Posted on 8 Comments

Weavers of Sabahar Part 4 – Heddle Fundraiser, Please Help :)

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 🙂

Love Jane

Posted on 3 Comments

Sabahar Part 3: The Weavers

Whenever I get home from India or Ethiopia I struggle to stay in the other place for as long as I can. I want to savour every minute of my time away but alas I get sucked back into my other world with all its demands and all my good intentions get put on the back burner. One of the wonderful things about working with Sabahar is that even when I’m not there, I stay in touch with Kathy weekly and that makes me think I’m still there 🙂

So here we go with the 3rd of 4 posts about the Weavers, Spinners and Dyers of Sabahar.  

Sabahar now has 2 weaving studios where 30 weavers work 5 days a week along with another 65  weavers who weave from their homes close by.  

Sabahar 1 is a bright busy studio that hums with the sounds of shuttles and beaters and produces 100’s of metres of handwoven cloth each week.

These are a modern version of a traditional Ethiopian style loom. The 2 harnesses are suspended from a metal frame
And the warps sit on the floor in their bundles.
Several yards of the warp are released from the big warp bundle where it travels around a post at the end of the loom approximately 7 feet away from where the harnesses and reed hang.
After it turns the post it is attached to the previous warp behind the heddles.
There is no tension device other than a hole in the end of the cloth beam and final tensioning is done by tightening the warp around a post.
The weavers weave as far as they can possibly reach by pushing the harnesses back on the frame above. The treadles are attached from the harnesses and they can be kicked back as well. It really helps to be tall working at these looms.
The warps are tied on to existing warps behind the heddles and pulled through. Well…they actually aren’t tied, they are plied.
This leaves a join rather than a knot.
This is the easiest way to thread the looms because they do not have heddle eyes like we do

The harnesses are purchased from the heddle maker who makes the harnesses for all the weavers in the area. When you think about how fine all the warp threads are…nothing heavier than 20/2 cotton…it really is awe inspiring to watch.

The other style of loom looks much more like our looms. A traditional frame with back beam and tensioning device. There are 4 of them fitted with makeshift flying shuttles. These looms are saved for all the wider fabrics like blankets and table cloths.

Some of the weavers work from home. Just like us, they give up space within their homes 🙂 Their looms are constructed with spare timber and are extremely simple.

The fabrics that are woven on these looms are extraordinary!

The pride of the weavers is so evident. I can’t find the words necessary to express my admiration and respect for all their achieve.

In this studio, warps criss cross through each other with a jumble of cords hanging from the ceiling. All very orderly 🙂

In another small home the looms are part of the furniture.

Sabahar 2 was created in an effort to provide some of these weavers with another option. Kathy has rented a house in a newer area that is close to the existing weavers. Here they can come to work in a bright, clean and spacious working environment with running water. This space eliminates some of the stress for the weavers working and living in such small quarters.

They have new looms and lots of bright light. A few of the looms are 4 shafts and they have more treadles 🙂

Both the weavers and winders are so happy.

I hope to finish my final post in a few weeks. It will be a summary of my time at Sabahar this past March and goals for the future.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Jane

Posted on 4 Comments

Sabahar Part 2: The Dyers and Warpers

In my last post you caught a glimpse of the amazing work and skill that goes in to producing the yarns used in the cloth woven at Sabahar. Now it’s time to visit the dyers and the warpers… two more steps necessary to bring these amazing Ethiopian textiles to life.

Last year Kathy was able to construct two new buildings. One was for the dyers and finishers and the other was a beautiful modern shop where all these beautiful textiles are displayed for the appreciative customers of Sabahar.

The dying studio is fabulous. It has big washing spaces outside where the water is treated and recycled for watering the gardens. They have a fancy dye machine that is used for skeins of mill spun 40/2 cotton warp that is used as a base warp for many of the fabrics. All of the handspun cotton and silk are dyed in pots just like we do… but they just do so much of it.

Just taking my skeins for a walk… all scoured and ready to dye…

The new dye and finishing building

Sabahar’s new dye and finishing building, check out the great sinks out front…

They have one large mechanical dye machine… and several smaller dye machines…

All dye water is treated in a simple treatment system and the water is used in the gardens…

Everyday the lines are hung with different colours. These are skeins of handspun cotton and silk

The Warpers

After the yarns are dyed warping is next. I always say that there are a dozen ways to do something, well now I believe there are 13 :)! Before I went to Ethiopia the first time in 2016 I could never have imagined this type of warping. Or that it was possible to make such long warps with such simple equipment and with so many threads used in a single bout. Imagine warping with 30 threads at a time!

Thirty cones of 40:2 cotton

Thirty cones of 40/2 cotton are being used in this warp…

There are several warping stations… all pretty much the same. Nails along rough wood. That’s it!

Once the warp is made it is wound into something that resembles a giant cocoon… rather fitting really as they are surrounded by cocooning silk worms.  It starts just like we start a ball of yarn by hand they just don’t make it round. And the cross is at the end.
The 40/2 cotton is pretty darn fine but the 40/1 cotton is so fine I could barely see it and it is… yes a single strand. This only comes from the mill in skeins. They load up the skeins onto a wagumba which is a giant swift.  Thirty skeins are loaded on, thirty individual ends are found and then the warper carries the wagumba up and down the warping board while he is making his warp.
Another view of the giant swift
A 70 yard warp

This is what a 70 yard warp looks like on it’s way to the loom where it will be transformed into 40 towels.

The metal warping mill

And then they have one trusty metal warping mill which I felt right at home with. Ermias and Aiyelle made a new warp for us to use in the Research and Development Department.

Next blog post

Part three: The Weavers of Sabahar and their brand spanking new R&D dept.

Posted on 2 Comments

The Silk Producers, Spinners, Dyers and Weavers of Sabahar in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Part 1: of a story about my recent trip to Ethiopia where I worked with the weavers, spinners and dyers of Sabahar in Addis Ababa. I did several posts about this trip on Facebook but I know there are a lot of you out there that don’t hang out on Facebook or other social media and you are important to me too… so here goes.

This story all begins with one amazing woman named Kathy Marshall from Beaver Lodge Alberta. Kathy has lived in Africa since 1994 working in the area of agriculture and development. Kathy’s desire to create a business that specialized and celebrated the rich textile traditions in Ethiopia began in 2004 with one weaver and several spinners working out of her home.

Fast forward 15 years and Sabahar now employs over 200 artisans. Weavers, spinners, dyers, silk farmers and finishers. It is an amazing success story that sits on top of a mountain of determination, dedication and above all, love.

There are so many parts to this story but it really should start with these lovely little critters… eri silk moths. By the way, Saba is the Amharic word for queen and Hari is the Amharic word for silk… a perfect name for Sabahar.

Sabahar is the pioneer of silk production in Ethiopia. Kathy brought her silk cocoons from Assam India where Eri silk originates. The name eri comes from the Assamese word “era”, meaning castor and that is exactly what these caterpillars eat. Ethiopia has an abundant supply of Castor trees which made it a perfect silk match for the country.

It takes five days for the eggs to hatch… they moult four times during their lifespan of approximately 45 days depending upon the temperature… this little guy on the left is almost full grown, the pair on the right are fully grown… when they get to this size and become pale in colour you hold them to your ear, rub their backs and if they sound hollow, they’re ready to spin… two caterpillars are placed in a paper cone, trays of cones sealed up ready to spin… it takes two days to spin and another seven days for the metamorphosis to occur…

A cup of caterpillars

I put two caterpillars in this glass mug and weighed down a piece of paper with my cell phone. It was amazing to watch them spin their cocoon. Their little heads circled round and round while they extruded the silk into the unique shape that Eri silk is spun into. They will fill any shape they are put into… the cocoons that come out of the paper cones are cone shaped. If they are put into a square container, the cocoon will be square… truly amazing.

Spinning

Cotton spinning on drop spindles has a strong tradition in Ethiopia and Eri silk has similarities to cotton. The caterpillar spins a staple silk unlike other silk worms which spin a filament silk, like Bombyx and Tussah. Eri silk cannot be reeled making it the perfect fibre to give to traditional cotton spinners. The cocoons are first boiled and the spinners spin directly from these cocoon masses.  Along with spinning Eri Silk, Sabahar employs dozens of cotton spinners who spin in their homes.  Everyday spun cotton is collected and delivered to Sabahar for sorting and quality control.

Cocoons are boiled and spun directly from these cocoon masses… the silk is spun on wheels, while the cotton is spun on drop spindles… every day deliveries of cotton arrive and are sorted into different grades… the cobs are turned into skeins ready for dyeing.

Spinning outside

Next blog post

The next blog post is about the dyers and the warpers of Sabahar.