Needle-felting Workshop in Cantagallo
(Catch up post from Eliza Squibb: Shipibo Textiles)
“Why could no one come to this meeting?”
I wondered out loud to Señora Luz during my second “official” meeting with Las Madres de Ashé. Ostensibly the meeting had been their idea to get everyone together and have a further discussion (about whether or not they wanted to deal with this gringa researcher), but no one had showed up..
“You know, las mamitas are difficult, if it’s cold, no one wants to go out even if a meeting has been planned… But, on the other hand, if there’s something interesting going on, everyone will just show up of their own accord, you don’t even have to tell them to come!”
Ok, I got the hint. What’s the plan of action to get this research moving? Make something interesting happen! And fast! Luckily, I already had a plan in the works due to some quick brainstorming after my first meeting with las Madres. They seemed very interested in learning new techniques, and I managed to come up with the idea of a needle-felting workshop because it is one of the more portable textile techniques (i.e. no loom or knitting machine required). The more I thought about it, the better it seemed: needle-felting involves adding fiber to a base cloth, in the same way that the embroidery needle also adds material, yet it has a freedom of movement that can be painterly or expressionistic. In that way, needle felting seemed like a technique that could be a middle ground between the techniques already used by Shipibo artisans: painting and embroidery. In addition to that, the women could use the technique to put their traditional designs on a wide range of fabric types to make new products for Lima’s climate. I proposed the idea and it was met with great excitement. Even better, I managed to find all the necessary materials in the nearby wholesale market, although needle felting is still relatively unknown in Peru: perfect timing for Shipibo needle felting to land! (My research for this involved going to a hobby fair at the national museum last Saturday, wandering around, and making tacky crafts with a couple hundred middle-aged ladies…there weren’t any needle felting workshops..)
So I arrived in Cantagallo Monday afternoon, as fully prepared as I could possibly be with a brand new tool box full of needle-felting tools, brushes, replacement needles, sheep and alpaca wool, different kinds of fabric, and a list of the prices of everything and the business cards of each store where materials could be found.
We set up in the meeting room, and sure enough, people wandered by, poked their heads in, and joined the workshop. Certainly not because we had put up posters a few days before! I never pictured myself as a teacher, not to mention leading a workshop, but that’s the best thing about artists: You don’t have to explain anything to them, just make a lot of materials available, and they are already on their way! In fact, I barely needed to demonstrate how the needle-felting tool was held and already these talented artisans were manipulating the new materials with ease, tracing out their patterns, and needle felting like pros.Women wandered in and out of the workshop, on their way to or from buying fish, sometimes rushing back to their houses to grab a different material to experiment with. A little girl named Belén came in with her mother, and was asked by all to sing us songs while we worked. Very quickly she decided she wanted to needle felt too, and although the tool is filled with very sharp needles, it seemed like a safe enough toy for a five year old, right?Belén sings to Señora Luz. At the end of the workshop, Belén asked me what day I would be coming back, I answered that I didn’t know, and it could be which ever day. She said “I want you to come every day!”, which made me feel like the workshop was a complete success. In fact, everyone agreed that we should meet at the same time the very next day to continue the workshop.
Zoila, Belén’s mother shows off her first experiment.Sylvia, Nemia and Fidelia concentrate on making complex kené patterns.
Señora Luz works on her pattern, with Nemia in the background.
When heading to the workshop the next day, I thought to grab a handful of printer paper and a box of crayons just before leaving the house. So, when a whole group of roaming, curious children showed up at the workshop in the afternoon, nine year olds carrying their baby siblings, I was prepared. The felting workshop turned into a card making workshop as they all made drawings and letters for their mothers, sharing well, and yelling to each other “who has the green?” “give me the brown!” “hey! the baby dropped the blue on the floor!”. They would show me what they were working on periodically, pointing out who had copied their drawing of mountains and houses. Most cards featured big red hearts and rainbow lettering “te amo mamita“. Once they had used up all the paper, they picked up the crayons, picked up their siblings, and trooped off in search of the next activity.