#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.

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!

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!

Weavers Wanted

Watch this fifteen minute as Roy Rylander talks to community members of San Antonio about their communities challenges and possibilities.

A WARP member sent us a clipping about a community in Belize looking for weavers to volunteer in their village.  We reached out to Roy Rylander, a community organizer in this small village, for more information. 

In 2008, Rod Rylander decided to retire in the small community of San Antonio Rio Hondo, located on a narrow island in Belize near the boundary of Mexico.  This remote village is home to about 60 families. Rod served there as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2000-2002.

As a member of the community, Rod has initiated many different projects to support the village in which he lives . The villagers grow very little of their own food, so Rod started a community garden using raised beds made from discarded tires. He has converted an old school bus to a community center where young children have access to a small library and a computer. He and a host of volunteers teach the local school children how to read and basic computer literacy skills. The bus has a small apartment that houses volunteers that can live rent free while volunteering a few hours a day in the community center.

Recently Rod introduced weaving and sewing classes to help village women build craft skills to create more opportunities for earning income to support their families. High school students must commute to school and the cost is too much for some villagers. Income made by the women from selling the products would help with transpiration costs.

“My weaving skills are very limited although we have made some neat bags” says Rod. The villagers have access to sales venues in Belize City and has formed a relationship with ENACTUS, a marketing club at Texas Women’s University to create markets in the United States. Rod is interested in increasing the skill level of the weavers so that they can create a professional product that the women can produce and market.

Rod finds volunteers through word of mouth and via Workaway, a website that connects volunteers to projects worldwide. It helps if you can speak Spanish, but most villagers can understand some English.

To learn more about the project, visit Workaway to read testimonials from past volunteers or visit Rod’s website www.sanantoniobelize.com

If you enjoy reading stories like these don’t forget to renew your membership to support the work of WARP. 2014 renewal letters are going out this month. WARP is offering a $20 gift membership for new members if payment accompanies your renewal. Consider a WARP membership as part of your holiday gift giving. WARP is the gift that keeps giving! 

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

Spinning and Weaving Week

Recycled Baskets
Judith Saunders, of Virginia and North Carolina, organizes a weaving challenge among her basketry students. They recycle junk mail and magazines by weaving baskets and sculptural forms from the paper strips. Each project is woven independently during Spinning and Weaving Week. Shown here are baskets from 2012. Credit Handweavers Guild of America

This week is National Spinning and Weaving Week.  In the United States, the first full week in October is set aside for textile enthusiasts to share their love of weaving and spinning with their communities.  Many find unique ways to inspire others to think about textile traditions in new ways.  Judith Saunders gives her basketry student students an annual challenge to create woven baskets from junk mail.

A Gyotaku flounder print helps teach students about the fish’s anatomy. Credit: Smithsonian Institute

If you are interested in exploring the breadth of textile traditions, browse the Textile Techniques column in WARP’s quarterly newsletter written by Deborah Brandon. Back issues are are available online.  In the Winter 2004 issues, you will  learn about Gyotaku or Japanese fish printing that was first used over 100 years ago by fisherman to record their catch.  Fish prints were emblazoned on rice paper or silk cloth.  Today it is a popular art form. The Smithsonian uses this method to teach kids about fish anatomy and introduce them to block printing, an often used textile technique.

In the Summer 2012 issue, we learn that some textiles have highly ritualized and ceremonial purposes.  Sikkes are the tall felted hats worn by Whirling Dervishes to accentuate the tilting of the head as they twirl.  According to Brandon, “The hat, similar to a tall version of a fez, is approximately two feet high and has a slightly flattened top. Traditional sikkes were made from the hair of a yearling camel, but now sheep’s wool or mohair are more commonly used.”  Wouldn’t it be fun to all make our own version of the sikkes and give them a whirl?

Celebrating textiles reaches far beyond this one week. In November, weavers of the Americas and beyond will gather in Cusco, Peru for Tinkuy to learn from one another.  The gathering includes seminars in product design, sustainability, and marketing for weavers indigenous to the Americas and their guests, plus hands-on workshops for the textile enthusiast.  The grand parade of weavers up the Avenida del Sol will be a site to see! Many WARP members are attending. If you go send us a postcard—real or virtual—we will be reporting back after the event.

Happy Spinning and Weaving Week!

The Power of Conversation

ImageFor over twenty years WARP has fostered a conversation between people who have a deep and abiding love for textiles and those that create them. Established as a networking organization, WARP works to educate, connect, and inspire us all to take a second look at the cloth that surrounds them and think about the people and processes that made it, particularly in communities in need.

For years, the good old fashioned way of communicating with our network has served us well; publishing a robust newsletter, hosting an annual gathering of members, creating a detailed directory of  member projects and textile interest, and providing a traveling slideshow for guilds, conferences, classrooms, and where ever textile enthusiast gather.

Early on in the digital age we added a website and a member’s only Yahoo discussion group. It is surprising at times the amount of human contact social media provides. It connects us to cloth and cloth makers in new and exciting ways. With the launch of our new blog we are stepping up our conversations on our social media sites. Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to learn about the current project of our members, textiles around the world, the latest WARP news, and connect with other textile enthusiast. If you are a textile artist yourself, you can find us on Ravelry and Weavolution. Bookmark or subscribe to this blog to dig a little deeper into the discussion. Share the links you like with your friends and help us grown the conversation.

Then, consider becoming a member of WARP. For a nominal annual membership fee, you can help support this conversation. You need not be a textile worker or project host yourself. You need only have the desire to stay connected to the cloth and cloth makers that surround us.

—Weave A Real Peace (WARP)