Welcome back to the last of 4 posts about the Weavers, Spinners and Dyers of Sabahar in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
If you have been following this story in previous posts, you are no doubt amazed at the cloth that comes from the looms at Sabahar. So much love and labour goes into every inch of fabric and I feel so blessed to be able to work with these artisans and help in any possible way.
The bulk of Sabahar’s business comes from international buyers outside of Ethiopia who support members of the World Fair Trade Organization of which Sabahar is a member. Kathy has a small marketing team who go to WFTO trade shows to exhibit Sabahar’s fabrics and get orders.
While planning for my March visit Kathy asked me to help her set up a Research and Development Team with 3 of her weavers. The goal was to develop some criteria around the design process that would encourage new ideas, develop creativity and solve problems with the resources at hand.
For someone like me who loves to sample and loves the question “what if”….. it was the perfect job.
Our first job was to define what a R&D department does. I explained that is pushes limits, looks for new ideas, it assumes very little and tries everything it can think of.
We started by sampling with their staple warp yarn, 40/2 cotton grown and spun in Ethiopia. My question was …”what can we do with one yarn, plain weave and a reed”. Colour was not a problem because of those wonderful dyers you’ve met in previous posts.
Beliefs around what can be done with one single yarn are the same in Ethiopia as they are in other parts of the world.
A yarn is sett at such and such ends per inch or cm and with small variations and there they live. It was time to challenge those assumptions.
I arrived in Ethiopia armed with samples. We put our first test warp on the Jane Loom that Louet had provided to them a few years back on my first trip. We wove, resleyed, wove some more and resleyed. We used different wefts and combinations of wefts, cotton with some recently acquired wool and linen, cotton with handspun cotton and handspun silk weft, singles, doubles, triples, changed the sett again, tried clasped weft and….we learned a lot.
We washed everything, played with water temperature, gentle swish, big squoosh, hard wash, and we learned a lot.
And at the end of this first warp we had 14 different samples and everyone, including myself, learned a lot.
Kathy had a request from a buyer for linen fabric. Linen is not grown in Ethiopia but she was able to obtain several weights from a mill in India. The weavers were having a lot of difficulty working with this new yarn. It was sticky, abrading in the heddles (remember those heddles do not have an eye) and it took so long to weave. Thanks goodness there are tricks that can be learned about weaving linen and good warping techniques that are vital for its success.
The first thing we did was change the way the warp was made using only 2 ends at a time. You can see the linen cones on the steps, they travel up to a reed hung from a tree and down to the warper. No cones tipping over with this method 🙂
Degu chaining a very long and perfectly wound linen warp.
The next thing we did was open up the sett of the linen so the warp wasn’t so dense coming through eyeless heddles! The abrasion was greatly reduced and this meant that we had one very happy weaver who wove the entire warp off in two days. Fewer ends per inch, fewer picks per inch, no sticking, less abrasion…happy happy.
Our next challenge was trying to create a heavy fabric with that 40/2 cotton. We couldn’t make the cotton fatter no matter how much we fed it…so we used multiple ends as one. Another way to get a thicker fabric is to use a weave structure with a longer float. We decided to have a crack at twill.
There are always challenges, like how to turn a traditional 2 harness loom into a 4 harness loom. Kathy had asked me to bring some texsolv heddles from Canada so that is where we started. Texsolv heddles have eyes….yes….wonderful, easy to thread eyes!
|We finally got everything on and the warp threaded but, we were having a heck of time getting everything balanced.|
Then creativity shone its face upon us! Someone came up with the idea of using wide elastic, like the kind that hold up your undies. These elastic bands were all the same length, had the same stretch, and worked like a hot damn managing our harnesses.
So funny 🙂
Oh yeah baby, we did it 🙂
We treated 8 ends of 40/2 cotton as one end, threaded it to an alternating extended point twill (Goose Eye) then played and played. I know how to count to 4 in Amharic so I sat beside Ermais and counted out 1 und, 2 ulet, 3 zost, 4 aret for the threading and when he treadled, it became, und/ulet, ulet/zost, zost/aret, und/aret. Going backwards was a little harder but they were so patient with me and we laughed a lot when I blew it.
After we played with twill, I suggested we try other techniques on this warp. Heck, why not try denting and clasped weft..we had tried that on our first warp and it was pretty cool.
On our last day together, Ermais, Anteneh and Ayele presented our sampling to the greater body of weavers at Sabahar. They were so empowered as they shared what they had learned with their fellow weavers. These weavers will then share with the outside weavers and the learning will continue to seep beyond.
Below is Kathy Marshall, the founder and owner of Sabahar with Degu, the Weaving Production Manager.
Kathy started all of this 16 years ago in her kitchen with a basket of Eri silk worms and a dream. A dream filled with hope to make a difference in Ethiopia. She now employs over 100 artisans working at Sabahar 1 & 2 with weavers, spinners, dyers and finishers in addition to over 100 families working outside of Sabahar raising Eri silk worms, weaving and spinning. When I think of all she does every single day, I am truly overwhelmed.
The Texsolv heddles I brought made such a difference to the weavers who had them installed on their looms…however, there was only enough for 3 looms.
It would be GREAT if all the weavers at Sabahar and the outside weavers could have texsolv heddles and guess what… We can help with that! JST has created a category on our website where you can purchase HEDDLES FOR SABAHAR. 100% of your purchase will be sent to Texsolv in Sweden so that they can supply the weavers at Sabahar with new heddles. Small gestures of many create great feats!
I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. If life goes as planned, I will return to Sabahar again next year and share more stories with you 🙂