This week marks the last of the first round of pilot sewing classes. I’ve been working with the same group of five Westtown clients (Yolanda, Cristina, Charles, Lawanda, and Santiago) twice a week for the last month. We’ve been focusing on getting comfortable on the machines, practicing foot control, and steering the fabric. We’ve been working on these spiral sewing samples, which is a great way to practice all these elements without getting caught up in or frustrated by construction.
Lawanda and the square spiral
Some folks (Yolanda and Lawanda) have experience sewing: Yolanda was one of the primary production sewers for the old weaving operation and is a really great sewer and teacher.
Santiago has taken to sewing like crazy: he is cranking out stacks and stacks of spirals
Others, like Cristina, have used sewing machines at home, but never anything industrial like this. This group of five self-selected, and there’s a full waiting list for next month’s class.
Cristina and the super spiral
They’ve been a great class: really excited and engaged, and more than patient as I myself get familiar with the industrial machines’ particular personalities. Also very willing and able to help one another. One of the underpinnings of this project (and my work with Envision) is a commitment to creating self-sustaining communities within and outside of Envision. This is so important in the context of Envision’s clients. So often things can fall into a client-counselor or student-teacher dynamic which minimizes the client’s autonomy and reestablishes the ability/disability distinctions. By creating a classroom setting where students and teachers are helping one another answer questions, these hierarchies can start to fade and reformulate.
The whole class
Starting next week, I’ll run a second intro class, working with another group of five, hopefully with Yolanda as TA. The folks from this first intro class will start the basic construction class: we’re going to work on a tote bag prototype. This class will introduce pattern cutting, pinning, seam sewing, and pressing. Updates to come!
Since our last post Emilie and I have finished the first portion of our fellowship in Manila, and have flown to Bohol where we’ve begun the second leg of our research with the Tubigon Loom Weavers Co-op. These past few weeks have been very busy finishing our research in Manila, and acclimating in Tubigon, Bohol. Aside from the sand flies and mosquitos, we have been really enjoying the island life and being apart of the loom weavers community.
During our final week in Manila we encountered some obstacles and set backs. Due to scheduling conflicts we were unable to do our 4-day long natural dye workshop with Nina and Patis Tesoro. We were also unable to begin conducting natural dye experiments at PTRI as quickly as we had intended. However, being flexible and open to readjusting our plans we spent the remainder of our time in Manila doing the following:
1.Foraging plants for our natural dye experiments. Using the natural dye book published by PTRI, we were able to identify and forage three local plants growing in our surrounding neighborhood. These three plants were talisay, bulago, and flame tree. During our foraging adventure we used our hunter-gatherer skills to collect three kilos of Talisay leaves, one sack of bulago nuts, and one sack of flame tree bark. Unfortunately, the flame tree bark and bulago nuts grew mold before we could use them but we successfully extracted dye from the talisay leaves.
2.Working closely with the incredibly knowledgeable natural dyers, Rudy Fenoy and Lucy Barrion, at PTRI. Although we were unable to use their dye facility as quickly as we hoped to, we were able to fit a two day training and two day open lab into our schedules. During those four days Rudy and Lucy taught us how to scour, bleach, mordant, and extract dye from talisay, atsuete, indigo, turmeric, sapang, and mahogany. At the end of our two day training, Rudy and Lucy awarded us with very fancy certificates from PTRI.
Using fermented talisay leaves, mixed with copper sulfate and ferrous sulfate, we were able to dye shades of rich black, grey, and yellow-green. The talisay dyed the raffia and abaca fibers very quickly and the results were incredible. Talisay is a very viable plant to use for natural dye because it grows wildly around the Philippines and can grow very easily in a variety of soils
Using the atsuete we bought from Divisoria we dyed the raffia and abaca a vibrant shade of orange. Although the color appears very strong, atsuete is not colorfast, which makes it a more difficult dye to work with.
Indigo powder from NTFP, Non Timber Forest Products, was combined with sodium hydrosulfite and sodium hydroxide to get shades of blue. We were able to get a darker shade of blue by dipping the fibers into the dye bath multiple times before it oxidized. Indigo is also a viable natural dye because it does’t require any mordant prior to dyeing, and is very colorfast.
Turmeric gives vibrant yellow shades, but is not very colorfast.
The hardwood from sapang, also known as sibukow, was boiled to extract red dye. Depending on the mordant you use sapang can give red or purples shades. Sapang also dyes vibrant shades but is not colorfast. It is also a difficult dye to harvest because only the hardwood is used for the dye extraction.
Using Mahogany bark we were able to dye rusty brown shades. The mahogany bark is Rudy’s favorite plant to dye with, however he explained that it is not as color fast as talisay and indigo.
While we left PTRI with a lot of new natural dye knowledge, we also left feeling a bit confused on how we would be able replicate our results in Bohol. A majority of the natural dye recipes involved chemicals and minerals such as acedic acid, sodium chloride, soda ash, copper sulfate, and ferrous sulfate to fix the dye to the fiber and make the colors brighter. Not only were we unsure we would be able to find these chemicals on Bohol, but we also questioned how “natural” this process was becoming.
4. Bought indigo powder produced by NTFP, Non Timber Forest Products in Quezon City. During our collaboration with the Tubigon Loom Weavers, we plan on teaching them how to use the Indigo powder. Indigo is a viable dye because the indigo bath can keep up to 1 year, requires no mordant, and gives a wide variety of blue shades.
3. Attended the opening event of FITE, The International Festival of Extraordinary Textiles. The opening was a lively event with a fashion show, exhibition of traditional textiles and contemporary creations, and some fancy hors d’oeuvres. During the week long festival we attended a bamboo weaving workshop given by master weaver Ueno Masao, and a lecture by Anna Paini, Professor of Cultural Anthropology – University of Verona, on the re-appropriation of mission dresses by Kanak women.
4. Packed our suitcases with our natural dye experiments, two kilos of Indigo powder, measuring tools, and small bags of chemicals curtesy of PTRI, and flew to Bohol, an island south of Manila!
For the second portion of our fellowship we are living on a small island 15 minutes from the Pandan port in Tubigon, Bohol and working with the Tubigon Multi Purpose Loom Weavers Cooperative. Tubigon is a small fishing town on the northern coast of Bohol. The Tubigon Loom Weavers Cooperative was established in 1993 by the Department of Trade and Industry to provide wives of fisherman, who would normally wait for their husbands to come home from sea, a steady source of work and income. Now due to overfishing and the destruction of coral reefs from the earthquake in 2013 this alternate income is vital for these families.
Our journey traveling to co-op is always an adventure. We begin the journey by waking up early in the morning and taking a 10 minute boat ride to the Port of Pandan. From the port we walk 15 minutes through the Pandan Barangay (neighborhood, pronouced ba-rahn-guy), often welcomed by the excited children of the neighborhood. Once we get to the main road we take a tricycle (the local taxi, a motorcycle with adjoined metal seating enough for four people) to the Loom Weavers and start our day of weaving and dyeing. Each day at the co-op is full of new and exciting surprises.
Since our arrival in Tubigon we have:
1.Met with Trina, the manager of the Tubigon Loom Weavers coop, to see what the weaving and dye facility look like and discuss our schedule for our five week collaboration. Trina welcomed us with great enthusiasm and eagerness to begin the collaboration. During the next five weeks we plan on working with the cooperative’s dyers (husband and wife duo) and teach them how to dye raffia with atsuete, talisay, young coconut husks, yellow ginger, mahogany, and sapang. We will also be teaching weavers various techniques on the four harness looms such as twill, repp weave, inlay, fringe,and herringbone. Our hope is to put these fabrics into application as tote bags. However, our main goal is that by the end of our stay in Tubigon the weavers will be empowered to incorporate new techniques into their weaves and continue to explore the potential of natural dye.
2.Went to the Tubigon market in search of weaving, dyeing, and foraging supplies. During our shopping excursion we bought two large knives, a wooden chopping board, and fishing nylon (monofilament thread). We plan to use the fishing nylon as our warp thread to incorporate materials familiar to the fisherman and community in Tubigon. Although the fishing nylon is not “organic” it is a material that is readily available in the fishing town of Tubigon.
3. Presented our student portfolio to the weavers at the cooperative so they could see the various textiles we’ve created at RISD. We felt this was an important exercise in building relationships and sparking new ideas among the weavers. Although the language barrier created some complications, it was also a good exercise for Emilie and I to present our work using non “art school lingo”.
4. Set up three four-harness looms with fishing nylon warps from the local fishing store in town. These looms will be used to demonstrate various four harness weaving techniques using the raffia that we naturally dye. The warp set up became an exciting communal event when the weavers and fisherman on the island both got involved. The fishing nylon we bought did not come pre-wound on spools so we had to hand wind the nylon onto handmade bamboo bobbins made by carpenters at the weaving coop.
With help from the fisherman they devised a more efficient process of hand spooling, which involved putting the skein of fishing nylon around the back of a chair, and looping it over a ceiling beam. One of the fisherman became very interested in what we were doing and visited us at the weaving co-op to help with winding warps. With his and the weavers expertise, they invented an ingenious system of feeding the handspun spools to Emilie while she wound the warp. Using fishing nylon as warp material became a direct way to link the fisherman to weaving and get them interested and involved in the weaving process. It was really exciting to see the men show interest in a craft which is normally dominated by females!
-The second edition of winding spools and warp making, instrumented by the fisherman. With their help we were able to wind a warp in half of the time it took us the first time!
7. Traveled the Cebu, a neighboring island in search of chemicals, as well as to meet with Kenneth Cobonpue, a Filipino Industrial designer who makes furniture using natural fibers and weaving techniques. Kenneth Cobonpue shared with us his experiences while studying at Pratt, and the obstacles he faces while working in the Philippines. He gave us a tour of his factory, where we were able to see the manufacturing process of his furniture from start to finish. While in Cebu we also visited Interlace, a textiles company that hand weaves high end fabric made with raffia and abaca. The designer Francis Devigny was out of town but we were able to talk with Meme, the manager, and Jon Rae, the head of research and design. Meme and Jon Rae gave us insight into how they organize and create an efficient, healthy and happy working environment. Although we were unable to source any chemicals, we had some really interesting conversations that helped us further understand the challenges and benefits of working in the Philippines.
8. Helped Trina design the TLMPC booth at the Sandugo Trade Fair in Tagbilaran, Bohol. At the trade fair we were able to see other local textiles and craft products made in the Philippines, and talk about our natural dye research to anyone wishing to listen. While we were at the trade show we met a woman who runs an NGO and eco bed and breakfast on Bohol. She was so excited about our natural dye research that we are meeting with her next week to talk about how she can be involved.
In addition… heres a preview for our talk at the MET Manila
Poor WIFI, but good vibes…