Connecting with Young Members

Nicole Giacomantonio, our young WARP member from Nova Scotia, shares her experience at the annual meeting in Decorah, her reasons for embracing our group of textile enthusiasts and her hopes for the future…Judy Newland

An Adventure in Iowa

Iowa was beautiful, and Decorah was truthfully a place I never expected to find myself. I thought it great to have the opportunity to go out of the way to spend time in such a lovely town. I loved experiencing the textile culture specific to the area, especially visiting the local yarn shop, I googled it before even arriving in Decorah. I probably spent 40 minutes in there agonizing over how many skeins of locally dyed yarn I could justify buying (I showed amazing restraint and settled on just one). I found the speakers this year to be very compelling. The Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship winners gave incredible talks, and hearing them speak was a highlight of the meeting for me.

The visit to the Seed Savers Exchange truly resonated with me – I have very strong family ties, and a lot of our tradition is surrounding food. Passing seeds on to family members is such a romantic tradition; I was inspired by the stories of veggies being brought overseas with moving families. I connect this with my interest in conservation as well. The seeds are important objects of cultural heritage that should be preserved for other generations to enjoy.

Why Weave A Real Peace? Support is Everything!

I was overwhelmed with the amount of support I received from the WARP organization and from its individual members in Oaxaca last year. The connections that developed during that meeting were, and continue to be, very inspiring and enriching as I explore the paths I can take in working with textiles in my own life. It was important to me to keep those relationships strong and to show my appreciation for the organization and the people that showed me so much love right from the beginning. Not to mention the fact that the meetings are so fun and engaging, with so many opportunities to learn from and along side those who share my passion for textiles.

The connections I made during the two conferences I attended had an incredible affect on me, and I was honoured to receive so much encouragement from WARP members. I want to stay involved in WARP for many reasons. I want to show WARP the same support that the organization has shown me over the past two years. I also want to help the organization to grow and adapt, to diversify and to usher in new and younger members. Being a member of WARP provides a great opportunity to explore the many and varying ways of working with textiles and cultural heritage, and to begin exploring ways I can act as an advocate for the preservation and conservation of textile traditions both at home and abroad.

Looking Ahead

I hope for growth and diversification of the WARP organization. I also hope to keep engaging in conversations about conservation, preservation, and the responsibility we as textile enthusiasts and artists have to the owners and makers of the ethnographic textiles and cultural heritage that we support and celebrate, but that is not necessarily our own. I hope that we as an organization work to celebrate these traditions of culture and art, but also think critically of our involvement in it.

I am in the middle of creating a naturally dyed quilt. I was hoping to finish it by the end of the summer… but here we are in mid August and I’ve barely finished the top. Oh well. However, I have almost finished knitting a sweater! So, cross your fingers that I finish SOMETHING by the end of August.

I’ll be moving to Scotland in the fall! I was accepted to the Master of Textile Conservation program at the University of Glasgow. A big move, but I am very excited.

Textile conservation students at the University of Glasgow.

 

Nicole is managing our Instagram account. Look for important information on this coming soon….

 

Creating Connected Communities Through Seed Saving

Weavers, spinners, fiber artists and anyone working with natural fiber and cloth rely directly on seeds for fiber plants like cotton and flax. Seeds are vital in the food production for wool-producing animals like sheep and alpaca. So it is easy to imagine the importance of safe-guarding access to seeds. Seeds are the first step in our food and fiber systems.

Why seed saving is important

Saving seeds and sharing them with others has been a critical practice that helped sustain us as a species for thousands of years. Through seed saving practices, gardeners, small-scale farmers, agriculturalists and eventually small, independent seed companies specialized in open pollinated plant and crop varieties that were well suited to local environments. These practices also created a vast array of crop varieties and allowed communities to conserve, preserve, grow and promote local seed diversity and cultural heritage.

Decorah, Iowa in 2018

Attendees to WARP’s annual meeting in Decorah, Iowa (June 2018) will have a chance to visit Heritage Farm, part of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). For over 40 years the SSE has been caring about seeds through their mission to… “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food heritage for future generations…”. Seed Savers Exchange accomplishes this by collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants at the farm and through a seed exchange program.

The farm curates more than 25,000 heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable, herb and plant varieties, including over 1,000 varieties of heritage apple trees. Backyard gardeners from around the world can share and exchange home-grown seeds with one another through membership in the a kind of “seed swap-meet” known as the Seed Exchange facilitated by SSE.

The importance of crop diversity

The work of SSE in maintaining plant biodiversity is vitally important today, especially in the US where a decline in crop diversity since the early 1900’s is between 75%-90%! Maintaining biodiversity is like having an insurance policy against extinction. This loss of diversity is due in part from advances in biotechnology resulting in GMO (genetically modified organism) and hybrid seeds. Multinational corporations absorb independent, regionally based seed companies to gain monopolies on seed and seed distribution. Corporations then use the notion of intellectual property rights to gain patent rights on crops containing modified traits. This directly affects farmers who no longer are allowed to exercise control over seeds produced in their fields without patent infringement and other consequences such heavy fines, lawsuits or in some extreme cases, imprisonment.

Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

In contrast, organizations like SSE and seed libraries across the country rely on a network of growers to advance their mission as they work to keep seeds in the hands of as many people as possible. We can all create connected seed saving communities where we live.

FUN FACTS: Seed Savers Exchange currently offers 8 varieties of cotton seed (brown, green and white) and 2 varieties of rare flax seed.

READ MORE about seed saving in the October 2015 WARP blog and check out these resources:
Josie Jeffery, 2012, Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds, Ivy Press Limited, UK.
Suzanne Ashworth, 2002, Seed to Seed: Seed saving and growing techniques for vegetable gardeners, Seed Savers Exchange, Iowa.
Cindy Conner, 2014, Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. New Society Publishers, Canada.

Special thanks to Shea Conlan of Seed Savers Exchange for her assistance with this blog.

Gail Ryser is an Andean archaeologist specializing in paleoethnobotany. She is a seed saver, gardener and active water-harvester. She will miss attending the annual meeting this year because she will be teaching students about archaeology, plants, and people during the months of May and June in Arizona and New Mexico.

 

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.