” 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.
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.
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.
While 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 http://ronmayhewphotography.com/portfolio/galleries/travel/Bali/