THE TECHNIQUE : WEAVING
The Little Market is proud to work with talented artisans at GAIA, in the United States, Kara Weaves in India, Luchometik, in Mexico, and Lula Mena, in El Salvador.
GAIA is one of our artisan partners based out of the United States, and the organization employs marginalized refugee women who are rebuilding their lives in Dallas, Texas. These women have survived hardships in life, such as violence and oppression in their home countries, and have faced new challenges as they’ve started over in a country that is foreign to them. At GAIA, the women engage in personal connections and can work toward earning financial independence and taking care of themselves and their families. The Dallas team creates designs that are based on the artisans’ skills. For example, some of the women have sewing skills, and they can often sew from home with smaller machines. Other women will work on making jewelry based on GAIA’s designs. Most of the vintage and recycled textiles come from throughout the world, such as Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, and Thailand, while GAIA’s exclusive designs are hand-woven by artisans who are located in India.
Each region of Mexico specializes in its own style of weaving. This map shows where some of those unique styles originated from.
Luchometik is a Tzotzil word meaning women brocading on a waist loom. The women of Luchometik masterfully weave textiles while following traditional techniques in Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico that is covered in mountainous highlands and lush rainforest. Chiapas is known for its beautiful weaving, created using traditional Maya methods that have been passed down for centuries. Weaving in Chiapas is more than just a means to earn an income — Maya weavers believe that their designs have a deeply spiritual meaning. Traditional Maya culture believes that all beings on the earth are intertwined, and these beliefs are often encoded within the patterns in the weave. The textiles are sewn on a backstrap loom using a method called brocade. As they weave, intricate patterns emerge in the colorful fabric. The weavers memorize countless patterns, each one a unique work of art. The patterns can have great significance in Mexican culture, representing the weaver’s heritage, marital status, religion, personality, and the village she is from. Backstrap weaving is part of the culture of the Chiapas highlands. Young girls begin to learn weaving techniques from their elders at a young age, and many women are able to support themselves and their families with their skills. A woman’s family proudly wears her weaving to show solidarity with the village and respect for the technique that was passed from their ancestors. These intricate products tell a rich cultural story and help to preserve Chiapas’ unique history, traditions, and language.
At Kara Weaves in India, artisans take ancient local fabrics, which are made using traditional wooden looms, and turn them into beautiful goods such as handmade towels, napkins and aprons. Pure cotton is used to make these products, and co-operatives source cotton from the yarn bank, the Indian government’s centralized cotton procurement system. Two textiles are used, and they are the thorthu and mendu fabrics of Kerala; people in Kerala relied on and wore these textiles for hundreds of years. To make the table linens, aprons and towels from Kara Weaves that we offer at The Little Market, the artisans first prepare the yarn by sourcing, washing, dyeing, softening, bleaching, drying the yarn, and also applying any specific treatments as needed. Next are the pre-looming processes, which include spinning the yarn and setting up the loom. Then the skilled artisans start the weaving process. After that is the quality check, which happens in-house, and the stitching into products. The production process will vary based on how much fabric is required, customizations that may be involved, and techniques, such as motifs and prints, that are used. The artisans at Kara Weaves are members of local weaving co-operatives created by the Indian government in the 1960s in order to help support and promote local forms of art. At Kara Weaves, artisans design products using traditional techniques and market them on a global basis. Promoting the work helps to bring awareness and much-needed payment and income for the disappearing craft. After the co-operatives started to work with Kara Weaves, the wages increased by as much as 127 percent, and the number of weavers has tripled. One of the partner co-ops has also received a government grant from the Indian government, and this grant has allowed the co-op to purchase sewing equipment and train weavers with new types of skills.
Artisans at Lula Mena, a microenterprise located in El Salvador, create beautiful handmade pieces while following fair trade and eco-friendly practices. Lula Mena, the designer, and a team of approximately 75 artisans work together to develop sustainable and ethical products. The technique is passed down from generation to generation, and it’s very labor intensive. It has traditionally been a male-dominated technique, and men and women at Lula Mena work together to preserve the technique and create the handmade pieces. Don Ciro, the master artisan, has been working with Lula Mena for many years. They place a significance on using quality, natural, and repurposed materials to create goods such as pillows, hammocks, and throws that you can find here at The Little Market. The process begins with Lula designing a product, and then the necessary materials, such as cotton and polyester threads for throws and pillows, natural seeds, and copper threads, are gathered, a prototype is created, Lula approves, and production begins. These products are made on a traditional foot loom and on a traditional shuttle loom, and the first step of the weaving process is to warp the threads. The threads are folded and wrapped, weaved and warped, and glued and united in the loom. The mind and hands coordinate with the movement of the feet to create these pieces on the looms. On average, three artisans work together in a group to create each hammock, and two artisans partner up to create each pillow. The technique originated from the Spanish. Each product made by artisans at Lula Mena supports the artisans, their families, and their communities, while empowering them and their livelihood.
Using 100 percent cotton, indigenous artisans and artisans with disabilities in India weave cotton linens and pillows by hand. Artisans working with Sustainable Threads begin the production cycle by using frame looms to create cotton threads, which becomes the actual fabric. The rough cotton is spun while using looms to form thread. The cotton threads are vertically dyed using eco-friendly, AZO-free dyes. After dying, the threads are woven into segments of cotton fabric, varying in intricacy according to the design. Executing with a high level of precision, the artisans weave segments of cotton that are very specific in dimension, which limits waste.
To create these pieces by hand, female artisans at Awamaki practice a back-strap loom weaving technique and infuse traditions with modern techniques. This technique originally dates back thousands of years and can be found in the Andes region. For Awamaki pieces in particular, there is a unique design based on generations of local traditions. There are textile motifs, such as animals and geographic lakes, that are passed down from grandmothers and mothers to preserve the culture. The weaving has served as an act of storytelling and is representative of cultural identity. In addition to being locally sourced, the products are completely natural and no chemicals are ever used in the production process.
Zapotecs have been weaving textiles for more than 2,000 years. In Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico, artisans at MZ practice a local technique that has been passed down across generations of Zapotec artisans. Artisans are involved in dyeing wool, designing, weaving, sewing, and leatherwork. While using bi-peddle treadle looms, the artisans place cotton warp threads at a specific width based on the size of the product. A yarn runs across the loom widthwise and is passed over and under the warp with a wooden shuttle, forming a beautiful design filled with cultural symbols. When the product is completed, it is referred to as a tapete or woolen tapestry. Traditionally used as rugs, these smaller tapetes are used by MZ artisans to create bags for the modern audience.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ARTISANS
Creative Women is a fair trade certified company as a member of the Fair Trade Federation and is working with 300 artisans from countries including Ethiopia. Seventy-three percent of the artisans are women. In creating opportunities for ethnically diverse artisans groups across Ethiopia, Creative Women is helping preserve traditional techniques. Weavers remain quite a marginalized group, and weaving remains part of the informal sector. The art of weaving is disappearing as the newer generations are opting to leave the trade in search of other employment opportunities. Creative Women approaches ethical design as a counterpoint to mass production.
Luchometik is a Tzotzil word meaning women brocading on a waist loom. It comes from a Mayan language spoken by the indigenous Tzotzil Mayan people in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Six women artisans founded Luchometik in 2013 after realizing that they all had the same desire to learn and were in search of opportunities improve their lives. They seek to learn about quality of product, color and design combinations, as well as sales and finance of their products. Since they began, more women have joined with the intention of learning every day.
Awamaki (which means “handmade” in Quechua) is a community-based nonprofit and social enterprise working with artisans in the Sacred Valley in Peru. The organization works with more than 140 female artisans from several different cooperatives. Many of these women are from rural farming communities. As a member of the Fair Trade Trade Federation, Awamaki provides educational programs and workshops about production, organization, quality training, and entrepreneurship. The women receive the skills and training essential to one day lead their cooperative with financial independence and self-sufficiency. Awamaki also works with local communities to build knitting centers and help smaller producers increase their capacity and reach.
GAIA’s mission is to empower marginalized refugee women living in Dallas, Texas through employment, encouragement, and dedication to their long-term success here in the US The refugee women transform vintage and artisan-made textiles into home and and personal accessories, with a focus on sustainability and quality design. Through a living wage and continued training and development, GAIA’s goal is to help lead these resilient women to financial independence and self-sufficiency.
Kara Weaves is a social enterprise that is based out of Kerala, India and supports artisan weavers who are members of weaving cooperatives and who design contemporary home textiles. All of the hand-woven products, from coasters to napkins, are made from ancient and local fabrics, and these fair trade products are handmade at traditional wooden looms. Since February of 2013, Kara Weaves has been a member of the Fair Trade Forum of India, which is the country network of the World Fair Trade Organization and WFTO-Asia.
Based out of El Salvador, Lula Mena is a microenterprise working with approximately 75 artisans between the ages of 23 and 65. The artisans live in at-risk communities, and, by working with Lula Mena, they receive a fair income and maintain job security to help themselves and their households. Lula Mena is the designer behind the beautiful fair trade goods, and she practices conscious design while developing sustainable and ethical products. The design is based on five principles: eco-friendly practices, handmade, fair trade, innovation, and women empowerment.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, artisans working with social enterprise MZ create beautiful accessories and maintain a time-honored tradition. MZ is a short form for Manos Zapotecas, which translates to “hands of the Zapotecs,” a nod to the handmade nature of each piece. The artisans belong to one of the largest pre-Hispanic indigenous groups, the Zapotecs of Teotitlán del Valle. By working together and creating these pieces, the artisans are able to earn fair, living wages, regain financial autonomy, and support themselves and their families. Several are also able to work from home using family looms. MZ is a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation.