TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bark Cloth – Sustainable Production in Uganda by Karin Zetterqvist

Message holder made of bark cloth from Uganda

Bark cloth is a unique, non-woven fabric produced from the bark of Ficus Natalensins, a rare and novel fig tree species peculiar to Uganda and locally known as Mutuba.

Since the 13th century, bark cloth has been produced in the Buganda Kingdom, and used commercially, ritually and ceremonially by the Baganda, an ethnic group found in central Uganda. Ranging in texture from the coarse and thick to the finest and light, bark cloth, as an article of clothing was worn sarong style and wrap-around by Baganda men and women respectively.

The bark cloth was used to pay land rates and fines by the peasants to their chiefs, who in turn selected the best for presentation to the king’s courtiers. Other rituals and ceremonies where bark cloth used to play a central role include the initiation of twins into the clan and their protection, child naming ceremonies, payment of dowry and during marriage ceremonies, succession rituals and last funeral rites to identify the heirs, widows, orphans and so on.

Only the best of the cloth, fine and light to touch, a rich garnet red with a shiny sheen, was presented to the king for use as clothing and during coronations, royal weddings and other functions.

A Masterpiece of Indigenous Textile Production Skills

Bark removal of the Mutuba fig tree.

Harvest of bark to be used in Ugandan bark cloth.

Banana leaves offer tree protection

The art of making bark cloth, passed from father to son, involves stripping the particular fig tree trunk of its bark by ringing down. A straight cut is then made and the bark is then carefully stripped off the tree.

The bark is then steamed, spread out on big logs 2-3 meters long and carefully beaten with mallets. As the bark is beaten it gets wider, longer and finer. A piece of bark measuring 75 by 150 cm can produce cloth measuring up to 4 m by 1.8 m.

The stripped part of the tree is wrapped in layers of fresh banana leaves and with careful nurturing a single tree can produce up to 400 sq m of cloth in a period of about 40 years. In this way it is not only a natural fabric, but also eco-friendly.

African Ethnic Designs

Bark cloth bag with coloured raffia decoration

Bark cloth purse with raffia decoration

Business cards case made of bark cloth

Bark cloth coin purse (Uganda)

Today the applications, to which bark cloth is put, are endless. Royal Bark Cloth Designs (RBCD) - with the price winning designer Sara Katebalirwe - is working with village community women using bark and other natural fibres specific to Uganda to make various and beautiful novel products. Aesthetic yet functional, the designs are applied mostly by hand.

The design applications, as well as being aesthetic, also give cover to the cloth, to minimize abrasion/friction, thus giving the product a longer life. The best design application so far in terms of bark protection is the raffia couching.

Preserving the Bark Cloth Production Skills
Uganda’s bark cloth was named as part of the world’s collective heritage recognized by UNESCO November 2005. The global body declared the “art of bark cloth making in Uganda a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”

Watatu (meaning three in Swahili) is a web shop, owned by three friends (two Tanzanians and one Swede), where you can find more of the products from Royal Bark Cloth Designs. Promoting the bark cloth and its use internationally will assist to preserve the bark cloth production skills.

Written by
Karin Zetterqvist
Watatu Textil

"Bark Cloth" by Royal Bark Cloth Designs

Karin wrote another article for this blog on Kanga and Kitenge cloths, traditional fabrics used as garments in Tanzania. She is a member of our Fiber Focus Group. Visit her page.

Find more photos like this on Fiber Focus

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tithing for Textiles

Ralli Quilt from Pakistan

I recently had an Etsy customer buy three of my ralli quilts. She bought two the first time and then several weeks later, a third one. Most of what I carry in my shops are low end items, under $30. Textile stamps have the biggest following, but the remnants, beads, fabric and molas also get their share of attention. The higher end, vintage textiles (ralli quilts, suzani embroideries and kilims), sit for a longer period in my shops, but eventually, the right person finds them and they also sell. This customer mentioned that she was excited to spend money from her textile fund.

Textile fund? Interesting.... She set aside money every month until she had enough to buy something that really was special to her. That got me to thinking.... Most of the people that I know have lost a lot of money during these hard economic times. This lost money means that "disposable" income that could be used for fun, for impulse purchases, is gone. The belt tightens up and priorities (mortgages, utilities, food, etc.) take precedence over unnecessary purchases. Most would argue that buying a textile or art falls into that "unnecessary" category. Yet, even in hard times, most of us spend money on non-art things that we also don't need: a coffee, an electronic toy, a hamburger, and so on. $10 here, $15 there. I would argue that there is a place, a needed one, for beautiful, handmade things in our lives. So, what if we actually made that a priority and set up a fund for beauty?

Suzani Embroidery from Uzbekistan

Having limited income forces most of us to think more carefully about our purchases. I do think that this is a behavior that we, as a society, desperately need if we are to change how we impact this earth. We buy and sell so much junk, so much stuff that just ends up in a corner, eventually gets donated or thrown out. Stuff that will never biodegrade. Stuff that breaks the first time you use it. Stuff that becomes obsolete in two years. Stuff, stuff, stuff. When we don't have much money, we still have this urge to spend and this makes us go for what is cheap.
Banana Leaf with Butterflies, Mola from Panama

My mother is the incarnation of the practical woman who understands value as that what is lasting. She was a farm girl from Minnesota of Icelandic stock. When I was six months old, she and my Dad went to Brazil as missionaries and we spent the next 18 years there. Shopping was always a search for value. Not for what was cheap, but for what would last. We had one of those old wringer washing machines that would destroy anything that was poorly sewn. They boiled the clothes, so if dye was not set, it would leak on everything else. She would rather have one good sweater that would last twenty years, then 10 sweaters that would fall apart in a year. I learned that lesson from her and look at everything in terms of how it is built or constructed.

My mother reading me a story in 1962.

So, maybe setting up a separate bank account for beauty is one way to go. My customer also made me think of the concept of tithing. This is a practice many churches have of giving 10% of one's income back to the church in order to fund church projects and to help the poor. Jews, Muslims, and other religions have similar concepts. In the old days, this concept went beyond money and included one's labor: crops or products. At different points in European history, tithing was translated into taxation, overseen by the Church with political backing. Forced tithing or taxation resulted in imprisonment, land grabbing and finally, revolts. Tithing went back to a voluntary concept.

Handwoven kilim from Afghanistan

In thinking about this, I am attracted by the idea of not only setting up a beauty fund, but of also allocating a percentage of one's productivity toward charity. Those of us who are artists do have an asset that can be given back to society. We can volunteer our knowledge to a community program (after-school programs, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters, etc) through teaching a free workshop or we can donate items that we make or our computer skills to fund-raising events or to the less fortunate around us.

Each of us has to find our place in this world and to choose how we spend our buying power and our productive energy. The handmade movement does have a huge impact on what is being made (is it junk?) and where these things end up. We can save for beauty, tithe for it, work for it, and slowly change the perceptions of what we need and want. My thanks to a wonderful customer who made me do a bit of thinking!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quilters Join Crafters in Making Decorative Postcards by Donna Hussain

Transform your fabric scraps into beautiful postcards!

My stash of fabric scraps left over from quilting is taking over the closet of my guest bedroom. Although I try to diminish the scrap piles by using the fabric for accent colors in new quilting projects, my stash continues to grow. Could it be true that scraps stored in a dark warm place multiply?

My friend, Lyn Strauch, who shares my love of quilting, recently introduced me to new creative activity: making decorative postcards from colorful fabrics, buttons, sequins, fancy threads, paint, stamps, trim and assorted doodads to send to friends and loved ones. If addressed and stamped, the US Post Office will deliver the postcards by mail. While a quilt takes months to sew, a decorative card takes only an hour or two to make. We quilters already have most of the needed supplies on hand. Our pleasure is threefold: we enjoy the creative process of making the postcards, we bask in the delight and smiles of those who receive our cards, and we rejoice in finding a use for fabric in our stash.

Several weeks ago my art quilt circle spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon making decorative postcards under Lyn’s guidance. I learned many useful tips from Lyn that I now share with you.

Getting instruction from Lyn Strauch.

Lyn Strauch teaching a class on fabric postcards.

Supplies and Directions

Cut Timtex or Peltex available at fabric stores into 4x6 inch rectangles, postcard size. These stiff products are used for the postcard base. One side of the card is for the mailing address and message. The other side is decorated with fabric and embellishments that are fused, machine sewn, glued, painted, stamped, or hand-stitched to the surface.

All kinds of remnants can be used in a fabric postcard.

The decoration is made by a selection of:
Fabric scraps
Decorative threads
Fabric trim
Found objects

Fusible web products like Wonder Under or Steam a Seam are used to fuse fabric designs to the card. Iron these fusible products to the back side of your chosen fabric before you cut the fabric into desired decorative shapes. Some Peltex products are manufactured with a fusible web surface, but you will still need a fusible web product for layered fabric designs.

CAUTION: Cover the ironing board surface with parchment paper or an appliqué press cloth before you begin to fuse. Without this protection your ironing board cover may be damaged with sticky fusible web scraps. In addition, always place an appliqué press sheet between your iron and the items you are fusing. Without this interface you risk permanent damage to your iron.

Fuse muslin or a light-colored solid fabric to the message-address side of the card. Write the word POSTCARD with a pen along to top edge of the card (a Post Office requirement), then draw a vertical line down the center of the card to separate the left-hand message area from the address area to the right.

Sew borders for your postcards with your sewing machine using the satin stitch, blanket stitch or zigzags. Decorative machine stitching can also be used in the embellishment of your cards.

The post office should have a standard rate for mailing decorative postcards. Unfortunately, the rate seems to vary from one city to another. So take your decorated cards to the post office to check the mailing rate. Flat postcards should need only a postcard stamp. If the card has heavy decorations it may require the stamp rate of a letter. If you have decorated the card with three-dimensional protruding objects, like shells, you will be required to send the card in a padded envelope.

Lyn has a collection of over one hundred fifty decorative postcards that she has made or received from others in postcard swaps. The postcard photos in this article are from her collection. To learn about swap options, type the words Yahoo Groups Postcards in the search window of your computer. You can join a group that interests you by asking to enroll as a member. When a new swap is posted you learn the theme of the swap, for example Purple, Autumn, Triangles, or Warm, and the date your postcards are due. You later have the pleasure of receiving postcards in return from your swapmates. Sounds like fun.

Lyn Strauch with her postcard collection.

For further information on making decorative postcards, I recommend (click on the links to go to Amazon):

Fast, Fun, and Easy Fabric Postcards
by Franki Kohler

Quilt Designs for Postcards
by American School of Needlework

Positively Postcards
by Bonnie Sabel and Louis-Philippe O’Donnell

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.

The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.



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