Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mali: A country with a Ministry of Artisan Arts #2

Yes, Mali does have a ministry of artisan arts and it's an honest-to-goodness government office. It's complete name is Ministère de l'Artisanat et du Tourisme. Every year, the ministry even mounts a festival of Malian artisan arts at the Bourse de Commerce in Paris -- only five hours away from Mali by plane -- and last October, over 18,000 people came to visit. Click on "galerie photos" to see the local marketplace.

La Bourse de Commerce, Paris

Moreover, the Malian artisans get support from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and other donors, Japanese and European. How cool is that?

I met Sidiki Ouattara, national coordinator of the UNIDO pilot project called Tissutèque which was started in the early 1990s jointly by the governments of Mali and Japan -- both aware that West Africa has a rich heritage in artisanal textile, but the dyers were abandoning the trade because it was becoming less and less profitable.

National Center for the Promotion of Artisanal Arts.

Sidiki Ouattara, Tissutèque project coordinator

So far, the seed money provided has produced 10 spinning wheels, 500 pairs of handcarders, 100 weaving looms, 20 woolwinders, 20 warping boards, 10 new types of fabrics and training of 100 people. There are also three manually-operated dyeing machines and two electric ones that have been converted to gas power. (Electric power is expensive, but gas is subsidized by the government!) Over the years they have developed 50 repeatable dye recipes using scientific instruments and have trained 300 women in the art of dyeing.

Instruments for measuring dye solutions.

The various dyeing machines.

Looms at Tissutèque.

I had a lively chat with Mr. Ouattara in his office while an info tech person was installing his webcam to enhance his Skype use. I talked of Charkhas for Africa and the equipment that is available to spinners in the US.

He was very excited and as soon as the webcam work was done, he asked me to show him the works of American spinners and the equipment shops available online. And then he turned to me and said, "Madam, you coming so late in the game. We could have used your advice when we were starting."

He went on to explain, that though they had financing, they didn't have technical advice. He said that the donors wanted to provide heavy-duty machines, but he said, that wouldn't have worked. "You have to start from the bottom and work your way up to find a sustainable solution. First you have to build the capacity of the people before you give them sophisticated equipment."

As I left, Mr. Ouattara gave me a list of things that he wanted assistance with: a quote for 1000 pieces of carding cloth, a sample of a spinning wheel made of PVC, and information on a small dyeing machine or a large washing machine that is gas-operated. He was concerned that the women who dye the traditional way with just rubber gloves and masks were not adequately protected from the toxic effect of chemicals.

The sample Babe spinning wheel, I'm happy to report, has be sent off to Bamako via DHL. The super-durable carding cloth from Strauch turned out to be out-of-reach despite donor financing; thus, they are going for the cloth that is locally available. I've started the research on the dyeing machines made in China and India. However, I have not seen one that is gas-operated. If you have any suggestions, please email me.

When I returned home, I received this email from Mr. Ouattara. He wrote: Following your visit to Mali, I'm writing to say that I look forward to our partnership in our common passion: the promotion of artisanal textile.

A very nice way, indeed, to end year 2007 and begin a new one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mali: A country with a Ministry of Artisan Arts

Work was going to take me back to Bamako in early December and -- having found a new job that was to start at the beginning of the 2008 -- I wanted to make wise use of my final(?) trip to Africa.

Since making the trip to Mali in September 2006 I had resorted to commercial courier service for sending tools, equipment and supplies to Ethiopia and Mali. So, I only needed to pack a few things that were ready to take. Once I established new contacts, sending more stuff would be easy by courier.

I was leaving Bamako at midnight of Dec. 6 this year and in the morning I decided to explore the Artisan Market. I figured, if I didn't meet spinners or weavers at the market, I would drop by the DHL office downtown and send the hand carders and dye powder to the two fiber guilds I had visited previously.

Ready to DHL, just in case.

The Artisan Market

It turned out to be a lucky day for me as I checked out the weaving studio of the Artisan Market. I met Bina, an old man working on a floor loom.

Interesting touch: Bina adds a stick of broom material every several row of cotton thread.

Broom on the floor.

I asked him if he had handcarders and could he show them to me. He very nicely did. I said I had three pairs with me, could they use them? He replied that the handcarders would be welcome. As he opened the box that I had packed, he delightedly leafed through a Japanese book on rigid heddle weaving and then he saw the plastic bags of dyes.

At that point Bina invited me see their dye lab and the spinning wheel that he had built. We went out of the market and walked some blocks to a fenced-in building. Outside, women were dyeing bazin (like damask) fabrics to sell in the market.

Bazin cloth from Holland. They can cost anywhere from a few dollars to over 10 dollars depending on the thread count. The top-of-the line is called "bazin riche", while the lower quality kind is called "bazin moins riche."

To be continued.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

And that is how Charkhas for Africa began #2

My project to introduce charkhas to Africa spinners acquired a name and gained momentum thanks to two spinners from Pennsylvania: Angela Place and Reenie Hanlin of Material Whirled. They had brought Lexi Boeger to Harrisburg, PA for a two-day workshop and I had signed up. That was how we met.

We kept in touch and when they learned about my having gone to Ethiopia, they offered to help with a fundraiser. I'm not a go-getter and am squeemish about handling money donated by other people. We made an arrangement where I would procure the equipment and Angela and Reenie took care of paying off the suppliers with proceeds from donated yarns.

With the fundraising momentum in full swing, we bought 10 Indian box charkhas, a few Babe wheels and lots of hand carders from Otto Strauch. I redeemed frequent flyer miles and arranged a visit to Segou -- noted for weaving -- three hours away from the capital of Mali. On the way, I stopped in France for a spinning retreat with francophone spinners who also pledged yarn to sell for the project.

The trip was not easy. First of all, traveling on my own, I did it on the cheap and lugged everything through train stations in France. In addition, the Little Gem was also traveling with me. Upon arrival in Bamako, arriving passengers have to take their luggage to an x-ray machine and the customs people saw the charkha boxes. I was being asked to pay taxes on the items! I had to explain they were donations to spinners in Mali. Eventually, they let me through without having to do anything else.

I hung around in Bamako a couple of days while I waited for my friend, Dr. Youssouf Diallo, to finish his office duties during the week. I had requested for a driver and a car, but he wanted to drive me personally so we planned to go on a Saturday. He said, "You've done so much for my country; it's the least I can do".

Youssouf was thinking of driving to Segou leisurely and driving back the next day. I said I wanted to make it a day trip. He then accelerated his speed. He wanted to avoid being on the road in the dark on the way back. Problem was, the road was filled with potholes and it was only a matter of time before we hit one that badly damaged the rim of one of his tires. The damage produced a loud and alarming noise, so we had to stop. At this point, we were in the middle of a forest reserve.

Youssouf tried to phone for help, but his cell had lost signal. We tried to flag buses and other motorists; no one wanted to stop. Then we heard a shot. "What was that?" I asked. "Oh, hunters," he replied, more concerned about the tire than the presence of poachers. I got nervous as I was reminded of Dick Cheney and his well-publicized hunting trip.

We had no choice but to ignore the wheel noise and just drive on. Eventually, we left the forest reserve and commercial activity resumed along the highway. There were shacks serving as phone booths and bottled liquid for sale like vinegar or oil. I asked what were in those bottles and Youssouf said nonchalantly, "Gasoline." Needless to say that was a concern for me, but we soon found a car mechanic to change our tire and we were back on the road.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And that is how Charkhas for Africa began

Spinners who read my blog invariably ask me in person or by email, "You seem to have traveled extensively and go to Africa repeatedly. What exactly do you do?"

True, I never talk about my day job, but that's because it has nothing to do with fiber. After all, it's a day job.

Well, okay. A large part of my day job is handling the logistical arrangements for conferences and workshops in Africa. That goes from identifying the hotel, requesting bids, securing contracts, engaging interpretation services and equipment, arranging airport transfers, planning meals and banquets and, finally, settling the bills. On top of that, I look after the well-being of 150 traveled-exhausted participants who may sometimes lose their luggage or get sick.

It's not uncommon, either, to find at the very last minute that the hotel has overbooked and, therefore, the management announces that a number of the participants will have to be taken to another hotel, at least for one night. That is never acceptable to the team I work with. Therefore, with all sangfroid, I go to the hotel management and tell them calmly, "it's in your best interest that you keep all of us right here". That seems to work everytime. Talk about the bottomline.

At the end of the day, I would spin on my Little Gem for a cool down. When colleagues would insist on a drink at the bar, I would take my knitting along. One time someone quipped, "I've never seen a woman knit in a bar -- it's the last place you think you'd see someone knitting".

Then on the last day, I'd make a quick trip to the market to see crafts and fabrics. Then, even more knitting -- at the airport this time.

After three years, I started to get tired of the whole routine. Plus, I'm really scared of flying and my anxiety would show up two weeks before departure. Skin rashes would appear and my suitcase would be packed and ready at about the same time. Strange and conflicting behavior. However, the team I belonged to was almost like a second family and my colleagues were a pleasure to work with.

But if I had to continue doing the job, I felt I needed to find a way to make the trips less predictable, more worthwhile, and even more interesting. And that is how I thought of starting a personal project of buying with my own funds spinning wheels made of PVC and bringing them to Ethiopia. It didn't have a name. It was a diversion and form of sharing spinning experiences with women who I would not -- but for my job -- have the chance of meeting.

Caption: Our first workshop: Nairobi 2002. How could I leave such a warm bunch of people and the coolest manager (second row, left) ever?

To be continued.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back from Bamako & Yarns from Lyon for Africa

The moment I took my seat in the airport shuttle at Washington-Dulles last Saturday, I felt a sore throat. Two days later, I was experiencing a number of the symtoms of malaria, including chills, perspiration and diarrhea. A couple of more days later I'm still sick in bed, but I begin to recover and open my laptop to catch up with email. At this point I learn that two other colleagues fell ill: one of them back in DC; the other, still in Africa wondering if it's not malaria.

Anyway, on to more pleasant news. While in Mali I received an email from my friend, Muriel from Lyon, France. She had just finished spinning two skeins of yarn for my project, Charkhas for Africa. Muriel has mailed off the yarns and I will put them up for sale on Etsy once they arrive. Email me and I will reserve either of them or both, if anyone is interested. The yarns are lovely and I would understand if the buyer will take her time before knitting any one of them up. At any rate, there is one request from Muriel: that the buyer please send her a photo when the project is done.

"Lingerie" is of silk-wool blend handdyed in pink, navajo-plied and embellished with strips of tulle of burgundy color. Length: 218 yards. Price: $60

"Frou-Frou" is of merino and plied with yarn from Houard, the famed manufacturer of novelty yarns in France that closed down in mid-August. Length: 73 yards Price: $40

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Paula Simmons' Rover No. 1 finds a new home

I called Paula Simmons inquiring about the Cottage Industry Rover made by her husband, Pat Green. She informed me that Pat no longer made them and she suggested I look for a secondhand one. I said there was no way I would consider buying a secondhand as it's a delicate machine and I was concerned not just about its provenance, but also about its history. Then she offered her very own machine, 15 years old and which she said hadn't been used in 10 years.

It took about two months before I finally got it. First there was the weight: 360 lbs. They had to find a way to take down the machine from upstairs their house. Then Paula agonized over parting with it. She said on the phone, "Once it came down the stairs, there was no turning back. I loved it. It even has my name on it. It wasn't easy." [True enough, on the infeed tray is a metal plate that reads: "Paula's Rover #1".]

Finally, before calling the shipper, Pat took it apart to make sure it was in excellent working condition and called Mr. JumpSheep to give detailed instructions about uncrating and putting it in functioning order. The crate, once empty, was to be turned upside-down to provide a convenient table. There were more technical instructions that just went over my head. The phone call took two hours because the conversation eventually drifted into political and economic philosophy.

Just right now, the machine is still sitting in the garage because the house has been undergoing a much-delayed improvement (14 years!). I have made a number of center-pull balls that I'm sending to Sandrine of Alysse Créations in France to test. I would love to do loose rovings, but since the machine is sitting very low right now, the center-pull ball was the way to go. Once it's put on a table, I could put a basket underneath and create the loose rovings.

Initial attempt:

Friday, November 16, 2007

JumpSheep goes on sale in Europe

JumpSheep hand-painted yarns are now available in Europe at Alysse Créations. These are half pounder superwash merino in fingering weight dyed with Gaywool.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Obit: Springwater Fiber Workshop, Alexandria, Va.

Springwater Fiber Workshop was not only my LYS (local yarn store), it was a fiber workshop where I learned to spin and dye when these crafts were not yet as trendy as they are today. It was supported by commissions for the arts, other agencies and foundations. Most importantly, it was supported by the teachers and the members of the community who have made Springwater a part of their lives.

Once I was on my own at the spinning wheel and producing knittable yarns, the shop welcomed my products and sold them at the store. Springwater didn't just ask for my support; it also provided me with encouragement and support to pursue my interest in fiber arts. Therefore, it was with great disappointment that I learned yesterday of the closure of the school and of the shop "effective immediately". Needless to say, there were a flurry of emails on the yahoo group of Springwater habitués. Finally, my spinning and natural dyeing mentor, Sylvie Demar, wrote this:

OK all;

Before rumors start flying . . . .

The decision to close was not made lightly and for me personally it feels like another death in my family.

Decisions were made that at the time seemed the best way to solve some of the problems and, unfortunately did not work.

During this process, additional problems began to surface, and reached the point of being unsurmountable.

Personally, I'm tired of fighting.

Springwater has always had financial obstacles - one was trying to maintain an open studio in an extremely and increasingly high rent area so as to be close to other arts (i.e. Art League).

Closing is the result of many, many factors in combination with a downswing in the economy. And yes, rising gasoline prices are included in this.

The fact that one can now find almost as many knit shops and knit classes as Starbucks in any given area is also a contributing factor. Why drive in congested rush hour traffic to a place that is notorious for bad parking when you can just go down the street from where you are to do the same thing.

Also purchasing on the internet, while extremely convenient leaves many small organizations/retailers wondering how to pay the rent when people come into a store, look around and try things out - then buy online because its less expensive.

The only way to keep small businesses open is to patronize there as much as you can - even if it costs a bit more or is less convenient than buying online. Not a criticism - just a statement of fact that times have changed.

These are not the only reasons for the decision to close Springwater - but these consumer trends are forecast to continue, making it extremely difficult to deal with.

So, having said all that, we need to celebrate the spirit of an organization that while physically will pass into history - but will live on in spirit for a long time.

One last point:

The lease on the site is up the end of this year and all of you renters know what that means:

new lease = higher rent or moving - and believe me its worse for commercial property than for residential.

All of these contributing factors and more unfortunately made the decision to close the most prudent.

Sylvia D.

If you have your beloved LYS, you have to think twice before buying the cheaper products that you find on the internet. You may be saving a few dollars, but losing your community of crafts people.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just about as pink as you can get!

One of the wonderful spinners I met at Yarn School in September was Kari Cohn a.k.a. UpTheMudCreek in Ravelry. Shortly after, she started her Think Pink project on Etsy. At about the same time, I got a bundle of pink dye from Africa and it was just appropriate to put these two things together and the results are these batts put on sale by Kari on Etsy here and here.

Pink Peppercorns (sold)
Pink Spice (still available)

I also had a recent swap with YarnWench: a box of trims from Filature Houard for a box of the YarnWench's fabulous, fabulous handdyed tops. In addition, Lynn also got a batt of Pink Spice. Here is the resulting yarn.

The dye powder used is very unusual. First of all, it's olive green when dry. I found it in Marrakesh last year and I shared it with Laurence. It's so powerful that a smidgen is more than enough to dye two pounds of wool. However, Laurence said the one her father got for her in Madagascar was better so I sought colleagues who might possibly go to Madagascar. Finally I found one who would have no problem going to the market.

I've always suspected that this mysterious dye was manufactured in India, but the kind from Madagascar turned out to have been ground super-duper fine. Thus, it's not noticeable when the dust gets to your clothes and your skin.

So, my colleague who had been carrying the plastic bag of dye had no idea what was in store for him when he washed his face at the end of the day. There, staring at him in front of the mirror in his hotel bathroom, was himself in shocking pink!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rhinebeck in the New York Times

Read article here.
Photos I took to follow...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Back from Stitches East

Stitches East doesn't sound exciting when one is only a week away from Rhinebeck (5.5 hours by car). However, since Baltimore is only 45 minutes away, why not?

I bought a rubber stamp with a spinning wheel and a sheep by Magenta and a book: the 1994 hardcover edition of Fancy Feet by Anna Zilboorg. The book was priced $18.95, but the shop owner offered a 10% discount since the book had shelf wear. The exact same book is for sale on amazon marketplace from $45 to $100. Now the paperback edition published in 2001 is also available at the marketplace with price ranging from 249.77 to 386.46. Hard to believe, but it's true!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Unusual Spinning Wheel found in Japan

Here is a photo taken by Majacraft's Glynnis Poad of a curious-looking spinning equipment at the Tokyo Spinning Party. It has no wheel and you use a stick which you push on the spindle shaft to make it run. There is no bobbin or flyer either; instead, it has a quill. Glynnis reported at the francophone Forum du Filage that it's simple and quite fun to use. However, the fiber has to be pre-drafted because one can only hold the fiber with one hand as the other is pushing the stick.

Speaking of quills, Glynnis added that Majacraft will be coming out before Christmas with its own quill which will work on all its spinning wheels.

This is an old Japanese postcard I came across...

...and I was delighted to see it in contemporary setting. Photo provided by Glynnis.

It looks like an Indian charkha that my friend, Sandrine, sells at her online shop, Alysse Créations.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Yarn School 2007: We Came, We Spun, We Dyed!

Photos taken by students at Harveyville Project in Harveyville, Kansas, may be viewed here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Tokyo Spinning Party photos

I found more photos taken at the Tokyo Spinning Party held last week on the website of Kakara Woolworks, a Japanese fiber shop. Below are photos of Glynnis teaching, and doing a spinning demo on the Majacraft Rose. Bottom photo shows Glynnis's husband, Owen, creator of The Little Gem, with his back turned watching Glynnis spin on a Suzie Pro. By the way, Adrian of HelloYarn did an exhaustive review of the Rose recently. Read it here

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tokyo Spinning Party, Sept. 17-18

No, I wasn't there, but my friend Glynnis of Majacraft was. See photos here found on the website of Spinhouse Ponta which was a sponsor. Spinhouse Ponta publishes the Japanese spinning magazine called Spinnuts.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Back to school this coming weekend.

The Harveyville Project's Yarn School with Adrian Bizilla of Hello Yarn. Which means I will miss The Washington Paper's Crafty Bastards' Arts and Crafts Fair on Sept. 30 for the second year in a row, just as I missed MWSF for the last two years.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

obit: Filature Houard

I just received an email from a self-described fiberholic who is going to the Languedoc area in France very soon. She wanted information on Filature Houard. Unfortunately, just a few hours before, I had received an email from Laurence a.k.a. LaineZinzin -- who vacations in nearby Bedarieux in the summer -- and she reports that Filature Houard finally closed down for business August 15.

Monsieur Houard had been trying to fight the imminent closure due to bankruptcy since last summer. He went to court last October and the factory stayed open for 10 more months. I'm glad I was able to go to the shop at least once. It will be missed by spinners and knitters.

The machines of the factory churns out fabulous threads and yarns. Let's hope someone or some entity will take a financial interest in it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Otto's cashmere

What spinner doesn't know Otto, his fabulous Petite and Finest drum carders and his even more fabulous customer service. No introduction needed here.

We -- Larry and I -- paid a visit to his farm in New Castle, Virginia, five hours from Washington, DC, and this gentle creature was who greeted us before Otto and Joanne could come out of the workshop-cum-office.

More cashmere goats slowly descended from the hill behind. Otto explained it was their habit to come down in the afternoon for treats: quartered crab apples that they nibbled on off one's palm.

We spent a delightful afternoon in the Strauch's porch drinking beer and nibbling on Joanne's tomato and mozzarella platter, talking about the next spinning retreat in France at Mic's place planned for Fall '08 and exploring the craft market in New Zealand. Add to that science fiction films and Hercule Poirot, my favorite film to watch while spinning. Otto mimics the Belgian detective to a T.

We got back home at the stroke of midnight, still thoroughly delighted and hopeful to spend more time with Otto and Joanne on the road on craft fairs and such.

The cashmere goats had already been brushed (no, they're not shorn) so all that's left are the guard hairs. Here's a closer look at the horns.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Japanese boots (jika-tabi) in print

Here's an interesting acquisition from Japan, specifically from a little Nara shop called Tabi-ji. It's a pair called jika-tabi.

Hubby was looking for these boots, usually black or blue, and normally worn by construction workers and Buddhist monks. When he finally found Tabi-ji, the boots came, surprisingly, in prints. And even more surprisingly, the shop owner, named Ryo, spoke impeccable English because he lived for sometime in Eastern Washington State.

As Ryo packed our purchases, he carefully included a couple of his brochures in the bag and said, "If you want anymore, just send me an email. I will mail to the US."

Here's how you contact Ryo:
Tel: 011-81-742-263588

Ryo in his shop.