TAFA Team member, Catherine Bayar, sells vintage textiles, knits and is setting up a workshop for women in Istanbul, Turkey.
TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List was launched in February, 2010. As it has grown, now to over 200 members, so have the members who have Etsy shops. About half of us use Etsy as our retail platform. We decided to organize as an Etsy Team (a program Etsy has for sellers to organize under themes or locations) and set up a blog where we can talk about what is important to us and where we can show off our shops. The blog has eight pages of shops, divided into themes and serves as our Team Shops Catalog. Although many of us sell things that do not fit neatly into those categories, most of us do have a focus. I am introducing each of those categories here, hoping that this will encourage you to go over there and shop, shop, shop, until you drop! These eight pages have over 100 shops, filled with wonderful eye candy that will surely delight anyone who appreciates all the many techniques and traditions that are found in the needle and textile arts.
Today's focus: Cultural Textiles
Afghan Tribal Arts sells vintage textiles and beads from Afghanistan and the region.
Many of the beads are hand-carved semi-precious stones which support artisans who have been living in refugee camps for decades.
Although I love all kinds of textiles and the techniques that go with them, I have to say that my passion lies with cultural textiles, especially embroidery from Central Asia. I quilt and embroider and sew and make all kinds of stuff, but when I see these embroideries, touch them, and think of all of the work that goes into them, my mind goes into sensory overload. That is part of the attraction for me: the skill, the use of basic materials to create something beautiful, the textures and images created in and through fabric and thread... The other magnet is the knowledge that these pieces come from communities where crafts are central to the cultures they represent. They bring with them centuries of stories, of traditions, of symbolism. They are pictures of people, most of whom face terrible difficulties in our modern world. War, famine, global warming, deforestation, pesticide use, land grabbing, aids, and so many other devastating perils threaten communities that we have called "ethnic" or "tribal" in the past. Along with their displacement and poverty goes their knowledge and ability to produce the textiles and crafts that tell their stories.
Valerie Hearder, a quilter, started African Threads to help women in South Africa find new markets for their embroidery and other crafts. She has introduced contemporary images, like the Michael Jackson icon above, along maintaining traditional ones.
An understanding dawned on development leaders in the 1970's that crafts had potential as an economic development tool. There was a handmade revolution back then, too, with the hippie movement and all of the do-it-yourself projects that were starting to roll out to market through kits. Remember all the macrame projects? Cutting glass? There is a parallel that remains true today: people who have exposure to making things themselves appreciate handmade things from around the world. Other reasons for interest in cultural crafts have to do with travel, support for causes, empathy, and so on. So, way back then, the Peace Corps taught the Otavalo Indians how to knit sweaters using Scandinavian designs, other development groups began looking at how crafts could employ the people they were working, churches saw that they could also do this and the concept of fair trade came into being. Thirty years later we continue to see efforts all over the world, formally and informally, of using craft production as a means to both preserve cultural traditions and village structures through and economic development focus. Many of these models have brought relief closer to home. Alabama Chanin, for example, has successfully created a business which employs women in Alabama to make gorgeous handmade clothing using sustainable practices and materials. All of our TAFA Team members who are working with cultural textiles also have social missions which encourage economic development in the communities they represent.
Indira Govindan of dharmakarmaarts is an artist who is inspired by her Indian ancestry. ALL of the proceeds of her Etsy sales go to support a handicapped project in India.
When I started TAFA, I made the conscious choice of giving both cultural and contemporary textiles and fiber art the same importance in sharing a common platform. One of the challenges we face when working with these textiles is that they have been perceived as less valuable than contemporary work. A weaver in Guatemala is called a producer or artisan while a weaver in Santa Fe is referred to as a fiber artist. All of this translates into dollars. As these traditions disappear, we will end up having a handfull of masters or living cultural treasures and then cheap imitations that are churned out by sweat shops or machines. Already, the places in the world where carpets are still produced have dwindled to a handful of countries. As they industrialize and destroy traditional nomadic or village life, the need for and ability to maintain production disappears.
MayaMam is a new effort working with a weaving group in Guatemala.
All of us who sell online have to master many skills in order to present our goods successfully: we have to become great photographers, product designers, learn how to practice good customer service, learn about shipping to places around the world, and so on. Our Team has many levels of expertise and we have implemented a mentor program where experienced sellers can guide the newbie ones. Yet, none of us can move forward without support from a willing customer base, you! Whether these textiles are purchased for their beauty or for the good that they do, there is a necessary bond that connects the maker to the seller to the buyer. There has been a strong bias on Etsy against cultural crafts because most of us who sell them are not making the product. Yet, the makers, in these cases, are often illiterate, have no access to computers, are living in terrible conditions and they need us as a bridge to bring their work to market.
Dr. Christi Bonds Garrett of HeArt of Healing has one of the largest mola collections in the MidWest. As an art quilter, she also loves vintage japanese kimono which can be cut up and used in new pieces. As a practitioner of Integrative Medicine, Christi is especially interested in the Kuna medicinal traditions and how they are documented in their molas. The above mola shows a Kuna woman working on a weaving while she smokes her pipe.
I find it interesting how many of us in our Team who work with cultural textiles also make our own work. This cultural exchange is not new. Picasso, Gauguin and many others were influenced by tribal or ethnic work that made their way to Europe. The Moors changed the art of Southern Spain and Portugal. With all of the technological exchanges we have in our world today, we see global fusion happening in all areas of life: crafts, food, music and even in the choices we make for marriage partners and social circles. It's a fascinating time in history. There is a constant choice we make in what to assimilate and what gets lost in the translation. This is where the preservation of vintage textiles are so important. We can keep them as references to the past while we explore new ways to relate to the present and future.
My shop, Rayela, has vintage textiles from around the world and remnants which can be incorporated into new pieces. A special love I have: ralli quilts from India and Pakistan.
Interest in cultural textiles often leads to increased knowledge about the people who made them which can then foster actual connections. Several of our members offer cultural tours specializing in textile production. Valerie Hearder is taking a group to South Africa in 2011. Fiona Wright (Glitzandpieces on Etsy) sells vintage saris and textiles on Etsy, but spends most of her time on workshops and leading her cultural tours around India.
Wouldn't a cultural tour with Fiona be something to remember forever?
It's a beautiful world and we bring some of it to you through our Cultural Textiles. Do not hesitate to contact the shops for more information on what they are doing. We are a social group, anxious to make connections and friendships along the way!
Click here to visit our Cultural Textiles in our TAFA Team Catalog of Shops.
And, while you are there, click on the other tabs to see our other Team member shops. We aim to be the best in textiles and fiber art on Etsy!