Textile Creation and the Pace of Change in Northern Vietnam

Image Above: Maren, and to her left our translator, visit two Hmong embroiderers to learn about their art and their markets.

By Joshua Hirschstein

A White Hmong woman holds up a traditional hemp skirt she made with her mother years ago. She herself chooses to wear an inexpensive, light-weight acrylic skirt.

NOTA: puede ver la historia en español abajo del inglés.

In a White Hmong village in Vietnam’s Lai Chau Province, a local woman explained that their village had stopped making hemp skirts a decade ago. The time required to raise, prepare, and weave the fibers was too dear – that time is now better spent expanding farm production or working in a business. While some villagers still purchased lighter-weight cotton fabric raised and woven by their Lue neighbors, we noticed that most of the women were wearing commercial acrylic skirts. A woman brought from her trunk two older traditional hemp skirts that she and her mother had grown, spliced, and woven a dozen years ago; the young children gathered to see the artifacts, and to hear the story of what their elders used to do and wear.

A Hmong woman playfully wraps a traditional baby carrier around her daughter-in-law. They are wearing typical clothes, and yes – stretch leggings are popular.

Every year since 2005, my spouse Maren and I have visited communities in hill tribe Vietnam where traditional textile creation is still maintained, and where ethnic-identifying hand-crafted garments are worn daily by the locals.  We enjoy our regular visits to established friends and business contacts, and we also relish our “wandering research” in the quest for traditional textiles and artists. The one sure constant in Vietnam is the accelerating pace of change.

Indeed, 21st Century Vietnam is investing heavily to bring modern amenities to its corners. Virtually all villages are now on the electric grid, bringing refrigeration (changing diets), washing machines (eliminating time-consuming hand-washing), and electric pumps (for plumbing and farming), as well as bringing access to the global world of information through television, cell phones, the internet, and social media. An increasingly large and well-educated middle class of 90 million people is eager to gain the comforts and opportunities afforded those in “fully-developed nations.” Our textile friends in Vietnam have been immersed in these changes, many moving from off-the-grid, dirt-floored homes with an outhouse to now living in cement-floored homes with electric appliances and tiled bathrooms.

A new dam in Thanh Hoa Province brings electricity and modern infrastructure to what a decade ago was very remote.
Our Black Hmong guide in Lao Cai Province, clad in traditional clothing of her families’ making, shows us her indigo vat.

How can traditional textile creation compete for validity in this rapid cultural transition?

There are pockets in Vietnam where the traditional textile arts still thrive. Several communities of Black Hmong and Red Dzao people in Lao Cai and Ha Giang Provinces can be seen wearing traditional hemp and cotton jackets, headdresses, and other culturally-identifying clothing as daily wear. In these villages, women – particularly the elders – can still be found walking down the road splicing hemp strips into a ball wound on their hand or sitting outside their homes embroidering a pair of handspun cotton pants. Indigo-dye pots are commonly found bubbling in the work sheds.

Two Red Dzao women from Lao Cai Province embroider naturally-dyed handwoven cotton clothing with silk thread.

The Hmong and Dzao communities of this region – Sapa has the greatest name recognition – have both cultural and economic incentives to maintain traditional daily-wear garments, as much of the area is supported by a well-organized tourist market selling a romantic image of “simple hill tribe authenticity.”  Many of the textile creators around Sapa whom we know now sell to the ever-expanding tourist market (and most tourists in Sapa today are urban Vietnamese). We note that the commercialization of their handcrafted textiles is changing certain features in sizing, material, and design, and textile creation seems to be increasingly less embedded in the cultural milieu.

A Hmong woman in Yen Bai Province holds up a handmade shoulder bag. Like most locals, she is wearing a factory-made acrylic skirt printed with Hmong designs. She still wears the traditional leggings and jacket.

However, today the majority of Vietnam’s rural population does not make their own clothes. For most, the powerful winds of modernity have brought both a new balance to family household economics and improved access to media-marketed factory-made fashion-wear. The most revealing example in northern Vietnam is the recent proliferation of Chinese-acrylic “Hmong-style” skirts, a bright polyester replacement for the traditional hemp and hand-spun cotton skirts worn by the previous generations. These colorful knock-offs, complete with “pseudo-Hmong” motifs, are machine-washable, light-weight, dye-fast – and literally 1/30th the cost of a locally-farmed, naturally-dyed, hand-batiked, handwoven hemp skirt. Our eyes first saw these acrylic skirts in the market in 2009; today, the vast majority of Hmong women in Vietnam wear them daily.

Near Mai Chau in Hoa Binh Province we chatted with two Hmong women who were busily embroidering traditional motifs onto acrylic cloth for a skirt they planned to sell in town or to people stopping in their village. The embroidery thread is no longer reeled silk or handspun cotton, but brilliant acrylic yarn purchased at the local store. These hand-embroidered outfits, they said, were now only worn for special occasions such as weddings. The embroiderers themselves, sitting in the courtyard shade of their home, wore factory-made “Hmong-style” skirts.

A handmade loom in Muong Lat made from aluminum bars.

Outside Muong Lat in Thanh Hoa Province, near the Lao border, we were excited to finally find a pocket of Tai Daeng weavers. Handmade looms of welded aluminum bars graced the front work-area of several homes, and while the fibers they chose to use were polycottons, the designs were traditional. “We weave these skirts to sell,” said a young weaver through our translator. Their market? Their Tai Daeng neighbors across the border in Laos, where traditional wear is more common and regional economics less developed.

Communities that still fully participate in their textile-creation culture are getting rarer and rarer. This photo is taken at Flower Hmong village in 2007.

While traditional textile enthusiasts may mourn the rapid loss of these arts, we recognize that this shift comes during a time of regional stability, confidence, and growth. With modernism reaching Vietnam’s furthest corners, and with a developing middle-class economy, we see advances in access to education, healthcare, transportation, and more that we ourselves want for our own children.

The traditional textile arts of Vietnam will not disappear altogether. Both tourism and a small market of international textile enthusiasts will support the dedicated artists. But the art is shifting to no longer be embedded in daily village life. Rather, as we have seen all over the developed world, from Navajo rug-making in the USA to bobbin lace-making in Sweden, the traditions will be supported by dedicated hobbyists and established textile-creating professionals feeding market demand.

Joshua Hirschstein and spouse (and WARP Board member) Maren Beck formed Above the Fray: Traditional Hill Tribe Art in 2007 determined to support, document, and indulge in the textile art, traditions, and cultures of hill tribe Laos and Vietnam. They are the authors of “Silk Weavers of Hill Tribe Laos,” the gold-medal winner of the 2018 Benjamin Franklin Award in Travel.

All photos by Above the Fray.

Creación de Textiles y la Velocidad de Cambio en el Norte de Vietnam

Una mujer Hmong Blanco muestra una falda tradicional que hicieron ella y su mamá hace años. Ella ahora prefiere vestir una falda acrílica, ligera y que cuesta menos.

Autor: Joshua Hirschstein

En una aldea de los Hmong Blanco en la Provincia de Lai Chau, una mujer de la localidad nos explicó que su aldea cesó de hacer las faldas de cáñamo hace décadas. El tiempo necesario para sembrar, cosechar, preparar, y tejer las fibras era demasiado costoso. Ahora ellos usan este tiempo para expandir producción agrícola o trabajar en sus negocios. Mientras algunos vecinos compran tela ligera de algodón sembrado y tejido por sus vecinos Lue, nos dimos cuenta que la mayoría de las mujeres vestían faldas comerciales de acrílico. Una mujer trajo de su baúl dos faldas tradicionales elaboradas por las manos de su mamá y de ella, hechos hace una docena de años. Los niños llegaron para ver los “artefactos”, y para oír la historia de lo que hacían y vestían las ancianas.

Con un sentido de jugar, una mujer Hmong enrolla su nuera con una tzute para llevar su bebé. Su ropa es tradicional, y sí – estas polainas son populares.

Cada año desde 2005 mi esposa Maren y yo hemos visitado comunidades de los cerros de Vietnam donde mantienen las tradiciones de tejidos, y donde la gente todavía usa traje hecho a mano que identifica su etnia. Disfrutamos nuestras visitas a amigos establecidos y contactos de negocio, y también el placer exquisito de “andar” en áreas no conocidas en busca de textiles tradicionales y las artesanas que los hacen. La cosa constante y segura es como los cambios en Vietnam están pasando cada vez más rápido.

De hecho, el Vietnam del Siglo 21 está invirtiendo fuerte mejorando la infraestructura de las aldeas. Casi todas ahora tienen electricidad, que significa refrigeradores (y una dieta diferente), máquinas para lavar ropa (ahorro de tiempo), y bombas de agua (para casas y agricultura). También ahora hay acceso al mundo de la información, por televisores, celulares, el internet, y redes sociales. La clase media está creciendo, y ahora hay 90 millones de personas bien educadas con ganas de tener las comodidades y oportunidades que tiene los países desarrollados. Nuestros amigos han estado sumergidos en estos cambios, muchos moviéndose de casas con pisos de tierra, sin luz, y con una letrina atrás a casas con pisos de cemento, aparatos eléctricos, y baños con azulejos.

Una presa nueva en la provincial de Thanh Hoa produce electricidad y infraestructura moderna a un lugar que hace una década era muy remota.
Nuestra guia, quien es Hmong Negra, in Lao Cai Provincia, vestida en traje tradicional que hizo su familia. Ella nos muestra su olla de índigo.

¿Cómo puede competir en validez la creación de textiles tradicionales contra esta transición cultural tan rápida?

Hay áreas remotas donde los textiles tradicionales siguen bien. La gente de varias comunidades de Hmong Negro y Dzao Rojo en las provincias de Lao Cai y Ha Giang sigue usando sacos tradicionales de cáñamo y algodón, tocoyales, y otros trajes cotidianamente. En estas aldeas, se puede ver las mujeres, especialmente las ancianas, caminando por las carreteras enrollando el cáñamo en sus manos o sentadas frente de sus casas bordando un par de pantalones de algodón todo hecho a mano. Las ollas de índigo son comunes burbujeando en los talleres.

Dos mujeres Dzao Rojo, de Lao Cai Provincia, bordan traje tejido a mano y teñida con tintes naturales, usando hilo de seda de gusano.

Las comunidades Hmong y Dzao de esta región – Sapa es lo más reconocida – tienen incentivos cultural y económico para mantener el uso de traje tradicional porque una gran parte del área se apoya con turismo bien organizado, vendiendo la imagen romántica de tribus de los cerros auténticas. Muchas de las artesanas que nosotros conocemos cerca de Sapa ahora venden al mercado turístico (y la mayoría de los turistas vienen de áreas urbanas en Vietnam). Notamos que la comercialización de tejidos hecho a mano cambia aspectos como tamaño, materiales, y diseño, y la creación de los tejidos parece una parte menos esencial de la cultura.

Una mujer de Yen Bai Provincia mostrando una bolsa de hombro hecho a mano. Como la mayoría de mujeres del local, ella está vestida en una falda acrílica de fábrica impreso con diseños de los Hmong. Sigue usando polainas y saco tradicionales.

Sin embargo, hoy en día la mayoría de la población rural de Vietnam no hace su propia ropa. Para la mayoría, los vientos fuertes de modernidad han traído dos cosas, un balance nuevo a la economía de la casa y familia, y acceso mejor a ropa de fábrica, de la moda y con la publicidad de los medios. El ejemplo más fuerte en el norte de Vietnam es la reciente proliferación de faldas acrílicas de China en el estilo de Hmong, ahora de poliéster brillante en cambio de las tradicionales de cáñamo y algodón hecho a mano y usado por generaciones previas. Estas faldas muy coloridas con diseños copiados de los Hmong pueden ser lavadas en máquinas, son muy ligeras, con colores firmes, y cuestan 1/30 de una tradicional de una granja y artesana local. Vimos estas faldas acrílicas por primera vez en 2009; hoy la mayoría de las mujeres Hmong en Vietnam las visten diariamente.

Un telar hecho a mano en Muong lat, hecho de barras de aluminio.

Cerca de Mai Chau en la provincial de Hoa Binh platicamos con dos mujeres Hmong quienes estaban bordando los diseños tradicionales sobre una tela acrílica para una falda. Ellas planifican a vender en el pueblo o a alguien que pasa por su aldea. El hilo para bordar no es seda de gusano ni algodón hilado a mano, pero acrílico brillante que compraron en la tienda local. Estos trajes bordados a mano, nos dijeron, son usados ahora solamente para ocasiones especiales como bodas. Las bordadoras mismas, sentadas en la sombra de su casa, vestían faldas de una fábrica con diseños “estilo” Hmong.

En los alrededores de Muong Lat en la provincia de Thanh Hoa, cerca la frontera de Laos, fuimos animados al encontrar, finalmente, un grupo de tejedores de Tai Daeng. Sus telares, hechos a mano de aluminio, estaban frente de varias casas, y mientras sus hilos eran una mezcla de poliéster y algodón, sus diseños fueron tradicionales. “Tejemos estas faldas para vender,” nos dijo una tejedora joven a través de nuestra traductora. ¿Su mercado? Sus vecinos de Tai Daeng en Laos, al otro lado de la frontera, donde el traje tradicional es más común y la economía menos desarrollada.

Comunidades que todavía participan completamente en su cultura de textiles son más y más raras. Esta foto era tomado en la aldea Hmong Flores en 2007.

Mientras las aficionadas de textiles tradicionales están de luto sobre la pérdida de estas artes, reconocemos que el cambio viene durante un tiempo de estabilidad, confianza, y crecimiento regional. Con la llegada de la modernidad alcanzando cada esquina de Vietnam, y con una economía de clase media creciendo, vemos avances en acceso a educación, salud, transporte, y más de lo que nosotros queremos para nuestros hijos.

Las artes de textiles tradicionales de Vietnam no van a desaparecer completamente. Los dos, turismo y un mercado pequeño de aficionados internacionales, van a apoyar a las artesanas dedicadas. Pero el arte está cambiando hacia no estar una parte de la vida cotidiana de una aldea. En vez de eso, como hemos visto en todo el mundo desarrollado, desde las alfombras de los Navajos en EEUU hasta el encaje de bolillos en Suecia, las tradiciones van estar apoyadas por los artesanos informales (de hobby) dedicados y profesionales establecidos en Vietnam llenando las demandas del mercado.

Joshua Hirschstein y su esposa Maren Beck (quien es miembro de la junta de WARP) crearon Above the Fray: Traditional Hill Tribe Art en 2007, con la intención de apoyar, documentar, y disfrutar las artes textiles, tradiciones, y culturas de las tribus de los cerros de Laos y Vietnam. Ellos son autores de “Tejedores de Seda de las Tribus de Los Cerros de Laos”, cual ganó el Premio de Oro Ben Franklin en libros de Viajar en 2018.

Todas las fotos son de Above the Fray.

Following The Threads: how a trip to Guatemala altered the trajectory of my life

By Mary Anne Wise

NOTA: puede ver la historia en español abajo del inglés.

Using a mirror to envision more design options- a cheaper alternative to computer aided design.

Once I wove rugs. Big room sized rugs, and I sold them to interior designers all across the US. I hooked small mats for a short list of private and corporate collectors. My husband was also an artist, a painter. Years earlier we’d bought a Century Farmstead planted amidst rolling fields high on a ridge top above the Mississippi River. Here we made art and raised a family.

Then in 2006, seeking artistic inspiration I accompanied my good friend Jody Slocum to Guatemala.  Jody had been working as a volunteer with a small non-profit called Farmer to Farmer. Jody, who is also textile artist, was motivated to learn about the weavers in Guatemala. She would travel to Guatemala two or three times a year. By day she helped organize certain coffee farmers hoping to receive higher prices for their coffee. By night she met with the farmers’ wives and learned about the lack of income-earning opportunities that prevented the women from feeling their lives would ever move forward. To offset their desire to earn more money, even a tiny bit, she’d purchase some of the women’s weavings and embroideries. I tagged along on one of her trips. My hope was to collect textiles that might inform my studio practice. I had no inkling – let alone intentional desire – this trip would change the trajectory of my life. My life was full and fine.

But while in Guatemala with Jody I walked into something I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen. Accompanied by Jody’s friends who lived nearby, and who wanted us to bear witness, we ‘toured’ an overcrowded refugee camp populated by survivors of a mudslide. In the wake of Hurricane Stan, one night half the village was buried alive under fifteen feet of mud and debris.

Yolanda Churnel Aju of Churacruz and her first Story Rug honoring the strong women of Santiago, Guatemala who persevered through the difficult times of the Civil War.

It would make a “pretty story” if I said I responded to this tragedy motivated with a fully-fledged plan to help the survivors. But the truth is I tried to ignore what I’d witnessed. I had no idea how to help them. I had my life to live and a family to raise. Still: I couldn’t erase the images in my mind of people living in very difficult circumstances, people who had lost loved ones and were now trying to rebuild their very lives. Without resources.

Returning home with a suitcase of extraordinary traditional textiles, I called a luncheon meeting with my interior design clients. My plan was to show them the textiles I’d purchased. I’d ‘wow’ them with these artful pieces created by women using the most basic weaving tools. Women conducting their lives in the most basic conditions. Then I would tell them the story of the mudslide, and of the survivors from the refugee camp. In telling the story of what I had witnessed, did I hope to transfer my sense of responsibility toward the survivors to the interior designers? I don’t recall, but the memory has a vague ring of truth. I know I wanted the images of what I’d witnessed out of my head; I know I wanted to return to my life.

Instead, the designers suggested a trunk show- and they would help map out a strategy for success. All I had to do, they said, was return to Guatemala, collect the pieces and bring them back home. They would help stage the show; they’d pull out their rolodexes and invite their clients; and they’d enlist the press to publicize the event.

Below: Scene from the Guatemalan Textile Trunk Show held at Stephanie Odegard’s rug showroom, Minneapolis 2006.

A bit of quick math was all it took for me to realize their plan would never work. I figured $20,000 was needed to finance the trunk show including modest travel expenditures, purchasing the textiles and shipping the pieces home. (Never mind lost time from my studio practice.) Where would that money come from? Relieved that “at least I tried”, and I could now live with myself for having tried, I told a friend about the trunk show idea. And the projected price tag. She listened and said: “I’ll loan the money.” I patiently explained there was no guarantee she’d ever be repaid. I listed all the ways the idea could fail. She listened some more. And then we talked every day for a week. We discussed various scenarios – where the idea might jump the rails, and then we’d envision how to remedy that scenario with an alternative plan, just in case. In spite of my misgivings and self-doubt I came to believe that a trunk show fundraiser of extraordinary Guatemalan textiles could work. Jody was fully on board and soon we were back in Guatemala.

Over the next three years we produced a trunk show a year. Along the way we met inspiring women working for non-profits whose mission was to provide income-earning opportunities for marginalized artisans. We learned that many of these groups were interested in expanding their textile repertoire in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Knowing this, during the final collecting trip in 2009, Jody and I offered to teach a rug-hooking workshop with members of Oxlajuj B’atz’ (Thirteen Threads).

Scene from the training workshop where we examine design elements from traditional clothing and learn to enlarge their scale appropriate for rugs.

In the fall of 2018, Thrums Books of Loveland, Colorado published Rug Money: How A Group of Maya Women Changed Their Lives Through Art and Innovation. The book, co-authored by Cheryl Conway Daly and me, tells the story of what happened after Jody and I taught that first workshop.

Reader, I haven’t gotten back to my studio – yet. By now you likely realize that teaching to and representing marginalized women became my work. Jody and I co-founded a Guatemalan based non-profit called Multicolores with over 60 artisans and a staff of five.  We returned home from one of our trips and opened a shop called Cultural Cloth. We’re located in a tiny town, population 99, on the Great River Road (Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, along the Mississippi). In the shop Jody and I tell the women’s stories and we sell the women’s work. We’ve had the store for ten years and now represent artisans from over 30 countries. We continue to view the shop as a test kitchen where we cook up opportunities for the women we’re privileged to represent.

Note: WARP members who attended the annual meeting in Decorah, Iowa, had the treat of hearing Mary Anne tell other details of her story then. Mary Anne finished writing this as she was packing for a trip to India to meet with artisans there. She and Jody leave in three days, will be moving amongst the colors of that astonishing place as you read this. To learn more of their work, go to culturalcloth.com.

5 x 7 Nahuales Rug by Irma Racquel Churunel Aju of Churacruz. Created for the Red & White Gallery, Fayettville, TX 2018


Siguiendo los Hilos: Como un viaje a Guatemala cambió el rumbo de mi vida.

Autor: Mary Anne Wise

Jody Slocum, Jessica Calgua, & Mary Anne Wise celebrating the opening of an exhibition of Multicolores hooked rugs at the Avenir Museum, 2016.

En un tiempo, yo tejí alfombras. Alfombras grandes, del tamaño de un cuarto, y las vendía a diseñadores en todos de los Estados Unidos. Yo hice alfombras más pequeñas con gancho para un grupo pequeño de coleccionistas privados y corporativos. Mi esposo también era un artista, un pintor. Años antes habíamos comprado una Granja Centenaria que quedó entre los cerros hermosos en un área alta arriba del Rio Mississippi. Aquí hicimos arte y creamos nuestra familia.

En 2006, buscando inspiración artística, acompañé a mi amiga Jody Slocum a Guatemala. Jody había trabajado como voluntaria con una ONG pequeña que se llama Farmer to Farmer (Agricultor a Agricultor). Jody, quien también es una artista de textiles, estaba motivada a aprender sobre las tejedoras de Guatemala. Viajaba a Guatemala dos o tres veces cada año. En el día ayudaba a los cafetaleros organizarse para recibir un precio mejor por su café. Por la noche se reunía con las esposas y aprendía sobre la falta de oportunidad de ganar dinero y cómo las mujeres sentían que sus vidas nunca iban mejorar. Para ayudar un poco, Jody compró unos de sus tejidos. Yo fui con ella una vez. Mi esperanza fue para colectar unos textiles que podría inspirar mi propio trabajo. No tenía la menor idea – mucho menos la intención – que este viaje iba cambiar la dirección de mi vida. Mi vida ya estaba llena y bien.

Pero cuando estuve en Guatemala con Jody, anduve en algo que no podría pretender que no había visto. Acompañando amigos de Jody quienes vivían cerca, y quienes quisieron que fuéramos testigos, visitamos un campo de refugiados lleno de gente que sobrevivió un derrumbe enorme. Por causa del Huracán Stan, una noche la mitad de la aldea Panabaj, con más que mil personas, fue enterrada debajo de cinco metros de lodo caliente, rocas, y árboles que bajaron cuando un lado del Volcán Santiago colapsó.

Multicolores booth at the International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2019. From a field of 160 contestants, Multicolores was 1 of 6 artisan groups chosen for the Community Impact Award.

Podría ser una “historia bonita” si dije que respondí a esta tragedia motivada con un plan completo de ayudar los sobrevivientes. Pero la verdad es que yo intenté borrar de mi mente lo que vi. No tenía idea como ayudarles. Tenía mi vida y una familia. Pero: no podría borrar las imágenes en mi mente de gente viviendo en circunstancias difíciles, personas que han perdido seres queridos y ahora estaban tratando de reconstruir sus vidas. Sin recursos.

Regresando a casa con una maleta de textiles extraordinarios, llamé una reunión de almuerzo con mis clientes de diseño interior. Mi plan fue mostrar a ellos los textiles que compré. Iba a impactarlos con estos tejidos artísticos creados por mujeres usando telares muy sencillos, mujeres viviendo en condiciones de lo más básicas. Después iba contarles la historia del derrumbe, y de los refugiados en el campo. Al contar la historia, ¿esperé a transferir mi sentido de responsabilidad hacia los sobrevivientes a los diseñadores? No recuerdo, pero esta memoria tiene un vago cuchicheo de verdad. Yo sé que quise las imágenes de lo que fui testigo afuera de mi cabeza. Yo sé que quise regresar a mi propia vida.

Zoila Calgua Morales and the first large format rug made from ‘paca’ (recycled clothing.) 2013

En vez de eso, los diseñadores sugirieran un trunk show, una muestra y venta de los textiles – y ellos ayudarían hacer una estrategia para el éxito. Yo sólo necesitaría regresar a Guatemala, dijeron, recoger los textiles, y traerlos a casa. Ellos ayudarían a preparar el show, sacar sus listas de clientes e invitarlos, y convencer a la prensa de publicar el evento.

Me tomó sólo un poco de matemática para darme cuenta que nunca funcionaría. Calculé que el costo sería $20,000 para financiar el show, incluyendo un poco para los gastos del viaje, comprar los textiles, y enviarlos a casa. (Y esto no cuenta el tiempo perdido de mi propio trabajo.) ¿De dónde vendrá el dinero? Aliviada que “por lo menos lo intenté”, y ahora podría vivir conmigo misma por intentar, lo conté a una amiga sobre la idea. Y el precio. Ella me escuchó y dijo, “Yo prestaré el dinero.” Con paciencia le expliqué que no hay garantía que su dinero sería devuelto. Detallé todas las maneras que el plan podría fallar. Ella me escuchó más, y después hablamos todos los días por una semana. Hablamos de varios escenarios – cómo la idea podría virar equivocada, cómo podríamos corregir el rumbo con un cambio en caso que fuera necesario. A pesar de mis preocupaciones y dudas, llegué a creer que un trunk show de textiles extraordinarios de Guatemala podría funcionar. Jody estuvo totalmente de acuerdo, y pronto fuimos a Guatemala otra vez.

En los próximos tres años producimos un trunk show cada año. En el camino conocimos mujeres inspiradoras quienes trabajaban para ONGs con la misión de dar oportunidades para ganar bien a artesanas marginalizadas. Aprendimos que muchos de estos grupos quisieron expandir sus repertorios textiles para seguir siendo competitivos en el mercado global. Sabiendo eso, en nuestro viaje final en 2009, con Jody ofrecimos enseñar una capacitación para hacer alfombras con ganchos para las miembros de Oxlajuj B’atz’ (o Trece Hilos).

Another large format hooked rug by Zoila. 2014

En el otoño de 2018 Thrums Books de Loveland, Colorado publicó Dinero de Alfombras: Como un Grupo de Mujeres Mayas Cambiaron sus Vidas por Arte e Innovación. El libro, de co-autores Cheryl Conway Daly y yo, cuenta la historia de lo que pasó después de que enseñamos la primera capacitación. (Disponible solamente en inglés.)

Lector, No he regresado a mi taller – todavía. Por ahora probablemente se da cuenta que enseñar y representar mujeres marginalizadas llegó a hacer mi trabajo. Juntos con Jody fundamos una ONG en Guatemala se llama Multicolores, con más que 60 artesanas y un equipo de trabajo de cinco. Regresamos de uno de nuestros viajes y abrimos una tienda se llama Tejidos Culturales. Estamos en un pueblecito en Wisconsin, población 99, por el Great River Road (Camino del Rio Magnífico – a la orilla del Mississippi). En la tienda contamos las historias de las mujeres y vendemos el trabajo de ellas. Ahora hemos tenido la tienda por diez años y representamos artesanas de 30 países. Seguimos pensando de la tienda como una “cocina de pruebas” donde cocinamos oportunidades para las mujeres a quienes tenemos el privilegio de conocer y representar.

Nota: Miembros de WARP quienes asistieron a la reunión anual en Decorah, Iowa, tenían el placer de oír Mary Anne compartiendo otros detalles de su historia. Mary Anne terminó de escribir esto mientras estuvo empacando para otro viaje a India para reunir con artesanas allá. Ella y Jody salen en dos días, entonces van estar andando entre los colores asombrosos de este lugar mientras usted está leyendo esto. Para saber más de su proyecto, va a culturalcloth.com.

Why WARP Matters by Deborah Chandler

NOTA: puede ver la historia en español abajo del inglés.

Carrie Kemp selling baskets for Mayan Hands, but more importantly, for the women who make the baskets. They used to earn less than $20/month embroidering. Now they earn more than ten times that making baskets. www.mayanhands.org

As some of you know, of late I have become obsessed with the issue of migration. It is not a WARP issue per se, so I rejected the suggestion of posting my own blogs about it on the WARP Facebook page. But right now, when so many WARP members working in fair trade are up to their eyeballs in sales, I’m going to take this opportunity to write a blog that touches on the subject and why in an indirect way it is very much what WARP is about.

WARP’s Mission: To foster a global network of enthusiasts who value the importance of textiles to grassroots economies.

Grassroots economies are often the front line in the fight against poverty. Sometimes we in the fair trade world spend a few minutes reflecting on how we are not necessarily working with the poorest of the poor anymore, but the key word is ANYMORE. We were, They were, but now precisely because of fair trade work, many artisans are no longer the poorest of the poor. They may not be rich, far from it, but they are able to feed their children and send them to school, which improves the odds that the next generation will begin higher up on the economic ladder. And that is huge.

My experience is mostly with ngo-s (non-profit organizations) in Guatemala, Mayan Hands first but while working for them I came to know many others taking on similar challenges. Through WARP I have met people working in many other countries, on the continents of Africa, Asia, South America, even North America, and some non-continents as well. The stories are the same – extraordinary textiles, most often indigenous and loaded with cultural meaning, too often the makers living in abject poverty, all looking for markets. It is hard to sell their own traditional textiles, which don’t exactly fit in North American or European households and because they cost what good handwork should cost. By weaving things that DO meet the demands and desires of an export market and are affordable to more people, the artisans can earn enough money to be able to continue weaving for themselves and their families, using skills they have that allow them to work at home, not migrate to factories in cities. Or other countries.

In October I spent three weeks volunteering at Annunciation House (www.annunciationhouse.org) in El Paso, Texas. AH is a shelter, four shelters actually, that serve the needs of migrants who have been released into the US. As you can imagine, it was a pretty intense learning experience, one for which I am very grateful. While violence is a major reason that hundreds of millions of people in the world are migrating now, poverty is also high on the list. If it is impossible to find a job where you live in order to feed your family, a responsible man or woman will do whatever it takes to find an income. There are many terrible options out there, many involving human trafficking of various kinds, some involving crimes of desperation, and others just seeking, but maybe never finding. There is a lot in the news now, some calling this the biggest crisis of our times.

These are just a few of the artisan-supporting books from Thrums Books. www.thrumsbooks.com

So what does that have to do with WARP, Weave a Real Peace? Maybe everything. What we are trying to do is help people stay home, be able to earn an income that will support their families in place, and sustain their cultures in the bargain. Have you read Rangini Hamidi and Mary Littrell’s book Embroidering within Boundaries – Afghan Women Creating a Future? The women in that book live under Taliban rule, and it is beyond anything most of us can imagine. Right after I read that book I read Josh Hirschstein and Maren Beck’s Silk Weavers of Hill Tribe Laos, and was aghast at the freedom the women had to leave their homes and walk around in their neighborhoods and live their lives – the hussies!! Then I read Susan Schaefer Davis’ Women Artisans of Morocco – Their Stories, Their Lives, another book about Muslim women, and the difference between their lives and those of their sisters so constricted by the Taliban was an amazing and wonderful education in how there is as much variety in Muslim life as there is in Christian or Jewish life.

It is no accident that all these authors are members of WARP, are working with women artisans, and doing all they can to focus on grassroots economies. The women in these books are NOT migrating, they* don’t have to. And that just might be the miracle that weaving a real peace is all about.

*I recognize that in the case of the Afghani women, they can’t.

Blog Author (and WARP founder) DEBORAH CHANDLER has been a member of WARP since the beginning, driven by a hunger to hang out with like-minded people. She has lived in Guatemala for 20 years, where she is now weaving less and ranting and raving more. (The privilege of passing age 70?) Deborah has written four books on weaving and weavers in the US and Guatemala, including Learning to Weave, Guatemalan Woven Wealth: Preserving a Rich Textile Tradition, Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives, and A Textile Travelers Guide to Guatemala. You can follow Deborah on her blog, Weaving Futures with Deborah Chandler: Stories from Guatemala.


La Razón Que WARP Importa

Autor: Deborah Chandler

Como algunas saben, mi obsesión reciente es con migración. No es un asunto de WARP exactamente, entonces rechacé la sugerencia que se copien mis blogs sobre migración en la página de fb de WARP. Pero en este momento, cuando tantos miembros de WARP que trabajan en comercio justo están enterrados en ventas, voy a tomar la oportunidad de escribir un poco del tema y mostrar como en una manera indirecta es precisamente un asunto de WARP.

Y’abal Handicrafts, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala www.yabalhandicrafts.com

Misión de WARP: Para fomentar  una red global de entusiastas que valoran la importancia de textiles en economías locales.

Las economías locales frecuentemente son la primera línea en la batalla contra a la pobreza. A veces nosotros quien trabajamos en el mundo de comercio justo reflexionamos que no necesariamente trabajamos con la gente más pobre de los pobres ahora, pero la palabra clave es AHORA. Lo hicimos, Ellos eran, pero ahora, precisamente porqué ellos trabajan con comercio justo, muchos artesanos ya no están entre los más pobres. No son ricos, lejos de serlo, pero pueden dar comida a sus hijos y los mandan a las escuelas, lo que mejora bastante la posibilidad de que la próxima generación va a empezar más alto en la escalera económica. Y esto dice mucho.

Mi experiencia más que todo es con ong-s (organizaciones no-gubernamentales) en Guatemala, primero Manos Mayas pero mientras trabajaba con ellas conocía muchas otras luchando en proyectos iguales. Por WARP he conocido gente haciendo trabajo similar en muchos otros países, en los continentes de África, Asia, Sud América, aún Norte América, y unos lugares que no están en ningún continente. Las historias son lo mismo – textiles extraordinarios, muchas veces indígenas y llenos de significado cultural, demasiadas veces los que los hacen viviendo en pobreza extrema, todos buscando mercados. Es difícil vender sus textiles tradicionales, en parte porque no son diseños que combinan bien en hogares de Norte América ni Europa, y en parte porque los precios siendo los que deberían ser por algo hecho a mano son más de lo que mucha gente quieren pagar. Pero por tejer productos que SÍ parecen bien al mercado internacional, ellos pueden ganar suficientemente bien para poder seguir tejiendo para sí mismo y sus familias, usando habilidades que les permiten trabajar en sus casas, evitando la necesidad de salir para trabajar en fábricas en las ciudades. U otros países.

En octubre yo trabajé tres semanas como voluntaria en El Paso, Texas, en Casa Anunciación (www.annunciationhouse.org) AH es un albergue, bueno, cuatro albergues, que sirven las necesidades de migrantes entrando EEUU, dejados libres por las autoridades de migración. Como puede imaginar, era una experiencia de aprendizaje muy intensa, una por la que estoy muy agradecida. Es claro que la violencia es una razón principal de que millones de personas en el mundo están migrando ahora, pero la pobreza es muy alta en la lista también. Si no es posible alimentar su familia, cualquier hombre o mujer responsable va a hacer lo que sea para buscar ingresos. Hay muchas opciones terribles, muchas que incluyen traficando humanos en una manera u otra, unas que incluyen crímenes de desesperación, y otras que están simplemente buscar sin encontrar. Hay mucho en las noticias ahora, algunos llamando esto la crisis más grande de nuestros tiempos.

Entonces, ¿cómo relaciona todo eso con WARP, Tejer una Paz de Verdad? Talvez todo. Lo que estamos tratando de hacer es ayudar a la gente para poder a quedarse en sus casas, sus pueblos, sus vidas, y ganar un ingreso con que puedan sostener sus familias, y sus culturas al mismo tiempo. ¿Ha leído el libro de Rangini Hamidi y Mary Littrell Bordando dentro Fronteras – Mujeres Afganis Creando un Futuro? Las mujeres en este libro viven debajo de los Talibanes, lo que es más allá que la mayoría de nosotros podemos imaginar. Cuando terminé este libro leí el de Josh Hirschstein y Maren Beck, Tejedoras de Seda de las Tribus del Altiplano de Laos, y estuve asombrada con la libertad que tienen estas mujeres, para salir de sus casas, visitar sus vecinos cuando quieran, vivir sus vidas libre de paredes y reglas fatales. ¡Increíble! Y seguí con el libro de Susan Schaeffer Davis, Artesanas de Marrueco – Sus Historias, Sus Vidas. Es otro libro sobre mujeres musulmanes, y la diferencia entre las vidas de ellas y las de sus hermanas viviendo bajo del régimen de los Talibán es una educación maravillosa sobre como hay tanta variedad en el mundo musulmán como en los mundos cristiano o judaico.

No es un accidente que todas estas autores son miembros de WARP, trabajando con artesanas, haciendo todo lo posible enfocadas en las economías locales. Las mujeres en estos libros NO ESTÁN migrando, ellas no necesitan* hacerlo. Y tal vez esto es el milagro de Tejer una Paz de Verdad.

* Reconozco que en el caso de las mujeres Afganis, no pueden.

Thrums Books ofrece libros en inglés y español, todos apoyando artesanos tradicionales. Estos tres libros existen sólo en inglés. Pero como todos los libros de Thrums, ¡tienen muchas fotos magníficas! www.thrumsbooks.com

DEBORAH CHANDLER ha estado un miembro de WARP desde el principio, siempre con ganas de disfrutar la compañía de otros con ideas en común. Ha vivida en Guatemala por 20 años, donde ahora ella está tejiendo menos y agitando más. (¿Privilegio de pasar 70 años?)


For the Love of Textiles

For this month’s blog, we have a special article! WARP Member, Deb Brandon, shares the story of her book, Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe, published by Schiffer Books. What began as a regular column for the WARP newsletter (which Deb has been writing for over a decade), grew into a beautifully published collection of chapters on textiles from 25 different countries. In the backstory below, Deb tells the trials and triumphs of creating this book. In Threads, Deb’s fantastic writing includes personal narratives, cultural background, and treats such as the recipe for Sadza Batik paste from Zimbabwe. The vibrant photos by Joe Coca provide in-depth process scenes of the various weaving, stitching, printing, and dye techniques, as well as luscious detail images of the featured textiles. To purchase your own hardback copy of Threads for $25, please contact us at info@weavearealpeace.org. All proceeds of book purchases from WARP go directly to our operating expenses, including our quarterly newsletter, which features Deb Brandon’s column “Textile Techniques from Around the World.”

On this visit to the Old City in Jerusalem, I actually had a specific goal in mind. This time, instead of wandering through the Arab Market aimlessly, hoping to discover unexpected treasures, I planned to search for—and find—a high quality sample of Palestinian embroidery. Embroidery with that characteristic red-rich cross-stitch saturating a black background, the textile I’d written about for my very first WARP newsletter column.

Since childhood, I have been surrounded by ethnic textiles: Bedouin rugs, Persian wall hangings, embroidered blouses from Mexico. They have always been a part of my life, a part of who I am. My appreciation of textile traditions grew after I joined WARP (Weave A Real Peace), a networking organization whose members value improving the quality of life of textile artisans around the world through their textile traditions. My interest leaped to an even higher level a couple of years later when I started writing a regular column for WARP’s newsletter, “Textile Techniques from Around the World.”

My first article was about Palestinian embroidery. I was a college math professor with no writing experience beyond research articles and lesson plans, so I mimicked the format of a few non-scientific articles I found. I dove straight into the topic without preamble or context:

“Palestinian embroidery is a form of cross-stitch that involves prominent use of red threads, where many of the patterns are geometric in nature.”

My second essay was about Scottish tartans, the third about mudcloth. Since then I have written about the molas from Panama, Swedish twined knitting, Faroese shawls, and many other techniques practiced in many countries.

Author Deb Brandon (right) with WARP member Lola Faturoti at this year’s WARP Meeting.

I relished the research I conducted for my essays—I spent hours scouring the internet and poring over books. A maker myself, I enjoyed learning about new techniques and incorporating them in my own work.

A few years and many articles later, at the 2006 WARP annual meeting in Guatemala, Linda Temple, the newsletter editor, suggested we publish a collection of the articles I’d written, to be sold to the WARP membership as a fundraiser. We assumed it would be a copy-and-paste job with minimal editing; I envisioned a small booklet, with photos provided by WARP members who had visited the textile artisans whose work I’d featured in the articles. Shouldn’t take more than a year, maybe two, to complete, I thought, knowing that I could work on it only part-time.

Instead, the journey to publication took more than a decade and the humble, homegrown booklet I had imagined evolved into something much grander and more significant.

The change began a month later, with a major plot twist in my own life story. I have tangles of thin-walled blood vessels scattered throughout my brain. Two of them bled, turning my life upside-down: debilitating headaches, loss of balance, relentless seizures, and more. I couldn’t work, couldn’t weave, couldn’t be the mom I’d been and wanted to be. Most days, I barely functioned; my life shrank to mere existence. The only known treatment to prevent future bleeds was surgical removal of the two bleeders.

Three brain surgeries later, I felt lost and afraid. I couldn’t grasp the enormity of what had happened to me. I had no idea where to begin my journey towards recovery. Would I ever be able to rejoin humanity, to reclaim my place in the world?

I started writing an account of my experience, hoping that it would help me navigate my way through the obstacles strewn across my path. I also hoped my story would help other brain injury survivors. I soon realized that I wanted to reach a broader audience, too. For that, I needed to improve my writing skills.

Backstrap Weaving from Bhutan, photo by Joe Coca.

My neurological deficits prevented me from participating in writing workshops. Instead, I worked with writing coach and now friend, Judy Fort Brenneman. Under her tutelage, I grew from an “eh” journal writer to a skilled storyteller, and my account evolved into an award-winning book, “But My Brain Had Other Ideas: A Memoir of Recovery from Brain Injury.”

The more I wrote, the more my writing improved, and the more I wanted to write. I discovered the storyteller in me. I wrote not just about my recovery, but also about my past and present—my childhood in Israel and England, my trips to Colorado and Iceland, my adventures in dragon boating and weaving. And I continued to write the column for the WARP newsletter.

As my writing and my recovery progressed, I grew as a person. I let the world in as I never had in my past life. I became more passionate and compassionate. My interest in other people increased and with it, my ability to listen. I connected better with my surroundings. From the shy introvert I used to be, I grew into an extrovert.

My growth as a writer became apparent in my writing, of course—but I also noticed that the content shifted. Instead of focusing on techniques, I now paid more attention to the stories, the traditions, the communities, and the artisans themselves.

One consequence of my post-surgery transformation was that my dedication to WARP and its mission took a higher place on my list of priorities. I was even more determined to make a significant difference, and I returned to my WARP writing project, the article collection Linda and I had discussed a lifetime ago.

I began by rereading my articles from past columns, and soon realized that they needed more than a light dusting to work the way I wanted them to. The original pieces were mere skeletons; there was so much missing, so many stories untold. I found myself using my old work only as references and placeholders. I dug much further into research than I had the first time around: more articles, more books, more in-depth conversations with artisans.

Kilt Hose from Scotland, photo by Joe Coca.

The photos I had collected from WARP members wouldn’t do justice to this more extensive version. Judy consulted with a photographer friend of hers for advice. What was considered a reasonable price? What timeline should we expect? Did he have any recommendations?

She reported back that, “Joe Coca said he’d do it. At a reasonable price. He said he liked WARP.”

“Wait. What? Joe Coca? Are you serious?” Not only did I appreciate his work, but Joe was the textile photographer in the country. And the price for photographer of such renown was more than reasonable; it felt like a gift, one for which I am eternally grateful.

I put the finishing touches on 25 textile techniques to include in the book, gathered samples, and flew to Colorado for the photo shoot at Joe’s studio (then in Fort Collins).

I always enjoy watching people competent at their trade at work, whether they are electricians, chefs, or teachers. I am intrigued by the choices they make, their focus, their technique, and their confidence. The same was true watching Joe at work in his studio—the photo shoots were a joy. I admired his skill and appreciated his patience and willingness to answer my numerous questions, some serious, others joking. He was good company. His photos were (and are) fabulous.

At this point in the story, I was still thinking of self-publishing. But on the off-chance that a traditional publishing house might be interested, Judy sent a query and book proposal to Schiffer Publishing. To my surprise and delight, Peter Schiffer responded quickly with an enthusiastic “Yes!”—provided I would include photos of artisans and process in addition to the textile photos. “Images of process will elevate it to another level,” he explained. The cost of finding and licensing those images was on me; Schiffer offered no advance or help with the image research.

But I felt confident about the project and about Schiffer as publisher, so within the month, I had a signed contract and was busy tracking down professional-quality photographs for 25 textile techniques—a much more daunting and time-consuming task than I’d ever expected, but definitely worth it. Peter was right; the book is stronger with the additional imagery.

Three-dimensional Embroidery from Peru, photo by Joe Coca.

Picking which techniques to include in the book was no trivial matter. My first elimination round was based on the writing quality of the existing articles. Next I considered the availability of reliable resources to expand content. And finally, what samples were available? In the end, some were my own, and many were borrowed from Judi Arndt’s extensive collection.

My pick for the first chapter was clear from the start: Moroccan flatweave created by Berber weavers. The Berber believe that the process of weaving represents the life cycle of a male child, from birth to death. Once the textile is cut off the loom it dies, and the weaver performs death rites on it, as she would for a person. As the dead enter the afterlife, the textile is reborn into its next life in its intended home. I found this story so compelling that my original title for the book was “Birth and Rebirth: Textile Techniques from Around the World.”

I decided early-on that the last chapter would be about the three-dimensional embroidery made only in one studio, which is owned by the Oncebay family from Ayacucho, Peru. I had met two of the family members at a WARP meeting: Saturnino, the weaver, and Vilma, the embroiderer. They explained that their three-dimensional embroidery was an ancient, pre-Incan technique they had recently revived. My resources for that chapter came first-hand from the Oncebays’ account of their research, and the anthropologist who worked with them.

But I didn’t include a chapter on Palestinian red cross-stitch embroidery. That article didn’t even make the first cut—though it did illustrate how much my writing has improved over the years! More importantly, I didn’t have any good samples to photograph. For the next volume—and yes, I hope to write a sequel—I plan to have a sample of this beautiful, enduring technique. The expanded essay might even make the cut for opening chapter.

From the initial plan of producing a simple homegrown booklet, this project morphed into a full length book, a book with incredible images accompanying well-written, interesting stories, a book that’s won multiple awards, a book I am proud of.

Shisha Embroidery from India

Raising money for WARP and increasing WARP’s visibility attracted me from the beginning, and still does. Sharing my love of ethnic textiles by immersing myself in the stories, from early drafts through research, rewrites, photography, and publication, appealed to me and helped me persevere through all the challenges. But I always felt there was more to it, that something more was driving my dedication to this work. It finally clicked as I worked on the introduction—the “big why” underlying my conviction that textile traditions are important.

Textile traditions are more than a connection between past and present. Their importance is greater than the facts of their beauty and construction.

Ethnic textiles and their traditions form ties between us, weaving diverse people and cultures together in often-surprising ways. Stories are inherent in textiles, stories about the makers and their communities, their cultures and traditions, and their relationship to society as a whole.

The stories behind the textile traditions are universal, bringing to light our commonalities, helping us recognize our ties with each other, no matter where we reside in the world and what our place is in society. These textiles and the stories they represent prevent us from losing our humanity. In a way, they save us from ourselves by celebrating our humanity.

And that’s a fundamental step toward peace and a better world.

Deb Brandon is a weaver, respected textile artist and enthusiast, and writer. She’s been an active volunteer with WARP (Weave A Real Peace), including serving multiple terms as a board member as well as writing the long-running “Textile Techniques from around the World” column for the WARP Newsletter. Brandon is a popular speaker on textiles and other topics. She’s an avid traveler and has competed nationally and internationally in dragon boating, and she’s been a professor in the Mathematical Sciences Department at Carnegie Mellon University since 1991. Her other books include the memoir But My Brain had Other Ideas, and her essays have appeared in several publications, including HandEye Magazine and Weaving Today.

Book signing at this year’s WARP Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.


Maya Mam Weavers of Guatemala

Grupo Cajolá logo “Let’s walk together so no one is left behind”

NOTA: puede ver la historia en español abajo del inglés.

Tejedoras Maya Mam is a cooperative of 26 women in the municipality of Cajolá, Quetzaltenango, in the highlands of Guatemala. The cooperative was born through the work of Grupo Cajolá, a group of undocumented immigrants that was organized in 2000 in the town of Morristown, NJ to watch out for each other after the death of a young man from Cajolá. When the members of Grupo Cajolá in Morristown began to return to their community, they returned with the dream of organizing the community of Cajolá to work on the development of their town so that one day there would be no more forced migration. Cajolá is a town of 18,000 people, of which 7,000 live in the United States. This results in a serious social disintegration, particularly in the family.

Maya Mam Weavers

The group began to work in Cajolá in 2005. Working with groups of women, the idea arose to start businesses as a solution to the problem of poverty. (90% of Cajolá lives in poverty, and 66% of the children are chronically malnourished. We began with an egg farm and a weaving project. The men in Cajolá criticized us for having women working. But after the collapse of the economy in 2008 they decided to start a carpentry business. Now we have three economic projects where the workers are the owners of the businesses.

Education is the other important thrust of our work. We began a scholarship program in 2006 with the help of the Maya Educational Foundation of the U.S. In addition, we now have a program “Helping with Homework” that assists 50 students from the local primary school in improving their skills. We also have “Sunday Reading Circle” to help instill the love of reading in young people.

Seamstresses have to maintain their machines.

In the weaving project, one group of women wanted to learn how to weave on the foot loom, another group learned how to sew on the sewing machine. After the trainings in weaving and sewing, we combined the two groups, added some backstrap weavers, and Tejedoras Maya Mam was born. They began with simple products, and little by little the women improved their skills.

We organized Mayamam Weavers in the U.S. to develop a market for the products of Tejedoras Maya Mam. The idea was to develop a market that would make it possible to pay a fair wage, and today Mayamam Weavers is a new member of WARP and a member of the Fair Trade Federation.

Due to lack of opportunity, more than a half of the women in Cajolá are illiterate. That is a serious weakness when you are managing a business! The illiterate women had to study literacy during their work days. But, after several years, it was the entrance of some women who had already had academic education that allowed Tejedoras Maya Mam to being the work of managing the business themselves.

Sales event in Quetzaltenango May 2019

From the beginning, all of the women have been working together in one space, not in their houses. This facilitated the interactions among the women and resulted in the formation of the Marketing and Sales Council that now is managing the cooperative! They have learned how to develop products, analyze costs, set prices, and coordinate the work. Something very important has been that during the passing of the years the women learned how to make high quality products. There is a coordinator that reviews the quality of all of the products before they are sold. She is a member of the cooperative, something a bit unusual in the culture of Cajolá, that someone in the community could criticize the work of her colleagues.

With the vision of developing the community, Grupo Cajolá has offered training to the women. When the foot loom weavers learned to weave with 4 shafts, i.e. more complex patterns, that opened up new markets, including selling fabric by the meter to various designers. A training in tie dying yarn for jaspe (ikat) will be underway soon.

Preschool “Teaching the Wisdom of our Elders”

Grupo Cajolá also offers a scholarship program that is available for any member (or their family) at any level of study who wants to continue to study. One of our seamstresses took advantage of a scholarship to complete her middle school studies, and now she is studying fashion design. This resulted in her accepting a new position as coordinator of New Products. The team of Tejedoras Maya Mam is strong!

Grupo Cajolá opened a preschool in 2012 to take care of the children of the women working in the cooperative; (now it is open to the whole community of Cajolá.) The preschool is based in the philosophy of Reggio Emilia, the preschools in Italy that are considered by UNESCO to be the best in the world. There is an emphasis on the interests of the children and in involving the parents in their education. This has resulted in big changes in the family of the students, and therefore in Cajolá.

Quality Control Coordinator Reviewing Cosmetic Bags

At this time, we can say that we have not stopped forced migration, but yes, we are changing lives. And there are some people who now have hope that there is a future for their families in Cajolá, working in Tejedoras Maya Mam.

Web page for Mayamam Weavers: www.mayamamweavers.com

Web page for Grupo Cajola: www.grupocajola.org

Blog Author CARYN MAXIM is the Coordinator of Grupo Cajolá in the U.S. She has been involved with Grupo Cajola since 2002, traveling monthly to Cajolá since 2005. She is also responsible for the development of Mayamam Weavers in the US.


Foot loom weaver and our new “Rainbow Stripe” / Tejedora del Telar de Pie y las nuevas rayas “Arco Iris”

Logotipo Grupo Cajolá

Tejedoras Maya Mam de Guatemala

Tejedoras Maya Mam es una cooperativa de 26 mujeres en el municipio de Cajolá, Quetzaltenango, en el altiplano de Guatemala. La cooperativa nació por el trabajo del Grupo Cajolá, un grupo de migrantes indocumentados que se organizó en Morristown NJ en el año 2000 para velar para sus compañeros después del fallecimiento de un joven de Cajolá. Cuando los miembros de Grupo Cajolá en Morristown empezaron a regresar a su comunidad, volvieron con el sueño de organizar a la comunidad de Cajolá para trabajar en el desarrollo de esta y un día parar la migración forzada. Cajolá es un pueblo de 18,000 habitantes, de cuales 7,000 viven en los EE.UU. Esto deja una desintegración familiar y social muy fuerte.

Tejedoras Maya Mam

El grupo inicio el trabajo en Cajolá en el año 2005 al abrir el primer centro de internet en Cajolá. Trabajando con grupos de mujeres salió la idea de arrancar empresas como una solución a la pobreza. (90% del pueblo de Cajolá vive en pobreza, y 66% de los niños tienen desnutrición crónica.) Iniciamos con un proyecto de gallinas ponedoras y otro en tejer. Los hombres de Cajolá nos criticaron por tener mujeres trabajando. ¡Pero después de la caída de la economía del año 2008 los hombres decidieron arrancar una empresa de carpintería! Ahora hay tres proyectos económicos donde los trabajadores son los dueños de las empresas.

La otra rama importante es la educación, y se inició un programa de becas en el año 2006 con el apoyo de Maya Educational Foundation de los EEUU. Ahora tenemos un programa “Ayudando con las Tareas” que trabaja con 50 niños de la escuela primaria para mejorar sus habilidades y “El Circulo de Lectura” los domingos para desarrollar la habitud de leer con los jóvenes.

Las costureras tienen que hacer mantenimiento en las maquinas.

En el proyecto de tejer, un grupo de mujeres quería aprender a tejer en telar de pie y otro grupo aprendió coser a máquina. Después de las capacitaciones en tejer y coser, en el año 2008 combinamos los dos grupos, agregamos unas tejedoras de telar de cintura, y fue así como nació Tejedoras Maya Mam. Se inició con productos sencillos, y poco a poco las mujeres mejoraban sus habilidades.

Se organizó Mayamam Weavers en los EE.UU. para desarrollar el mercado en los EE.UU. para los productos de Tejedoras Maya Mam. La idea fue desarrollar el mercado en los EE.UU. para poder pagar un salario justo. (Hoy Mayamam Weavers es miembro nuevo  de WARP y es miembro de la Fair Trade Federation.)

Por falta de oportunidad, más que mitad de las mujeres en Cajolá son analfabetas. Esto es una debilidad grave para dirigir una empresa. Las mujeres analfabetas tuvieron que estudiar alfabetización dentro de sus días de trabajo. Pero, después de varios años, fue la entrada de unas mujeres ya con educación académica que permitió Tejedoras Maya Mam empezar el trabajo de manejar la empresa ellas mismas.

Feria de ventas en Quetzaltenango Mayo 2019

Desde el inicio, todas han estado trabajando juntos en un espacio, no en sus casas. Esto facilitaba los intercambios entre ellas y que resultó en la formación del Consejo de Mercadeo y Ventas que ahora maneja la cooperativa. Han aprendido como desarrollar productos, analizar los costos, poner los precios, coordinar el trabajo. Algo importante ha sido que en el transcurso de los años las trabajadoras aprendieron a trabajar buena calidad de productos. Hay una coordinadora que revisa la calidad de todos los productos antes de la venta. Ella es miembro de la cooperativa, algo un poquito raro en la cultura de Cajolá, ¡que alguien de la comunidad pueda criticar el trabajo de sus compañeras!

Con la visión del desarrollo de la comunidad, Grupo Cajolá ha proporcionado varias capacitaciones para las mujeres. Cuando las tejedoras del telar de pie aprendieron a tejer con 4 pedales se abrieron nuevos mercados, y se venden tejidos por metro a varios diseñadores. Una capacitación en teñir hilo para jaspeado (ikat) está planificado por este mes de septiembre.

Escuela Infantil Enseñanza de los Pensamientos de los Abuelos”

Grupo Cajolá ofrece un programa de becas que está disponible para personas de cualquier nivel educativo que tenga ganas estudiar. Una de nuestras costureras aprovechó de una beca para terminar sus estudios de básico, y ahora está estudiando diseño de moda, ¡resulta que ella es la Coordinadora del Desarrollo de Nuevos Productos! ¡El equipo de Tejedoras Maya Mam es fuerte!

Grupo Cajolá abrió una escuelita infantil en el año 2012 para cuidar a los niños de las mujeres trabajadoras (ahora está abierta a toda la comunidad de Cajolá). La escuelita es basada en la filosofía de Reggio Emilia, las escuelitas de Italia que considera UNESCO las mejores en el mundo. Hay un énfasis en los intereses de los niños, y en involucrar a los padres en la educación. Esto resulta en cambios fuertes dentro de las familias de los alumnos, y entonces también en Cajolá.

Coordinadora de Calidad revisando las bolsas cosméticas


En este momento podemos decir que no hemos parado la migración, pero sí, estamos cambiando vidas. Hay unos que ahora tienen esperanza que hay un futuro para sus familias en Cajolá, trabajando en Tejedoras Maya Mam.

Página de web de Mayamam Weavers: www.mayamamweavers.com

Página de web de Grupo Cajola: www.grupocajola.org

Autor: Caryn Maxim es la coordinadora de Grupo Cajola en los EEUU. Ella ha estado involucrada con Grupo Cajola desde el año 2002, viajando mensualmente a Cajola desde 2005. Ella es responsable para el desarrollo de Mayamam Weavers en los EEUU.


Argentinian Artisanry and Textiles

NOTA: puede ver la historia en español abajo del inglés.

Exhibition “QR: Between the Ancestral and the Future” – A collective manner to unite worlds, where the past and the future, traditions and innovations, the isolated and the interconnected are joined together.

Patricia Hakim is the author of this “techno-artisan” project, in her own words. A recognized Argentine artist and curator, in this effort Patricia united artisans of different provinces in her country, who took on the challenge of reproducing QR codes, each in his or her own ancestral technique, to convert the codes into interesting works that invite the viewer to scan them with their cell phones. By scanning them they can see a video showing the techniques step by step and the history of each of the artisans who participated in the project.

Among the pieces chosen for the exhibition one can see pieces created in different techniques, such as textiles woven on looms, knitted, basketry, embroidery, and woven “wichi”, a plant much like maguey (that makes sisal).



An extract from the catalog explains the concept of the show:

“The objective of this project centers on the idea of uniting worlds, worlds that appear to be opposite, by recovering and amplifying the sense of the craftsmanship, art, and technology, bringing together the contrasting diversity of art and technology in a productive manner: connecting, exposing, and disseminating, in a technological form, the ancestral techniques and the artisans who practice them, while expressing the new technologies in an artistic form.

Juxtaposing artisanry with technology and the visual documentation within the same piece generates a dislocation and estrangement that allows the surfacing of questions about the roles of the artist and the producer, and of the hybridization-fusion of the role of the artist/curator.

In consequence, the works and the curating emphasize how the details of the different techniques represent the time and place of each style. In other words, the show proposes the arts as a collective practice, experimental and multi-disciplinary, destined to inspire, expand, and create other sensations within its own field.”

The exhibition is being shown in Buenos Aires, in Asunción Paraguay at the Bienal South, and later it can be enjoyed until September 14, 2019 in the Province of Chaco in the north of Argentina.

Below are links to some of the videos that can also be seen online. Spanish subtitles can be added clicking on the lower right. The titles are the technique and location of the artist:


VANINA BUJALTER of Buenos Aires has a degree in Psychology, but she found her true calling and has been dedicated to Textile Arts and Crafts for more than 30 years. Initially learning from her mother, the textile artist Mimí Bujalter, she has studied, taught, and exhibited throughout Argentina and internationally. Her work has won many awards, and can be seen in both public and private collections in numerous countries.

Artesanía y Textiles Argentinos

Exposición  “QR: entre lo ancestral y el futuro”

Una manera colectiva de unir mundos, donde se conjugan: pasado y futuro, tradiciones e innovaciones, el aislamiento y la interconexión.

Patricia Hakim es la autora de este Proyecto “tecno-artesanal”, según sus propias palabras. Reconocida artista y curadora argentina, Patricia reunió en esta muestra, artesanos de distintas provincias de su país, quienes asumieron el desafío de reproducir, a través de sus oficios ancestrales códigos QR, para convertirlos en interesantes obras que invitan al espectador a escanear estos códigos con un teléfono celular. Al escanearlos se puede visualizar en video el paso a paso y las historias de cada uno de los artesanos que participaron del proyecto.

Entre los oficios elegidos para la exposición se pueden ver piezas realizadas en diferentes técnicas, entre las que se destacan técnicas textiles como telar, tejido a dos agujas, cestería, randa y tejido wichi.



Un extracto del catálogo nos explica el concepto de la muestra:

“El objetivo del proyecto se centra en la  idea de unir mundos, en apariencia opuestos, recuperando y ampliando los sentidos de la artesanía, del arte y de la tecnología al tensar diversos contrastes productivos: conectando, exponiendo y difundiendo, en forma tecnológica, las técnicas ancestrales y sus artesanos, e inversa y simultáneamente exponiendo de forma artesanal las tecnologías actuales.

Yuxtaponer la artesanía con la tecnología y el registro documental en una misma pieza, genera una dislocación y un extrañamiento que permite la aparición de preguntas acerca del lugar del artista, el del productor y de la hibridación-fusión del rol del artista/curador.

En consecuencia, las obras y la curaduría apuntan a destacar el modo en que diferentes técnicas hacen y representan a su tiempo y lugar. En otras palabras se propone al arte como una práctica colectiva, experimental y multidisciplinaria destinada a accionar, expandir y darle otros sentidos a su propio campo.”

La muestra se expuso en Buenos Aires, en Asunción Paraguay en el marco de la Bienal Sur, y próximamente se podrá apreciar en la Provincia del Chaco en el norte de Argentina.

Aquí compartimos algunos de los videos que también pueden verse on-line:

VANINA BUJALTER de Buenos Aires tiene su Licenciatura en Psicología, pero hallaba su vocación de verdad y se ha dedicado al Arte y Artesanía Textil por más de 30 años. Iniciándose en el taller de su madre la artista textil Mimí Bujalter, desde 1982 ha estudiado, dictado clases y seminarios, y participado en exhibiciones y concursos en Buenos Aires, en el interior del país y en el exterior. Sus piezas integran colecciones públicas y privadas en Argentina y el exterior.

Knitting Peace Circus

NOTA: puede ver la historia en español abajo del inglés.

Weaving is not the only fiber path to peace. 

In 2012 as director and concept driver of the Swedish Circus Cirkör, Tilde Björfors turned the idea of knitting peace into the realm of performance art by turning it into the fundamental thematic driver of its production.  Invited to present at the Nobel festivities in December 2012, Knitting Peace was subsequently presented over 230 times Europe before coming to Philadelphia in 2016.

Guerrilla knitters marked the opening performance in Stockholm by yarn bombing the city center in white while a call went out internationally for knitters to submit a piece of white knitting, along with thoughts on knitting for peace that were then displayed in the foyer of later performance venues.

Kilos of white knit T-shirt waste ‘yarn’ formed the set with knitting and giant balls of ‘yarn’ scattered on stage. Throughout the two-hour performance aerialists worked from the neat balls of yarn, using their bodies to knit in the air and wire walk on the set’s many tangled threads.  Knitting Peace ended with large rolls of knitting unfurled from stage as bridges to a mesmerized audience.

PS: Tilde told me that my art work was part of the mood board during the research phase.

To visit Knitting Circus on Facebook, please click here. To view a fantastic trailer with footage from the Knitting Circus film, click here.

A long time WARP member, Adrienne Sloane is also a freelance writer and an accomplished Boston based studio artist who has shown and taught sculptural knitting internationally for over 25 years. Her work can be seen at her website www.adriennesloane.com  Follow her on instagram at adrienne_sloane.









Tejer con telar no es el único sendero de fibras hacia a la paz.

En 2012, el director y piloto de conceptos artísticos del Circo Cirkör de Suecia, Tilde Björfors tomó la idea de tejer paz hacia al mundo de “performance art”, actuaciones artísticas, usándolo como el tema fundamental inspirando su producción. Fue invitado a presentar la obra para las festividades de los Premios Nobel en 2012, y después Knitting Peace (Tejiendo Paz) fue presentado más de 230 veces en Europa antes de ir a Filadelfia, Pensilvania , EEUU en 2016.

Tejedoras guerrilleras marcaron la apertura del show en Estocolmo cubriendo el centro de la ciudad con hilo blanco, y mientras tanto emitieron un llamado internacional para las tejedoras de todos partes a mandar una pieza de tejido blanco acompañada por sus pensamientos sobre tejiendo por paz, los cuales fueron mostrados en los lobbies de las presentaciones subsecuentes.

Kilos de desperdicio de playeras blancas hecho “hilo” formaron el escenario y bolas de hilo gigantes llenaron diferentes espacios. Durante la presentación de dos horas, actores aerialistas, como gimnastas del aire, trabajaron sacando hilo de las bolas nítidas, usando sus cuerpos como agujas para tejer en el aire, y usaron los “tejidos” grandes e hilos enredados del escenario como cuerdas para caminar arriba del escenario. Tejiendo Paz termino con tejidos enormes desenrollados como puentes desde el escenario a la audiencia fascinada.

PD Adrienne dice, “Tilde me dijo que mi trabajo, mi arte de tejidos, era parte de la inspiración en la fase de investigación para el proyecto.” Felicitaciones, Adrienne.

Para mirar Tejiendo Paz en Facebook, haga clic aquí. El fantástico trailer de la película Tejiendo Paz es aquí.

Un miembro de WARP por muchos años, Adrienne Sloane es una escritora y un artista bien conocida, con su estudio en Boston, Massachusetts de EEUU. Ella ha exhibido sus obras y enseñado somo crear esculturas tejidas internacionalmente por más que 25 años. Puede ver sus obras en su website www.adriennesloane.com, y seguirla en Instagram a adrienne_sloane. 

Local Connections – Working in Your Neighborhood

We don’t have to work internationally to do important work. Much is being done in our own backyards. This month, board member Judi Jetson shares her local connections…Judy Newland

In 2009, when I joined the staff of a nonprofit called HandMade in America, for the first time my love of textiles merged with my career in economic development. In a world of mass production and throwaways, we found ways to celebrate the rich tradition of craft in Western North Carolina and discovered how the power of the handmade can transform individuals and communities.  We commissioned an economic study that discovered the craft economy contributes more than $200 million a year to the local economy. We built partnerships and economies that were rooted in the culture that nourishes them and taught others – around the US and the world – how to do this too.

It was addictive – working locally with community leaders we received enthusiastic support in the media for recognizing and building on our craft assets. My passion for weaving, spinning and dyeing became fashionable! Next I started a nonprofit called Local Cloth to focus on growing the fiber economy, bringing shepherds together with each other to build their markets, and forming partnerships among farmers and artists and processors to make it possible to buy local textiles. Fashion shows featuring local artists using local materials were popular, and we organized several giving us the opportunity to educate consumers about the local resources and talents. We had sales, organized exhibits and opened a studio where we could teach and show our work.

Then I read about yarnbombing on Facebook and decided to organize a group to yarnbomb my own town – Weaverville, NC. Enthusiastic knitters worked for months making pieces to put sweaters on trees and signs and poles, and then dressed like ninjas to install it in the night. We were asked to yarnbomb the Folk Art Center located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and parts of downtown Asheville.

Next I heard about Spinzilla and organized a team that spent a week spinning in public – places like the Asheville Welcome Center and Echoview Spinning Mill – which gained a few new spinners and lots more people who know how yarn and cloth are made.


Twenty-seven years ago, I took a beginning weaving class from Deborah Chandler at the Florida Tropical Weavers conference. It was hard and fun – both at the same time – and as the class ended I asked Deborah if she knew of any way I could combine my love of textiles with my work as an economic developer. She thought for a minute and said “I’m not sure, but we’re starting a nonprofit called Weave A Real Peace that you might want to check out,” and then she told me she was moving to Guatemala to build a grassroots economy based on textiles. I joined and enjoyed the newsletter, but never attended a meeting and drifted away. Fast forward to 2011 when WARP held its annual meeting in nearby Black Mountain, NC. I was asked to talk about the work I was doing locally to build the fiber economy and got a warm reception. At the end of the meeting, I realized that WARP members working internationally were doing the same thing I was doing locally. It was an ah-ha moment and realized I had found my tribe.

Wonderful projects surround us if we just look around our neighborhood. The Navajo Quilt Project is one you might consider supporting this holiday season. You can assist by purchasing a tote bag OR send your extra fabrics to quilters on the Navajo reservation who have few resources.

The Navajo Quilt Project aims to collect fabric and quilting supplies for the quilters in the Navajo Nation. With very little access to fabric, scissors, or batting the quilters continue to sew beautiful quilts out of scraps and clothing. Proceeds from this cotton tote will go directly to purchase more materials for the Navajo quilters.

Wishing all of you a wonderful season of caring and sharing – Judy Newland