Sustaining Culture through Weaving ~ from North Carolina to Bali

” Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”  ~   Richard P. Feynman

My love affair with textiles began in 1976 when we moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina and lived there for thirty years. The region was known for its preservation of heritage crafts, weaving being one of them. Often times a loom was set up at a village or street fair and I enjoyed watching and admiring the nimbleness of the weaver’s fingers as she sent the shuttle flying back and forth, plying her magic.

Recognizing the importance of preserving the Arts and Crafts of the NC mountain region is Haywood Community College, which offers a two year program in weaving as well as pottery, wood working and jewelry.  Weaving and fibers are also taught at The John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, as well as the Penland School of Crafts near Spruce Pine, NC. Weavers can also apply for admission into the Western North Carolina Fibers/Handweavers Guild which helps preserve this cultural heritage through standards and integrity.

The Southern Handicraft Guild in Asheville is well known for its craft fairs and Guild Shops which showcases work from only the finest artisans in the region who must pass rigorous standards to be accepted into the Guild. My husband, a wood sculptor at the time, was a member of this guild.

Now that we have retired and moved to Southwest Florida I have lost those connections to the NC heritage arts, but I still maintain my love and support for hand loomed textiles when traveling to foreign countries. I was thrilled when a friend suggested that while in Ubud, Bali, last year that I make a point to visit Threads of Life, an Indonesian Textile Arts Center. This we did on our way to walk in the rice fields.

Threads of Life

As soon as we entered the door I knew I was in a unique gallery that wasn’t in business to sell mass produced textiles like one sees at the markets. Instead, the walls are used to showcase one of a kind Ikat using ancestral ceremonial motifs and only natural dyes. One of the staff members explains that Threads of Life’s mission is to help establish cooperatives…that they began in 1998 with one weaver’s group and now has grown to more than 40 cooperatives, involving over 1000 women on 11 different Indonesian islands. Sustainability of the traditional weaving arts is the goal as well as restoring pride in their ancestral customs. Through working directly with weavers they are empowering women by helping them form cooperatives, therefore increasing women’s incomes. By engaging the husbands to farm natural dye plants they become part of the process which helps maintain the traditional husband-wife roles.

Threads of Life

Like many remote places around the world, ancient customs and methods are often replaced by easier, faster more economical methods. Threads of Life wants to restore the traditional ways and prove to these women that retaining high quality weaving standards actually improves their economic sustainability. In many cases, museum quality standards. Organic farming of cotton and dye plants is making a come back and replacing the hazards of chemical dyes.

Threads of LifeWhile at the gallery, one of the staff members proudly holds up a slim paper back book and tells me that the founder of Threads of Life wrote it. I purchased the book thinking I would save it for the long plane trip back to the states, but had it read before I even left Bali. What a worthy and heart warming story. I am always curious about expats, the hows and whys of leaving their culture for another, becoming immersed and then doing good along the way.  William Ingram and his wife Jean Howe have lived in Bali full time since 1993 and truly have a sense of the Balinese culture and community. He wrote the book A Little Bit One O’Clock about his experiences living with a Balinese family whom he has known since 1987. He explores the family’s relationships, their ancestral ties to one another and their religion. For William it is a personal journey of self discovery and cross cultural awareness. Several members of this Balinese family are also involved in the operation of Threads of Life, a certified fair trade business.

Whenever possible I support fair trade stores and cooperatives. At Threads of Life, I chose a beautiful Ikat ceremonial shoulder scarf which I use as a wall hanging. It was tied, dyed and woven by Mudji Liha of Savu. I am proud to display it in my home knowing it was made by loving hands using time honored traditions.

For more on Bali see


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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32 Responses to Sustaining Culture through Weaving ~ from North Carolina to Bali

  1. restlessjo says:

    So worthwhile this kind of project, Lynne. I shall look out for the book too.

    • Thanks, Jo. I’m one of these buyers who wants the money to go to the right people. Not enough of these places, but as you and I both know, art and craft fairs in plein air, where you can buy direct from the craftsman, is a great way to make choices.

  2. Gigi Galore says:

    Lovely! And an eye-opener again! I hope you were able to also buy something to wear! 🙂

  3. Thanks, Gig, but I don’t think I can live in sarongs. Gets in the way of my fishing!
    By the way, I couldn’t open your recent post (Greece). Says page not found.

    • Gigi Galore says:

      Oh I know! Well, sort of … something happened when I published it. It came to my email address but did not show up on WP. Fixed that though. It’s there now … 🙂 Thankyou for trying to look Lynne! 🙂

  4. letizia says:

    I love the tapestries and love the story behind them (I especially like the one on the wall with the yellow stripes… so beautiful)

  5. Thanks, Letzia.I like that wall hanging, too. It was an educational experience just walking into the gallery and learning what they do. Don’t get blown away. Hope the storm doesn’t affect many as is predicted.

  6. This is fascinating Lynne. It brought to mind one of my favourite quotes: I will die with an unreformed and carnal love of fabric. from A thousand days in Venice, by Marlena de Blasi.

  7. Am pleased you liked this, Elaine. Fabric is such an essential part of our life and for some their soul. Thank you for the quote.

  8. This is exactly the kind of place I like to visit when I travel, knowing that what I buy will support local people and help keep traditions alive. If I go to Ubud again, I’ll be sure to visit Threads of Life.

  9. What a lovely post Lynne. I love Indonesian art in all its manifestations, and ikat is so beautiful,
    So good to know that the old ways are being revived, and that cheap machine made substitutes are recognised as not having the value and glory of the hand-made natural dyed fabric

    • Thank you Valerie for your kind remarks and appreciation of Ikat and the traditions surrounding the weaving of it. I am grateful to the couple that started this movement in Indonesia and have maintained their commitment to it. Their principles and business sense make it a win-win situation.

  10. Very wonderful…I love the tapestries and love the story behind them. Orofiorentino form Italy

  11. vbholmes says:

    Interesting information on weaving centers in NC and Indonesia–thanks.

  12. Lynne, thank you for the sweet memories of Asheville, NC. We lived there for a while. The tapestry artists always inspire me.

  13. I had no idea you had Asheville connections, Debbie. I didn’t take time to bring up my love for woven baskets and pottery in this blog, but the mountains ooze with creativity and the nurturing of it. How did your mola painting (magic marker) turn out? I would love to do one.You’ll have send Z a photo so she can share it.

  14. Madhu says:

    Such a fascinating post Lynne! We too look for organisations like these that give back to the community while preserving their traditions. Shall certainly visit Threads of Life when we do go to Bali.

    • I think a lot of travelers are buying more responsibly and looking for fair trade shops or at least becoming aware of them. When I am in Raleigh, NC visiting our son, we make a point to shop at 10,000 Villages, a fair trade organization. Then, again,I’m always after the unique thing anyway.

  15. paula montgomery says:

    Thanks, Lynne, I learn so much from your posts. This one led me back to your “rice fields” post which I enjoyed more the second time around. Magnificent photos as well! Paula

  16. Lisaman says:

    It is amazing how many communities have weaving in their past..I visited a place in South Africa before I left. They all have their own patterns!

    • I agree. In fact, so many of the traditional patterns be it Ecuador, Africa, Indonesia, are similar. Most of the patterns incorporate moon, sun, earth, crops. etc. Thanks, Lisa for your visit and your comment.

  17. eof737 says:

    What a beautiful share… I’d love to read the book and have noted the shop too. TY! 🙂

  18. Thanks, Elizabeth. I always enjoy discovering new places worthy visiting or in this case taking a friend’s suggestion. Hope you get to read the book.

  19. You know how I enjoyed that … 🙂

  20. Yes, we both love textiles and appreciate the work that goes into creating them.Your blog on the women of the Mekong (Laos and Cambodia ) was enlightening and educational. Co-ops done right can empower these women as you saw first hand.Thanks for taking time from your count down period to comment.

  21. Supporting Fair Trade and local communities is vital in today’s society – great post Lynne, thank you! 😉

  22. Thanks for your visit and comment. I’m always on the look out for Fair Trade places, even locally.

  23. Pingback: 25 Best Things to Do in Ubud (Bali) – Halting Place

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