Janaïna Milheiro, yarn and feathers

15 October 2013

Janaïna Milheiro, craft and textile designer, has received us in her workshop perched on the top floor of an industrial building in the 13th district of Paris. Her precious designs soften the cold atmosphere of the place.
The young woman has been trained in the excellence schools of Duperré and then L’ENSCI Les Ateliers , developing skills in weaving and printing. She intervenes deeply into the fabric and textures and the artisanal dimension is central to her textile work, placed from the beginning under the sign of feather.

The talented designer products weaves, embroideries and textile compositions of rare refinement, identifiable among any others. Janaïna Milheiro shows interest for the feather for its qualities similar to a fiber, its texture, colors and variety of patterns. Whether she uses an ostrich feather, a goose or a duck’s duvet, she always seeks to integrate them into the very structure of her weaving to become one with the silk or the wool yarn.
Who would have thought that a small and delicate item would offer such a repertoire of designs and shapes ? This is where resides Janaïna’s talent. She does not consider feather as an ornament, as a feather worker would, but she treats it as a weaver, an embroiderer or even a sewer would, by cutting the edges, assembling them as if they were beads or ribbons…
This unique approach has seduced the fashion and home decoration houses, always looking for new precious fabrics.

Naturally independant, the textile designer develops her own collections and regularly works on exclusive collaborations. She wants to position herself as a supplier to her various clients and not just as a designer by getting involved in the production of her designs. Janaïna is therefore working on the entire chain, from the idea to the samples and finally the fabrics. Always cleverly oscillating between a craftsmanship and designer posture, she uses feathers as an almost inexhaustible exploration territory.

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PARIS, FRANCE

Kieng’s virtuous brocades

15 October 2013

Kieng grew up in Pakse city, the main city of the southern part of Laos, before she decided to move to Luang Prabang. This welcoming 39 year-old Laotian woman is considered to be one of the most talented weavers of the Ock Pop Tok workshop, founded in 2000 by Joanna Smith and Veo Douangdala, which employs ethically hundreds of Luang Prabang local artisans.

Like many Lao girls, she started weaving at a very young age, at seven, learning simple techniques for basic weave such as canvas, checks and stripes. She then developed much more complex know-how of jacquard and brocade weaving to create beautiful Lao-Thai traditional patterns on silk, hemp or cotton bases.

The textile culture is still very strong in the Lao culture. People use traditional fabrics on a daily basis and also for various ceremonies (wedding, engagement, funeral) both for clothing and for home use. Young girls design pieces which will become their dowry destined to their future husband’s family. And it can take them up to a year to complete the trousseau.

Cover, curtain, handkerchief, scarf, wrap skirt, religious cloth… Patterns can vary by ethnic communities and can also include different textile techniques such as horizontal stripes, ikat and tapestry.

Kieng comes every day at the workshop to weave on her loom. I am watching her working so methodically. Her virtuous hands perform precise and fast movements. She has begun by weaving plain canvas and then start the brocade process with an impressive geometric motif which is emerging progressively. You work line by line, pick by pick, by lifting up each thread one after another, before passing silk yarn in weft. You repeat the exercise until the drawing is complete in a 3D relief giving the final fabric its exceptional character so typically Lao.

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LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

Neakru and her weaving apprentices

25 August 2013

Neakru teaches weaving in the “Soieries du Mekong” center, opened in 2001 in the idea of proposing an activity to women living in villages around Banteay Chhmar in northern Cambodia near Thailand.

Her role is central at the production workshop. The young women who wish to join the structure set up by Soieriesdu Mekong will have to undergo classes for about six months before taking again six months of practical training. Neakru is there to teach those apprentices the basics and all the subtleties of hand weaving. She has joined the team more than ten years ago. The province of Banteay Manchey was a producing region for silk and cotton before the havoc of the civil war and there are only a few people left with the knowledge of weaving in the area.

Neakru is a child of the region. She grew up in Phnom Srok, 80 km from Banteay Chmar and it was her mother who taught her weaving. She then left for Siem Reap to study at the National Centre for Silk in Puok.

Banteay Chmar is a village where the main activity is agriculture, including the growing of cassava. By becoming weavers, village women can bring an additional source of income to their families and gain a more respected status inside their house. Once trained, they can install a loom at home and work from there while taking care of their children. For those who find more convenient to come to the workshop, Neakru provides them some advices and she makes sure everything goes smoothly.

She is also in charge of developing prototypes of brand new silk pieces. She will be warping yarns and test some new weaves to develop scarves that will enrich future collections of Soieries du Mekong. Weaving is a work of patience and precision and that is what Neakru is willing to transmit to her students. Since 2001, more than seventy weavers have been trained in this exceptional knowhow.

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BANTEAY CHMAR, CAMBODGE

Life at the workshop in Banteay Chmar

24 August 2013

The workshops are real life spaces. Here, in the village of Banteay Chmar, everybody knows the “Soieries du Mekong” silk weaving center of weaving. The workshop opens very early, when the temperature is still mild and the humidity has not yet fully installed. All the handicraft people come from the village and its surroundings. It is 7:30 in the morning and a day of work is beginning. Psey Touch invites me to share her breakfast: some rice, marinated pork and chilli powder. She is in charge of the silk dyeing process and she has to sample colors for the new scarf collection. Preparing silk skeins and chemical dyes recipes, heating the water to boiling and deep dyeing the yarn until the color get fixated. Then drying the dyed skeins and start over and over again until you get the right colors.

In the warp room, Neakru is preparing a weaving warp for a new scarf sample. You can hear the thud noise of weaving looms in action, wooden shuttles moving from one side to the other unrolling the weft yarn, the popping sound of the metallic frames changing the intersection of the threads. The atmosphere is quiet and painstaking. On the ground floor of the central building, women are involved in the scarf finishing process. Finally upstairs on the first floor, the small silk accessories are being fashioned.

Everything is done with care and every meticulous step has been thought to be made by hand. Once the scarves are woven, they are collected are recovered, washed to be loosened and ironed by hand. Silk has to be taken care of like hair, washed with water and shampoo. Women are checking that there is no default and they remove the small threads which could be out of these hand woven pieces whose irregularity is also the beauty. At 5pm, the day is over. Everyone goes home. Tomorrow is another day.

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BANTEAY CHMAR, CAMBODGE

Revival of the golden silk

24 August 2013

I have discovered the existence of silk with a golden color; it is produced by a rare, endangered species of silkworms and it can be found especially in the North-East area of Cambodia. This worm produces less silk yarn than the usual worm producing white silk and the yarn appears to be thicker and more resistant.

Pheach Oum told me how she had founded Golden Silk in 2002 and how she is committed, with energy and passion, in reviving the glories of  silk in its purest tradition through a humanitarian, artistic and cultural heritage project. The goal is to produce and design fabrics which will pass through centuries, exceptional pieces of art, while providing knowledge and a regular income for men and women coming from poor rural areas.

Pheach Oum is a Cambodian woman. After her studies in France, she has decided to return to her country, determined to help as much as possible the victims of the civil war and mainly the orphans. She then got involved in building a training center for weaving and she has since then carried this eco-responsible project on her shoulders, with an impressive determination.

To maintain this heritage and this jewel of Khmer culture is a priority for her, being a former director of the National Silk Center. The patterns used on ikat pieces are inspired by drawings of the ancient Angkor temples which are settled close to the Golden Silk farm workshop. Pheac Oum is a purist and she is determined to teach techniques and skills of ancient tradition, from spinning to weaving, in the respect of nature.

Each piece is woven and hand-dyed with natural and eco-friendly pigments, giving it a unique value. Time does not count in the making of each of these fabrics. Some ikat pieces need over one year of work to be finished, between the knotting, the yarn dyeing and the weaving final step of patterns of great complexity.

Lost in the middle of the countryside, the weaving workshop exhales peace and light. You can feel the deep devotion to the beauty of this production process, from the golden silk yarn to the ikat fabric.

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SIEM REAP, CAMBODGE

Mai, weaver from Takeo

24 August 2013

Mai is fifty years old and she lives in the area of Takeo, 70 km South of Phnom Penh. She lives in a traditional Khmer house built on stilts with her whole family.

She has learned how to weave from her mother at the age of thirteen or fourteen at the time when girls are compelled to leave school and need to acquire some skills which will be useful to them.

Mai collaborates with Han, a Korean missionary, founder of a Phnom Penh-based NGO which develops textile collections in silk and cotton using traditional techniques, and employs around one hundred families in the area of Takeo. The yarns are dyed with natural pigments in Phnom Penh and then are handed over to the weavers so that they can produce scraves which will be sold by the NGO. Villages joining this program can be ensured to earn a stable income enabling them to improve their daily lives, help their families and also promote the education of their children. Soon, Han will build a community production workshop in the village in Takeo, so that the weavers can have a working place close to their homes.

The Khmer Rouge regime has been very harmful to this traditional practice and it nearly destroyed the transmission of weaving in Takeo. The most beautiful Sampot Hol, sarongs and kramas ( the rectangular pieces of traditional ancient tradition, worn on all occasions by Khmer people) were produced here. Today there are about 8000 families who still practice weaving in this province, in the districts of Bati, Saomraong and Prey Kbba.

After having warped and combed the yarns on the wooden loom, Mai can begin with weaving. Every day, as soon as possible, she settles on her loom located outdoor on the ground floor, right between the stilts of the house. This is also the place for farmers to rest, well sheltered in the shade, to protect them from the heat. She can then take care of her grandchildren, while continuing her weaving. Her smile is so contagious and generous. It was nice to see Mai weaving with great energy surrounded by all generations of her family: her daughters who are also weavers and her curious and liveful grandchildren.

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TAKEO PROVINCE, CAMBODGE

The Ethnographic Museum of Hanoi

23 August 2013

When you think of Vietnam, you cannot imagine that if the majority of Vietnamese people belong to the Kinh ethnic group, fifty-three other ethnic minorities live in the country from North to South.

In order to understand a little more clearly this cultural diversity, a visit to the Hanoi Museum of Ethnography is recommended. This place has nothing to envy the famous Quai Branly Museum in Paris. We find there, presented in the most beautiful way, priceless artefacts and stories of all these unknown heritage communities. You could spend hours discovering the funeral rites or wedding ceremonies and everything that constitutes the distinctive ethnographic signs of these ethnic groups.

The exhibition of this variety of ethnic crafts features in its collections a large choice of traditional textiles and costumes. Thanks to a very didactic and interactive display, with photographs, scenography, video and audio tapes, you immerse yourself in collections of remarkable sacred or everyday’s objects and antiquities.

Each ethnic group has its own language, traditions, costumes and skills. The visit to the Museum helps to understand their differences and similarities. A Flower Hmong woman does not dress up in the same way as a Red Dao, a Lo Lo or a Thai woman. Mothers and daughters are sharing their knowledge in natural dyeing, hemp or cotton spinning, embroidery stitching, weaving, patterns drawing with various symbols… It has been a great preparation for my departure to the North-West mountains, towards Sapa, land of Hmong, Red Dao people and many other ethnies.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

The Gafreh women

22 August 2013

It takes almost one hour from the center of Bobo Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso, to get to the plastic bags recycling center managed by a cooperative known as “Le Gafreh”. “Gafreh” stands for Women Action Group for the Economic Recovery of the Houet, Houet being the province where Bobo Dioulasso is located. This cooperative was created in 1995.

 So I went there to meet Christiane Lamizana, the Group’s president, and all those who work daily in the recycling and weaving center. The cooperative is employing around eighty women coming from the Bobo Dioulasso area. These women from very modest backgrounds are thus making a decent salary with medical coverage included for their daily work.

The Bobo Dioulasso area is particularly polluted by plastic wastes dumped carelessly by people everywhere. The collection of these plastic bags provides work to very poor women or young beggars and at the same time contributes to clean the urban environment.

 Once the bags are collected, women of the cooperative must then proceed with their cleaning.

They have then to take care of spinning plastic thin strips on spools which will be used in the knitting and weaving, and finally, they’re proceeding to the sewing and tailoring parts. All these steps to design beautiful bags, pouches, boxes, crocheted dolls, all original and high quality products.

 But what has interested me most were these beautiful striped weavings, black as tar, flexible and tough as leather which women weave on narrow looms. Composed of black cotton yarn on the warp and plastic threads on the weft, these fabrics with bright stripes are revisiting the traditional “faso dan fani” cloth. Striped cotton loincloths specific to the Burkina Faso cultural identity, “faso dan fani” are usually worn for important moments and celebrations.

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BOBO DIOULASSO, BURKINA FASO

Fatima, Berber weaver

22 August 2013

Fatima is 47 years old. She lives in Ain Leuh, a small village hidden in the Middle Atlas Mountains. This generous and determined woman has lived her entire life in the area, she was born in Toufassalet and got married in Boudraa. She shows both the pride and deep sense of hospitality inherent to her Berber culture. Her husband lives and works in France in Montpellier. They have six children.

47 years old and an entire weaving lifetime behind her. Weaving for her, is like eating or breathing: a vital practice, which began at the age of twelve, when she first learned from her mother. She has a perfect knowledge of the motifs and patterns typical of the tribe she belongs to: the Beni M’Guild. Like her mother did before, she passed on her knowledge to her daughters ; everything at home, pillows, rugs, blankets, has done by her nimble hands. She makes the traditional Moroccan wool coat known as “ burnous” for her husband ; she even makes “ khaïmas”, the traditional Berber tents. Winters are harsh in Ain Leuh, thus her weavings are made from thick wool yarns which she has previously carded and spun.

As I was taught by Abdou, from Dar Neghrassi in Azrou, the traditional Berber cape called “handira” is like the identity card of the Amazigh woman. It is adorned with symbols and motifs indicating the origin of the weaver, her family and her tribe. As I watched Fatima methodically putting her cape on her shoulders, with pride and dignity, I realized its value. She has woven her own cape at the age of fourteen. All the textile pieces composing a young Berber bride trousseau are meant to be for an everyday use, but they also have a high value of social representation.

According to tradition, her loom is built vertically. Motifs are woven backwards but Fatima never has a look at what she is weaving until it’s finished, she works by memory. Watching her beautiful hands adorned with henna moving like those of a harpist, putting carefully the weft yarns between the warp yarns to form intricate patterns, is a scene of fascinating beauty. Fatima told me in Tamazight, the Berber language, that weaving is her way to meditate. Sometimes she wakes up at night, driven by a sudden inspiration which pushes her to go her to her loom, to reproduce the motifs that have come to her mind while dreaming.

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AIN LEUH, MAROC