Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lasma's First Textile

 In August (2014), I was in North Sumatra for less than a week, but I had a few precious hours with my beautiful daughter, Lasma Sitanggang. Poor dear gets terribly car sick, but she came all the way from her Simalungun village to meet me in Pematang Siantar.
Lasma had become more grown-up. She is bright
and determined.

She was bursting with news. I have never seen her so charged with ideas. The topper was that she had finished weaving her first textile. She carefully unfolded it to show me, trying to be nonchalant while she was electric with excitement. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had kept her work as a surprise for me.

We scrutinized it together. She had done a remarkably good job. The selvedge edges were straight and even – a sign of an experienced and good weaver! She showed me where she had repaired yarns that had broken. She knew from our travels together that only sloppy weavers just cut the broken yarns; good weavers repair them in special ways (the Batak have ancient prescriptions and proscriptions concerning broken yarns and the spirit world). Her mother, once an excellent weaver, had coached her. And not just her mother! Older women apparently yelled out their advice as they passed by her window. All of them are experienced in the art of weaving. Her work had inspired them, she said. They want to weave again if there is a market! The weaving of her textile had taught her that if she put her mind to it, she would be able to re-kindle weaving in her village. Her first textile was so much more than a first textile; it represented new insights and it gave her inspiration and energy.

Also new learning. The stripes in Lasma’s textile were not all of equal size although they all had the same number of warp yarns. This meant that she had not distributed the warp yarns evenly across the breast beam -- something she would keep in mind for the next textile. She was itching to get at it again – and also to learn about supplementary weft. Enough women in the village want to teach her. This, while at the outset finding a teacher was her greatest challenge!

Lasma hadn’t had time yet to finish the fringes of her first textile. The fringes are going to take some effort and time. She explained precisely how she wants to do it, including the techniques involved. I won’t give away her secret; I shall wait until the textile is finished to make pictures of it. It will be an innovative and unique textile. And it will be a kind of craft baptism.

Lasma has received her first textile order! How exciting! I plan to help her locate some indigo-dyed yarn. It would be wonderful if all of her products could be environmentally friendly.

Congratulations dear Lasma! Your first textile is a launching pad. I hope that you have found an outlet for your creative powers and that you will find satisfaction always in your ancient, beautiful art. May it be a stepping-stone to a future of your own making.

Lasma wearing a Hill Tribe hair ornament that I brought to her from
Thailand. Here she is with her church friends with whom she teaches
Sunday School.

An Artisan Network in Northern Thailand: YES!

Asia is a happening place. One of the most inspiring things that I saw during my last trip to Asia (August 2014) was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I attended the IIAS roundtable conference on Cloth, Culture and Development; it was the work being done at the Institute for Science and Technology Research

To give some background, let me say that I perceive over and over again, in Indonesia, the need for networking between and among craft workers. Usually poor, their networking capacities are also minimal. That leaves them out there inventing the wheel all alone when they could learn so much from each other’s experiences. In Chiang Mai, I saw an example of a network that was more than I had even imagined. It was up and running and seemed to be working well. I became aware of this both from the presentations at the conference and through a pamphlet produced by the Knowledge and Technology Center for Northern Textile (Fai Gaem Mai) at the Institute for Science and Technology Research at Chiang Mai University.

Beautiful woven products were displayed and offered for sale at the Roundtable conference. 
I bought this beautiful indigo-dyed bag because of the motifs
that are so similar to the ones woven into the Batak ragidup
On the first day, leaders of the producer organizations spoke about their dreams, motivations, successes and challenges. All mentioned the research assistance given by the university when they needed to better understand how to perfect their dyes and designs, work more efficiently and healthfully, and develop their markets. I strongly approve of this function of a university centre. It is helping on the ground in ways that are important to the people who need it -- and who otherwise cannot afford it. The university is engaged and not cloistered in an ivory tower or in the thrall of large corporations. It is invested in supporting local knowledge, indigenous peoples and mitigating environmental pressures. Knowledge is being disseminated to the people who make practical use of it and not just to fellow researchers. According to the website, since the year 2000 the centre has assisted 182 textile producer groups in Northern Thailand.

The pamphlet that we were given in our Roundtable package promoted five groups. Each had its own specialities in the production of environmentally friendly and generally beneficial handloom products. They were not located close together; each was in a different province. Together, however, they shared a vision and probably much, much more. The pamphlet explained and depicted their activities. 

In addition, the pamphlet served as an invitation to come and participate. Each weaver group offered a hands-on program. Visitors would be able to take in one or all of the programs to learn to dye with natural dyes, spin yarn, weave and do silk screening.

These short training programs yield a network without borders. The producers  connect to the university for research support, with each other for other kinds of support and, through their cooperative training programs, they connect infinitely with the wider world.

This was a YES! moment for me, one of the most satisfying things that can happen when attending a conference or journeying through another land.