Tajikistan Bound Part Two: The Program

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

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

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

Fleece for sale.
Fleece for sale.

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

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

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

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

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

To purchase yarn from Tajikistan, click here.

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

IFAD www.ifad.org

ICARDA www.icard.org

Aga Khan Foundation www.akdn.org

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

Tajikistan Bound Part One: The Loom

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

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

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

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

The Loom Arrives

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

The loom when it arrived
The loom when it arrived

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

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

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

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

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

The assembled loom!
The assembled loom!

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

Shipping The Loom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road from Guatemala to Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

What is the history of the Cooperative?

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

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

Tell us a bit about your other delegate.

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

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

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

Resolution Revolution

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

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

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

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

A Postcard from Tinkuy

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Simmons is a member of the WARP Governing Board. 

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

The Value of a WARP Membership

Jackie Abrams in Nambia
Jackie Abrams with Frieda Nakanyala, who works on her baskets every day, until it is dark. As a child, she made them to sell so that she could buy clothing. At age 75, she makes baskets for gifts, trade, and for use in the homestead.

When Jackie Abrams stumbled upon the WARP booth at Convergence, the biannual conference of the Handweaver’s Guild of America, she knew she had found her tribe. She joined WARP right away. A contemporary basket weaver, Jackie appreciated the value of working with your hands. “My first trip to Ghana, Africa, was with a Cross Cultural Collaborative. I was entranced, but I wanted to be more than a tourist. My daughter was in the Peace Corps in Nambia. When I visited her, I was delighted to see that Africa was a basket makers paradise.”

It was not long after that that Cheryl Musch, WARP’s administrator at the time, was going through the directory looking for someone to recommend to SERRV to help with project evaluation in Africa. “It doesn’t hurt that my last name starts with ‘A’ “, said Jackie, who was thrilled when Cheryl got in touch.

Janet and Mercy practice their crochet skills
Plastic bags litter the countryside in Pokuase, Ghana, home to the KamiAmi people. Two local women, Janet and Mercy, practice their crochet skills making the most out of the resources they have.

That connection opened an entire world for Jackie. Since that time, she has traveled to Africa many times, mostly in Ghana. Jackie is interested in using reclaimed materials in her own work. In Ghana, plastic bags litter the countryside. Jackie experimented with different craft techniques and found that crochet was an excellent way to use this abundant resource.  “The bags were primarily black, which is unusual in the United States. For one project we created totes made from the uniquely colored bags.”

Through WARP Jackie is able to commune others that share the same kind of passion for working with with women where craft work is a way to provide for their families.  “Not every program works, with each experience I learn a little bit more about what it takes to be successful—strong in-country leadership, connections to markets, and quality control, are all vital.”

Jackie is now on the board of WARP.  “The small amount I pay every year for this extraordinary organization is worth every penny.”

To read more about Jackie’s work as a consultant visit her website.  To purchase your own Ghanian basket and read about one of the projects Jackie worked on with SERRV, click here. To join WARP or renew your membership, visit our website.

#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.