her first rug hooking workshop in Guatemala in June 2009. Its success led to other workshops where she taught students more advanced techniques. In 2012, the Delta Foundation supported a  Rug Hooking Teacher Training Program. A core group of seven women were trained to teach others rug hooking techniques. Today, over fifty women from six highland villages are rug hooking, and we have organized ourselves into a cooperative. Our folk art combines the art of rug hooking with design elements and colors inspired by motifs present in the traditional clothing, folklore, and culture of Guatemala.

Yolana Calgua Delegate to the Folk Art Market
Yolanda Calgua (left) discussing design with a new student Estella Alvarado from the Totonicipan rug hooking group. Photo by Rachel Green

Tell us a bit about your other delegate.

Yolanda Calgua is thirty-four years old, married with two children. She lives in the rural community of Quiejel, Chichicastenango. She has helped many women in her community realize their potential. She believes strongly in the power of women to bring about positive social change. Everyone who has met Yolanda has been struck by her energy, vitality, and motivation, she is truly an inspiring woman. Two years ago potable water came to her village. Income from the sale of her rugs allowed her to buy  the faucets and piping for six families to tap into the pipe.

Of rug hooking she says, “it is a privilege to be a rug hooking teacher and bring this opportunity to women in other communities. My hope is that they can make a better life for themselves and their children.” She still remembers hooking her first rug; it was made in memory of her grandmother and incorporated designs she remembers from her grandmother’s huipil (the traditional blouse worn by indigenous woman in Guatemala).  Rug Hooking is also something that fits around her life as a wife and mother.

 The Guatemalan Rug Hooking Cooperative is working on setting up a website.  If you would like to get in touch e-mail rughooking.guatemala@gmail.com. To see their work visit, Cultural Cloth’s website.  

Resolution Revolution

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4VwnucrQcM

As a new year is dawns, many of us are writing down our resolutions—promising to be better, stronger, smarter, and more aware of the world around us.  We are grateful for what we have and we are looking forward to the opportunities ahead.

At WARP, our ongoing resolve is to create connections between people that honor the work of the hand and organizations that serve artisans who create textiles to provide for themselves and their families.

Let us know what you are planning in the new year. We would love to feature your stories on our blog, in our newsletter, and through our other social media channels.  All the best in the new year from your friends at WARP. Let’s resolve to stay connected, who knows what a little bit of sharing can bring.

#fairtradehandmade for the Holidays

Holiday ornaments made by a cooperative in Kathmandu that uses recycled paper.
Holiday ornaments made by a cooperative in Kathmandu. Using materials such as old cotton rags, corn husks, and banana stems, they transform refuse into wonderment!

Absolutes are like New Year’s resolutions, bound to fail.  We may have good intentions to make everything we wear, grow everything we eat, and exercise every day, but face it—most of the time we don’t.  Small is beautiful, and that includes small steps.

Let’s pledge to buy more gifts that are fair trade and made by hand. Giving one or two fair trade gifts makes a big difference to our hearts and to the hands that made the gift. It also adds to the joy of receiving.

There is another way you can make a difference.  How about sharing your fair trade finds with others?  Huh? This has to do with that symbol in the title.  It represents the power of shared conversation.  In the cyber connectivity of social media, if you use the hashtag(#) with a word it makes social media searchable!  If you find something wonderful—an inspiring story, a unique gift, something that invokes a memory, or perhaps you find a little something you might want yourself—tag it #fairtradehandmade so others can find it, too.

Need an examples?

What a great idea! www.mayanhands.org/shop-our-products/consignment-sales-inquiry #fairtradehandmade

I met some of these weavers at the Folk Art Market, and their work is amazing. I know, I’m weird, but I just love the smell of raw silk www.clothroads.com/product/warm-brown-wild-silk-scarf #fairtradehandmade

Clever, simple, useful, all the things I look for in a bag www.yabalhandicrafts.bigcartel.com/product/sunny-saturday-tote-bag #fairtradehandmade

Fair trade find! www.tenthousandvillages.com/knit-wit-kit #fairtradehandmade

Just imagine, what a wonderful world this would be, #fairtradehandmade

Peace, love, #fairtradehandmade.

Perhaps we will just make the world a better place, one hashtag at a time.

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!

A Conversation with Renee Bowers of the Fair Trade Federation

Fair Trade Federation Logo.jpgOctober is Fair Trade Month. We asked Renee Bowers, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and a WARP member to answer a few questions about fair trade, textiles, and the best way to make a difference. 

WARP: How would you describe the FTF in five words? 

Renee Bowers: Strengthen fully fair trade businesses.

What is the biggest challenge in bringing fair trade goods to market?

RB: Fully fair trade businesses like our members are working against unsustainable practices that have become the norm in conventional business. Unfortunately, most shoppers have come to expect certain things from bigger brands, such as lightning-fast production, near constant trend turnover, and impossibly low prices. Fair trade partnerships aren’t always easily understood because we’ve stopped thinking about where the things we eat, wear, and use come from or how they’re made. At the FTF, we believe that if good businesses practices were more celebrated, demand for fair trade goods would really increase.

The fair trade movements has its roots in marketing textiles. What role do textiles play in the movement today?

RB: Textiles still play a huge role in fair trade! Many shoppers want things like rugs, bags, clothes, and other fabrics and artisans around the globe have exceptional skills and talents in making these very items. Although fair trade has expanded over the years to include, coffee, chocolate, food, and personal care items, handmade craft products are still a core area of fair trade—especially in the US and Canada.

Most importantly, fair relationships continue to be an essential means of supporting weavers and garment makers in developing countries.

The majority of WARP members are individuals that make textiles themselves and have a strong affinity for the people that make textiles.  Our members often ponder how to use their skills to help fair trade cooperatives thrive.  Any advise?

RB: One of the best ways to have an impact is to buy products—including textiles—from fully fair trade businesses. While this may not always feel as direct, you can rest assured that the income from your purchase makes a huge difference to the lives of textile artisans.

In terms of sharing expertise, I’d recommend first taking advantage of a fair trade travel/volunteer opportunity. A few opportunities with FTF members include:

Women In Progress, an international volunteer organization

Global Exchange, responsible travel opportunities

Looking for something to do during the holiday season? Mayan Hands, a member of the Fair Trade Federation and WARP is offering a tour, December 4 − 14 of this year.
Looking for something to do during the holiday season? Mayan Hands, a member of the Fair Trade Federation and WARP is offering a tour, December 4 − 14 of this year.

What is the difference between an organization being a member of the Fair Trade Federation and a product being fair trade certified?

RB: Certification is a system that audits worksites—primarily farms—for health, safety, and labor compliance. Certification does not speak to the business practices of the company that sells or markets the product in North America.

The Fair Trade Federation is a membership organization that celebrates the whole business. We believe that fair trade requires a deep commitment to poverty alleviation, including direct trading relationships with small scale artisans and farmers. Businesses in the US and Canada go through a rigorous screening process in order to become members. This screening is a holistic evaluation o the businesess’ fair trade practices.

To find a full list of members, visit the Fair Trade Federation’s website