The art of dyeing threads and fabrics has accompanied the evolution of the textile arts throughout history and around the world. Colors are achieved through various minerals, plants and insects, each involving intimate knowledge of how to best achieve steadfastness through the use of mordants, temperatures, length of dye baths, and recipes handed down through the generations. The dyer is a chemist, a scientist, and an explorer.
The subject is vast and TAFA members represent this chemical world in a variety of ways: sourcing the supplies for non-toxic dyeing, dyeing materials for other artists, dyeing materials for their own work, working with communities around the world which dye their own supplies, buying dyed supplies, and teaching others how to dye. Exploring all of this would mean writing a book! So, for this post, we'll look at just a few of what our TAFA members are doing on the subject of dyeing.
First, let's take a quick look at how dyes impact the world. I've been working with ethnic textiles since the late 1980's. Back in those early days, there was an abundance of native textiles hitting the American markets as small importers traveled the world and brought in handmade textiles. They were cheap and easy to find. By the mid-1990's, prices were going up significantly and handmade workshops churned out replicas using synthetic dyes, acrylic yarns, polyester fabrics, all using inferior techniques.
By the 1970's commercial fabrics and dyes had become available all over the world and native people enjoyed the reduction of labor and the vibrancy of the materials: colors that would never fade and polyester that would never wear out. They loved it! Here is an example of how these materials changed the products they made:
Vintage bicycle seat cover from Afghanistan, embroidered silk thread on silk fabric.
See the difference? The newer piece is still handmade, fun and exotic, an interesting piece. Natural dyes can also be vibrant when newly dyed, but over time, most take on a soft, warm look. Embracing synthetics happened everywhere. I'll never forget when my sister was given a quilt for her highschool graduation, made by a quilter from my Dad's church. It was made of squares of that thick, bright polyester from the 1970's, the kind that makes most of us go, "Ewwwww.....". The quilter was so excited and proud and told my sister that she would never have to iron it, that the colors would never fade and that it would last forever! I visited her once with my Dad and she had stacks of these squares all over the house. She told me that she thought this fabric would become valuable some day because it wasn't being made anymore...
Appreciation for the natural dyes was spurred by textile enthusiasts in the West (Europe and North America). Collectors were grabbing what they could as country by country was "pillaged" by small importers and travellers. There has been a visible trend in the acquisition of these textiles that is tied closely with political and economic turmoil around the world. Basically, it happens like this: poor country suffers tragedy or big change (natural disaster, war, isolation, etc.), aid pours in from the West, travelers and tourists start exploring the out of the way places and offer to buy up that old pot, the cracked bench, and anything else the villagers want to sell. People want modernity: tennis shoes, windows, a TV, refrigerator, etc, so they sell these old things. Those things end up in galleries and museums. Adventurous traders head out to get more. If the villagers are hungry enough, they will give up their treasures, their dowry items, their ancestral goods for a pittance. Once it is all gone, people start realizing that something good has disappeared. Alliances form to bring back the old knowledge, to keep it going, and to continue to make things in the old ways.
This revival is happening all over the world, and with it, textile artists are documenting the processes, making it there own and changing it to fit their own needs, aesthetic and curiosity. Coupled with this historical interest in the techniques, the stories that go with them, and the challenge of becoming the "textile chemist" is also the growing awareness of how harmful commercial dyes can be to the environment.
Indonesian batiks became a huge export in the 1980's. A great majority of them were made in small family cottage industries, using traditional techniques which included washing the textiles in local rivers. Large factories were set up to make hand-batiked sarongs. Both they and the small workshops moved over to using toxic dyes that polluted their rivers. I read an article years ago that many of these dyes were made in the US but banned here, yet exported elsewhere. GreenPeace published a slide show of images of the Tullahan River in Manila, which also has dye factories upstream. Click on the image to see their slide show:
As you can see, this is a huge problem. Natural dyes also have their own issues. O Ecotextiles has a series of posts on dyes that explain the hazards that both natural and synthetic dyes pose for the Textile Chemist. Read here. Their "moral of the story" is that natural does not necessarily mean "good for you" and that the critical issue is how water is used in the dye process and then disposed of.
Without a doubt, exploring dye techniques and using hand dyed fabrics is fun and produces beautiful results. Like anything we produce these days (food, cloth, computers, etc.) we just need to think about the environmental impact these things have on our yard, our septic system, our water supplies, our communities and our world. The best way to do it is to look for mentors who can answer those questions and provide guidance in local solutions that work for that community.
Several of our members are engaged with traditional communities which use natural dyes indigenous to their region for centuries: TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles (Thailand and Laos), Unique Batik (Guatemala), Threads of Peru, and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator (Mexico). The four videos below give a window into their projects and each touches on how dyes are used in their product development. These four happen to work with weavers who dye their own yarn.
The exchange happening between traditional communities around the world and contemporary artists inspires and opens new doors! Although the end result may seem to have little in common, the conversation and connection propels new ideas. To give you an idea of how hand dyed materials inform a modern piece, here are some of our TAFA studio artists:
Of our textile chemists, we also have many who teach their techniques and document their work. Of these, India Flint is beloved for her love of the earth and its gifts. She has written books and traveled around the world, teaching her eco-dyeing methods:
Arlee Barr pushes herself into new territories with her dyeing experiments and then translates the results into works accented by embroidery:
TAFA's members are an amazing resource! The collective knowledge reflects the serious study, often of a lifetime, that constantly explore the possibilities they see hidden in the fibers imagined through their muse. Color is at the core of how each of us relates to the object of our affection, how a shape is accented, or a mood perceived. Use them and what they have learned to open new possibilities for you, too!
A few of our member resources who offer supplies follow below.
Search the site for dyed and see what comes up! Explore our member's links, connect with them and don't be afraid to ask them questions. They all love what they do and are happy to talk about it with you.
Click on the image to visit our Member Map. Zoom in and click on pins. The names are linked to the member profiles.
Europe! The center of the textile world for centuries! Any student of the history of the textile industry will know how important Europe has been in defining the world as we know it today. Much of it can be tacked on to heavy words like colonialism and the industrial revolution, but on a micor level, Europe has also had a strong, familial history of production where men and women knew how to make things.
Think of all of the records that have been handed down which showcase the expert skills of sewing, weaving, embroidery, and felt production. Small family farms raised sheep for wool, girls prepared their dowries, the elite passed their time away over hoops of colored floss, and industries of all kinds were the lifeblood of peasants and villages.
Old postcards fill us with nostalgia and interest:
This old woman could be from almost any European country. She is the soul of times passed, the grandmother who was the provider, the worker, the keeper of recipes and traditions...
TAFA is now in its third year and our European representation has grown. We now have members from 44 countries, but many of these have only member. I would like to see TAFA hubs grow all over the world and see it become a truly international site. Language, of course, is one of the barriers.
Yet, increasingly, we have the tools that allow us to communicate with anyone, anywhere. Using Chrome, there is a translating plugin that automatically translates sites from other languages to English. Sometimes the translations are hilarious, but usually, I can understand the content. Two of our TAFA members joined by communicating through Google translator. And, if we get stumped, we now have enough members who are native speakers of many languages and we can use them to communicate information if needed.
I thought it would be fun to highlight our European members in this post. There are so many ways in which we can connect when we think of product focuses: by type, subject, color, material, and now, by location. We live in a mobile time- people travel, we connect through the internet, and you just never know when we might meet in person. So, the next time you are going somewhere, check our Member Map and see if a TAFA member might be someone you might meet along the way.
ekohaus Felted slippers and shoes. Dovile's story is a great example of connecting with the past. She found a trunk of her grandmother's that was full of tool and felting tools. That led to an interest and on to a business!
green in the middle Small art quilts. Be sure to also check out Meta's gallery of international artists, Galleriba.
Bozena Wojtaszek Lots of folk art for the kitchen, fabric jewelry, accessories, quilts.
FeltedPleasure Russia? Well... it's stretching it, but historically, Russia has had a huge cultural connection to Europe. Marina is in Moscow, which is on the West, so close enough. She makes beautiful felted scarves and shawls and this one seems especially Russian in flavor.
Wai-Yuk Kennedy Textile Art Jewelry made with a unique technique Wai-Yuk developed.
Janie M McDonald Surface design explored in many ways and then assembled into textiles.
There you have it! Our TAFA members in Europe! It took me the whole day to get this post done, but it was fun traveling around over there. I hope that you will enjoy exploring their pages and spread the word about us!
Fabric is, of course, a key material for most of us on TAFA. Members use it, make it, cut it, embroider on it, paint on it, dye it, sew it, and transform it into a reflection of their imagination. Fabric has been made historically of plant and animal fibers and today's technology uses a plethora of synthetic materials to create new fabrics capable of functions we wouldn't have dreamed of a couple of decades ago. The topic is immense, so for this post, I am zooming in on our base need for it.
We like to politely call having mountains of fabric in our homes our "stash". We say that we need choices and that someday we will use it in something. I won't point any fingers except at myself. I am a fabroholic! And, I know that I am not alone. When I lived in Chicago, I would go hunting in thrift stores, especially when I felt blue about something. I loved digging through racks, looking for clothes that could be cut up. There is a chain of thrift stores run by Pakistanis there and there were always plenty of saris and clothing that had hand embroidered parts or were made of handwoven materials. I would come home with bags full and then cut them up, sort them by type and put them away.
Then, I moved to Paducah and worked as a cutter at a fabric store for awhile. They had a remnant table that called to me like a magnet. I had never used new fabrics and most of my paychecks ended up going towards these remnants. I still prefer the softness of used fabrics and can't believe how I got sucked in for all of those new fabrics. I realized that I had a problem and that I cannot work in a supply store. I have not bought any supplies for several years now and have vowed not to learn any new techniques until I use up what I have. I would love to learn how to knit, but just know that I would become a yarn addict and I just don't have the room for one more supply. People give me things and I can't say no.
Yes, this is the mess I live in. The first two photos are in my bedroom, the third one is right next to where I sit right now and the bottom one was taken before I did some rearranging. Bins piled to the ceiling! There are no closets in this old house, so that could be one excuse, but the truth is that I just have too much stuff. I have started purging and am making progress, but it's tough to let go.
I've started having thoughts about death, practical ones. "What will happen to all of this when I die?" Not morbid, just embarrassment to have to unload the chore of going through all this stuff on someone else. The thing is, all of this is worth quite a bit of money, but only to other people who understand what it is and why it's worth something. Bob Davis of Jefferson Street Studios mentioned once that it's a problem many quilters' husbands face when their wives die. What to do with their stash? Bob's wife, Helene, had a huge stash, a valuable one, of commercial fabrics. Then, she started dyeing her own fabric and no longer had a use for the commercial stuff. So, they have been selling both her stash and her new fabrics at quilt shows. The photo on the left shows Helene's hand dyed fabrics and quilts and on the right, Bob is selling stash fabric during one of Paducah's AQS Quilt Shows.
Fabric needs to be stored in a dry place, be protected from moths, mice and other bugs, and many of us find it challenging to keep our stash organized. I had a couple of metal containers out in the garage which got wet. I didn't realize it for months and when I went to look for something, found that they were destroyed by mold. Into the compost bin they went and months later, all of the natural fibers had become dirt, while the synthetic ones were a disgusting mess of indestructable hair balls, just gross. Never will I buy synthetic materials again!
I asked some of our TAFA members to submit photos of their stash areas and was impressed by the various storage solutions. It also made me jealous, like I want more, more, MORE!
Boisali Biswas has gorgeous handwoven and hand dyed fabrics from India. Yummy!
Harmony Art designs organic cotton yardage and has samples stored in her family fridge! That was quite the sensation in our Facebook group! Harmony actively speaks out for the use of organic cotton.
Morna Crites-Moore also uses recycled fabrics for her work and has a great yarn wall, or is it a cat gym?
Priscilla Creations keeps her stash in zipped up bags and got her husband to build shelves in the closets she took over.
Finally, Nestle and Soar has some great pockets around her work table and also keeps rolls of yardage:
What this all means is that we are just a tiny example of who the fabric industry targets for its endless products. They know we are hoarders and that we always want more. We can't help it! We love the designs, the feel of the fabric, the potential of how it will look when we transform it. And, the same goes for consumers who always need new clothes, new fashions, new home treatments. It's part of our creative make-up and for those of us who are concerned about the environment and the industrial side of this equation, it's a big catch-22. I preach about going green, living simply and so on, yet I have a hard time living up to my own desire for sustainability.
It's a big problem! The waste generated by the textile and garment industry floods our landfills!
Without going into these problems, the images above clearly spell out what a crisis our textile industry and our consumerist patterns have created. There is plenty of info online, but here are the image source and other links to get you started:
There are many, many wonderful efforts out there trying to put a dent in this mess. Worn again is one company that recycles fabrics into new products. This video describes some of the hopes and challenges:
How do we handle the complicated questions our industry and our personal loves hand us?
Here are some tips:
Commit to using up your stash.
If you don't like a color or pattern anymore, overdye it or use it where it is not so visible.
Use your old clothes as supplies.
Alter your clothes for a fresh look.
Buy from others who are practicing sustainability with their materials.
I am proud to say that many of our members are actively engaged in this effort and your support of them will help them achieve even more.
Here are just a few of our members (not mentioned above) who supply great fabric:
There are many, many more, all doing what they can to create great fabrics or to keep used fabrics out of landfills. Search the site or look through The List. The thumbnails there will help you see right off the bat what the member focus is.
We love fabric and hope that you will also love what we do with it!
We are at the Letter G for our TAFA alphabet and, in thinking about it, I decided that Girl was most appropriate. Almost all of our members were girls at one time and as was most of our audience. The textile and fiber arts industry, along with the craft industry and production around the world is heavily dominated by women. Yet, craft and art businesses owned by women continue to struggle for equal pay, recognition, access to resources and so on. You would think that after 40 years of burning our bras, we would be in a better place and have equal footing with men, especially since our time, talents and interests fuel billions of dollars into our local economies. Sadly, women continue to suffer discrimination and sexism.
Yet, there has been progress. I look back on my own childhood and the opportunities that I have had in my life. All along the way, I have been given alternative education, have been encouraged in my creativity and talents, and have succeeded in keeping my head above water (just barely) as entrepreneur for more than twenty years.
Rachel Biel with Buzzy Buzz Buzz in 1967
My parents encouraged my creative side and paid for classes in embroidery, wood carving, oil painting, painting on porcelain, watercolors, drawing, piano, and a bunch of other crafts. My brother got guitar lessons and my sister was a ballerina for a few years. All of my allowance money went towards craft supplies and my stamp collection.
Over and over again, I see our TAFA members pay tribute to their parents, grandmothers, aunts and other creatives they had in their lives when they were children. And, many have said that art has saved their lives. Children in many countries do not have the opportunities that we do, and girls especially, suffer horrendous futures as they are passed off as property, given away in marriage while still children, used as slaves in forced labor, or relegated to extreme poverty with no life chances for relief.
We have major problems in this world of ours and studies have shown that if resources are invested into girls, they give back to their communities tenfold. An educated girl can help break the cycles of poverty and violence that we see in so many places. The Girl Effect has documented this and has brought international attention to investing in girls as a strategy for socio-economic change. They have several videos on their site and I picked this one:
This is not to say, of course, that boys have less needs than girls. All children should be protected, kept safe, given an education, and nourished. But, because girls often have no control over their bodies or their reproductive potential, they have an immediate impact on population growth. As primary caretakers of their babies, girls who gives birth when their bodies are mature and when they have had at least a primary education, they can make better choices about nutrition, health care, and so many other opportunities. In short, happy girls make happy women and this happiness spreads to their men and boys.
As a tribute to our girls, I found some TAFA girl art. Of these, Salley Mavor's self portrait is a wonderful example of girlhood flowering into womanhood:
TAFA was launched on a blog format in January of 2010. The idea was that "together, we can do great things!" All of us have businesses on the web that have to do with handmade textiles and fiber art. Most are studio artists, but we also have quite a few suppliers, vintage sellers, other organizations, and indie publications. Sure enough, three years later, we have grown into something to be seen and treasured!
In honor of our common threads, the video below, TAFA Red 2013, captures a quick impression of our members, their beauty and diversity. The video moves quickly with snapshots of almost all of our members.
Pause it at any time to take a deeper look:
If you would like to know more about a specific member, you can find all of us on The List. Both the video and The List are in alphabetical order. We hope that you will connect with our members, contact them, and find out more about what they do. Support them by spreading the word, shopping from them, and featuring them in your blogs and social media sites. We believe that our gifts contribute to making this world a better place and we hope that you will agree!
H is for Hats!
H is for Hats!
Every culture that I can think of has a hat tradition of some kind. Most hats started out with a functional purpose, protecting the head from the sun, rain, snow, or sand. They evolved through history as statements, personal and cultural, which reflected status, cultural roots, individuality, religious affiliations, and just downright fun. I love hats! I wear them, make them (occasionally), and love seeing other people in them. Other TAFA members also make some wonderful hats and you will see some here, but first let's set the the stage.
Hats, along with other garments and accessories, tell us something about time, place, and occupation. Here is a page from a catalog from 1912:
These are all leisure hats, made to be shown off in public. They remind me of birds strutting to show off their plumage. Wikipediahas a nice image list of different kinds of hats along with an article about a straw hat riot that took place in New York in 1922, lasting several days. Stomp the hat! Village Hatshas a nice collection of hats in famous paintings.
Most people know what the Pope's hat looks like (and most of us think it's pretty funny...). Almost all religious and spiritual traditions have hats (or hairdos) that speak to roles within the community (leaders, followers, etc.). Covering the head is mandated by many religions as a sign of modesty. Some of these traditions are rooted in ancient mythology that survives to this day. For example, there are Christian denominations that require the women in their churches to wear a "veil" during service. This has often been reduced to a little doily that is clipped on to the top of the head. Some theologians believe that this practice is actually rooted in mythology where women were stolen by gods for their beautiful hair. There is great debate about Muslim women wearing veils in Western countries, yet Christian, Buddhist and Jewish men and women also have hats and veils that they wear.
Above: Orthodox Jews, the Pope, monks of the Yellow Hat Order.
Hats have helped brand some of our favorite pop culture icons. Here we see Carmen Miranda, Cary Grant, Johnny Depp, Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Balle, all wearing hats that have defined their image, making them recognizable all around the world.
Tribal, folk, historical and ethnic hats survive both in their own context and in our popular culture, inspiring costumers, artists, and creative types:
Sadly, most people in Western cultures no longer wear hats, except for baseball hats and knit caps. These are fast, functional accessories, used to keep the head warm or protected from the sun. Great for bad hair or no hair days, too! There are events that still inspire the masses to get decked out in great hats. Queen Elizabeth and any Royal events, for example, gets them out, as does the Kentucky Derby.
Now for some of our TAFA hats! You will find both wearable art hats that might take more of an outgoing personality and great functional hats that will keep you warm. Some do both! Plus we also have vintage cultural hats. Click on the image to visit their Member Profile:
Vintage Indian textile, "Toran" (applique and embroidery on cotton) by Coco Kulkarni.
There is no way to over-emphasize the importance India has had on the textile industry, both historically and in modern times. Remnants of Indian textiles have been found in the tombs of Ancient Egypt and it played a key role in the Silk Road routes, with remnants found from the 1st Century, vestiges of it's supplies to Rome, China and the Persian empire with cloth and finery. (See Hindu.com) Wars, adventures, exotic tales, symbolism, spiritual language, and political intrigue have all woven their stories through India's textile history. It is impossible to even begin to tell that story here, so all I will try to do is to whet your appetite and share a bit of what has captured my imagination and interest over the years.
No, not the actor. This guy lived in the 1800's (1821-1890) and embodied the spirit of the true Victorian traveler, adventurer and anthropologist. Said to have had Gypsy (Roma) blood, his looks allowed him to pass for many different ethnicities. He he would adopt native dress and just mingle right in. I read a biography about him, a thick, heavy book which I could not put down, many years ago. Burton was a wild man who loved to travel, learn and write. He spent years in Africa, India and in the Middle East. He was a spy! At that time, Europe traded heavily with Africa and Asia for spices, textiles and other good things. He worked for the East India Company which basically served to spread the British Empire and keep its colonies in good working order.
The thing is, Sir Richard Burton thrived on learning about the people he met and documented everything he saw in endless journals. He wrote, drew, analyzed, learned and went native. It is said that he spoke over 29 languages and that he also slept with the local women wherever he traveled. He was one of the first Westerners to record the woman's perspective on life in that part of the world. Anthropologists before him only had interest or access to what men thought or did. And, he not only slept with the women, but felt that what he learned through these sexual encounters should be shared and embraced by Victorian England! Burton had a printing press in his English mansion and he went about translating and printing the Kama Sutra, handing it out in secret to his friends because he felt that they were really missing out on an important part of life. He also translated and printed The Arabian Nights, was the first white guy, along with John Speke, to find the source of the River Nile, and also snuck into Mecca, documenting it for the West for the first time.
Burton married an English woman who didn't really get the whole wild side thing and as she tried to keep him in line, he became more eccentric, converting to Islam in his later years and rejecting Victorian life altogether.
How is his story about textiles? Well, in a nutshell, he represents to me that whole era when England, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands cavorted around, subjugating people and continents, taking resources for their own use, establishing colonies and changing the world forever. Centuries of Asian history clashed with these new powers, creating animosity and frustration, for sure, but also establishing new influences in all of the arts, including textiles. While the British imposed a destiny that no Indian would want for themselves, they also brought all kinds of new opportunities and market demands that made a lot of locals very wealthy indeed. Burton personifies this interest that Victorian England also had with "native" peoples. Thousands of others like him were off and about, exploring the world and bringing back treasures from far-off places. One picture I saw of Burton in his home showed that the place was covered with textiles and carpets from the East. What is a Victorian home without a Persian rug or two?
Without getting into too much history here, there is a quilting tid-bit that fascinates me. There was all of this back and forth going on between India and Victorian England. The quilting ladies in England, especially those of the upper crusts, became enchanted with printed and painted cotton spreads from India such as the one above. They liked to cut out the designs, turn the edges in and applique them on to tops, re-configuring them into their own designs. And, of course, cousin Abigail over in the Colonies (the US ones), also just had to have some for herself, too. So, this big fad happemed where quilters just had to have paisley and other floral designs made in India which they could cut up and sew down to their quilts. Sound familiar?
Here's another from the Victoria and Albert Museum which was actually made into a quilt:
Quilted chintz palampore, maker unknown, Coromandel Coast, India, about 1700-50, cotton, mordant-dyed and resist-dyed; wadded with cotton and quilted; lined with plain white cotton. Museum no. IS.17-1976
The Textile Museum has a number of nice pieces from the same period in its collection: Click! It also has quite a few garments, embroidery and other samples of antique Indian textiles.
By the early 1900's, the Industrial Revolution had taken over the west, replacing hand weaving with machine made fabrics and it continued on, moving into synthetics in a few more decades. Industrialization also made its way to the East, but most of the rural populations still relied on age-old techniques to create the same amazing textiles.
Photographers, the new adventurers, ran around the world to bring stereoviews back to the people back home who could watch the world unfold in their own parlors.
Fast forward and there were some wars around the world, some devastation, lots of death, poverty, and depression. People were really upset and the Colonial thing had gotten really, really old. Enter Gandhi, the revolutionary spinner who got the Brits to go home.
By no means perfect (Gandhi had some weird needs in my book), this quiet, soft-spoken man practiced peaceful civil disobedience and led India into Independence. And, at the core of his philosophy was self-reliance: grow your own food, spin your thread and weave it, too. Be local. I found a couple of videos of him that really are treasures:
The second one is especially chilling as the interviewer, obviously not too comfortable sitting on the ground, asked Gandhi questions about his planned trip to England along with "Are you willing to go back to jail? To die for the cause?" Oh, to be such a believer! Especially knowing that, in the end, Gandhi did indeed die for his beliefs.
But, what was Gandhi about, exactly? I think we could say that he was the Martin Luther King, Jr. of Fair Trade, before fair trade was even thought of as a concept. There's a Wikipedia page on Gandhian Economics:
"Gandhi's thinking on socio-economic issues was greatly influenced by the American writer Henry David Thoreau. Throughout his life, Gandhi sought to develop ways to fight India's extreme poverty, backwardness and socio-economic challenges as a part of his wider involvement in the Indian independence movement. Gandhi's championing of Swadeshi and non-cooperation were centred on the principles of economic self-sufficiency. Gandhi sought to target European-made clothing and other products as not only a symbol of British colonialism but also the source of mass unemployment and poverty, as European industrial goods had left many millions of India's workers, craftsmen and women without a means of living. By championing homespun khadiclothing and Indian-made goods, Gandhi sought to incorporate peaceful civil resistance as a means of promoting national self-sufficiency.
Gandhi led farmers of Champaran and Kheda in asatyagraha (civil disobedience and tax resistance) against the mill owners and landlords supported by the British government in an effort to end oppressive taxation and other policies that forced the farmers and workers and defend their economic rights. A major part of this rebellion was a commitment from the farmers to end caste discrimination and oppressive social practices against women while launching a co-operative effort to promote education, health care and self-sufficiency by producing their own clothes and food."
New World Textiles follows the Gandhi path and offers spinning/weaving supplies and khadi cloth.
That vision was not a rosy one. There was a terrible price to pay as lives were lost, not only in conflicts between the British and Indians, but then on into the new Independence, clashes between Hindu and Muslim, blood baths, separation and creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, political intrigue, and isolationism from the rest of the world. (See Forbes article.) Yes, Gandhi inspired and changed his world. Needs of the poor were addressed, cooperatives and ashrams formed, leadership created, and in the background, hundreds of thousands of workers kept on spinning, weaving, embroidering, catering mainly to upper classes and to the tourist industry.
India shut itself off to the world. It put huge tariffs on imports, forcing the population to just use what they had. But, even with its back to the world, the world came for India. The 1960's and 70's, that generation of love, opened all kinds of new interests to Indian handicrafts, textiles, music, philosophy and spirituality. Yes, even the Beatles trekked on over there in search of that elusive something:
If you look back at photos from the 1960's and 70's, you will see the paisleys, the khadi, the tie-dyes, beads, and clothing all pouring into the US and Europe from India. Nothing's gonna change my world? Change is always happening, but somehow it also seems to cycle around and around.
India's doors stayed closed to the world all the way up to the early 1990's. Then, like a kid who has been denied sugar, it opened up (almost at the same time as China) and it just went wild with technology, growth and development. Gandhi's legacy was not able to address the needs of the poor, but his vision of community and self-reliance did create the right environment for local efforts to organize themselves and to retain the skills, heritage and pride in the handmade process.
Today amazing things are happening with the handmade textile industry in India. Hundreds, if not thousands, of non-profits work in finding the right models that can use textile production as a significant force for economic development. After decades of experimentation, we see their ability to both offer the Indian market what they want along with the development of partnerships with Western designers. Together they are creating a new, fresh and contemporary look that embraces the traditional yet appeals to a modern aesthetic. Dialogue between East and West is happening all over the world, but in India, this vision has been especially successful.
These are just a few that stand out today, but do a search on the site and see what else pops up. We even have a member named India! India Flint, beloved in the dye community for her natural methods, connection to the earth and dancing spirit.
This post is just a teeny introduction into amazing India. It is an old nation with a cultural heritage that is mixed, complex, and difficult to categorize for an outsider or amateur enthusiast like myself. My hope is that Burton, Gandhi and the Beatles all open a bit of curiosity towards looking at textiles and India in a new way. Nothing stands alone in and of itself. Everything is part of a larger whole and it is all political. What we make and consume, how we do it, and how we take from and what we offer to the world creates a chain reaction that impacts everybody else. India is one example of that dance, that great experiment, and it can only continue to unfold in exciting and meaningful ways. I look forward to seeing where we go from here!
or.............. if you use British English, 'jewellery', or even, 'jewelery'.
However YOU spell it, we must all agree that humans have some deep seated need to adorn themselves. Look into any culture's history and you will find amazing displays of decoration: skin, hair, clothing, accessories, and jewelry.
A Kayapó Indian films a demonstration at the Terra Livre, or Free Earth, indigenous camp in Brasilia, Brazil. AP, The Telegraph
Most of us think of jewelry as something precious using a metal like silver or gold with diamonds, rubies, or your favorite stone, but remember... all that glitters is not gold! As we have a fiber/textile focus, I looked for some cultural references that use feathers, raffia, palm, cloth, and other natural elements in their decorative accessories. It's great fun to look at old historical photos and find inspiration for new ideas that we can translate into contemporary function.
Undoubtedly the most famous photographer of the American West in the 1800's, Edward S. Curtis, documented the life of Native Americans with beautifully detailed and respectful images. The Field Museum in Chicago has an excellent exhibit of native dress, representing Indian Nations across the continent with mannequins wearing authentic costumes. Native Americans are famous for their intricate beadwork but glass beads came with Europeans who traded them. Until then, shells and porcupine quills and grasses were used. I was fascinated when I saw the exhibit as the details were quite spectacular.
You really can't get more 'fibery' with adornment than in the islands or in jungles, where metals and stones might be harder to find. Postcard Man has this image for sale on his site, a young Samoan girl who looks like she just rolled through my scrap bin:
Of the tropical style, few could compete with the Omo People who interpret Nature so completely in harmony with their bodies. These stunning images were taken by photographer Hans Silvester:
Cooler climates lead to the use of leather, fur, bark, and layered fabrics. We could push the meaning of jewelry to include 'be-jeweled', the adornment of fabric with jewels. Japanese Geisha would be one example of a human transformed into an ornament, from head to toe, every inch designed to meet a standard of perfected beauty (....in the eyes of the beholder, of course).
The thing about these photos is that not many of them look very happy, do they? Could be those high shoes.... Ornamental dress captured in old photos often happened in ceremonial situations or where a foreigner intruded on daily life and we can only imagine what people really felt with that pointed lens directed at them. The girls above are a part of a fascinating collection maintained by Okinawa Soba who has thousands of images of old Japan along with detailed explanations of what is going on and cultural tid-bits. Yes, the girls above were considered prostitutes, sold into sexual slavery by empoverished families.
And, what is great about his photos is that he has made them available to anyone who wants to use them through the Creative Commons License. You mixed-media and collage people definitely need to check out his photos!
Don't think that only women like to adorn themselves. Men have gone overboard, even in the time of war. Here's an old drawing of Genghis Khan, fantastically fierce in all of his gory glory:
I saw an old Mongolian breast plate once, constructed of overlayed pieces of hardened leather, laying on each other like scales. We can't tell what the jewels on this man are made of, but they could easily incorporate fabric and other textile elements. I can only feel sorry for the horse who has to carry all of that extra weight!
So far, these examples all show some 'color' in the ethnic origin. But, don't think for a moment that white people have also had their wild and crazy moments in history. Designer Kmakattack has a blog post with some unhappy white people in overloaded costumes. This one is bride from Sweden:
How old is she? All of fourteen? Pretty gorgeous outfit and needlework, though. The crown? A bit tinkly in my book....
We can look more recently in our modern history and see loads of weird fashions, some which hopefully will not come back for a very long time:
Yikes! That one and this next one are from a blog, "They Had Faces", which documents the silent film era.
Oh, my! Fly away, Baby!
As you can see, people come up with amazing ways to decorate themselves using all kinds of materials. Some are purely for impact, while others may have deep cultural messages or personal meaning. During the Victorian times, wearing a 'mourning pin' was a popular way of connecting with the dead. The beloved's hair, normally encased in a simple weave or twist inside of a glass-cased brooch, led to some intricate embroidery techniques, like this pin. The design is embroidered using human hair:
Time Dances By showcases a collection of these Victorian hair pins, but this one was especially fascinating. Look closely and you will see a dog, symbolizing eternal faithfulness, laying by the pyre and the doves represent sould flying off to heaven. Macabre or cool?
Our TAFA members also like to explore the adornment and jewelry world and we have many creating wonderful work. They may look a bit tame after these examples I just gave you, but there is a solution: all you need to do is buy them all and wear them at once and you, too, will look wildy be-jeweled! A fiber statement, to be sure! Their profile pages are linked to their names, below the images, so do explore their sites and support our talented and contemporary jewelry makers!
Our members sew, embroider, bead, felt, and use many techniques to come up with their jewelry designs. These are just a few examples, so be sure to use our search box to look for more. Try different key words (pin, broche, cuff, necklace, etc.) and remember! We are an international site, so there might be many ways of spelling a word. Something precious could be waiting for you!
K is for Knitting!
Boys knitting during WWII. Image from an old Life Magazine.
K is for Knitting!
I wish I knew how to knit... I love it so much, but I just know what would happen: I would get addicted to yarn and start filling bins with it, just adding to more chaos in my already full house. I've made a commitment: LEARN NOTHING NEW UNTIL I USE UP MY FABRIC!!!!
So, I enjoy it through others, especially through my friend, Diane. My house is one of those old, rickety houses from 100 years ago. Drafty, with no central heating, I really suffered for the first years here. Diane knit me fingerless gloves, leg warmers, caps, booties and scarflettes, all in gorgeous, yummy wool. A couple of gas heaters have made winters bearable, but I am so grateful to her for these gifts!
Need a giggle? You knitters will enjoy (or shudder) at this one:
Two needles plus some yarn........... and what can happen with that! It is just amazing! The complexity that knitters can achieve with such humble tools and supplies. All of the cold climates around the world have long histories of their knitting practices and many have patterns that have become a part of their national identity. My mother is of Icelandic descent and when she was young, her siblings and cousins would get a sweater as a high school graduation present, intended to last for the rest of their lives. Diane went on a knitting tour to Iceland last year and reported that the yummy yarns were everywhere, even in supermarkets!
Knitting has also had a great social history. Because of its portability, projects can easily go with the knitter to wherever they hang out: meetings, on the bus or train, even walking on the street. Charity knitting has long contributed to relief efforts around the world. The boys knitting at the top of this post were part of a Red Cross campaign during WWII to send warm clothing to soldiers and refugees in Europe. Diane knits for two charity groups, one that sends hats and socks to soldiers and another that sends hats and scarves to orphans, both in Afghanistan. I teased her about that and said that she was a good example of yin and yang, knitting for both the invader and the victim. She now calls herself the Yin-Yang Knitter.
Knitters have also taken to the streets with what is called Yarn Bombing among many other labels. Wikipedia has a list of links and a bit of history. Organizers can often get participants from all over the world to engage in whatever form of a public message they want to publicize. The pink tank above is one example of how many people contributed to one project. Read the story here. We live in such a fascinating time where all kinds of traditional craft techniques have found new life by artists who push those boundaries into radical action. Knitting is no longer only about function. It is sculptural, abstract, communal, and up for grabs.
We have some great things happening with knitting here on TAFA, too! Here are just a few members who knit. Click on their names to visit their member profiles. Make sure to explore their links and enter keywords in the search box for more (knit, knitting, knitter will all bring results).
These TAFA members all happen to be women, but do not think for a moment that knitting is "women's work"! There are many men's knitting groups out there and this is not a new trend. Historical articles will point to men knitting in China, Russia, Europe and other places hundreds of years ago.
There are gobs of cool knitting sites on the web. Any serious knitter will know of and probably be on Ravelry, a huge knitting community that is amazing. Here are a couple of other links to get you started: