How Sardinia Came into My Life: Part One

The Often-asked Question

Sardinia is where I feel most at home on this planet: I melt into the land, the sea, and myself. Friends see this, and, like others, they’re mystified, as my genetic heritage is obviously not Sardinian, or even Italian.

What drew you to Sardinia? What drew you to the weavers? What’s your connection? 

I hear these questions often, and the answer is simple — and not. 

The short answer is “Good fortune, synchronicity, karma, and grace.”

The long answer, of course, is more complex, bringing together events of many times and places.

The longer-ago events that form the weft of the story and the initial story-threads of the weft are below. More weft-stories will be written – and woven!

The Warp

As a kid, my parents loved to travel, explore, and meet new people, and our summer drives across the United States fostered my own appetite for adventure, desire to travel, and sense that I would someday live outside the US. 

In addition to being adventurous, my mom was inquisitive, resourceful, and smart, and had what I call a genetic predisposition to design and engineering, which both my brother and I inherited. She could — and did — design, make, and/or fix pretty much anything and everything. She had worked as a layout artist before we kids came along, and afterwards, her love of sewing and the articles she created were the most common expression of her talents. She made most of her own clothes, many of mine, and upholstered, refinished, and transformed furniture. While I preferred playing sports and was not interested in sitting behind a sewing machine and thus (sadly) never developed my mom’s skill and patience, I did learn her sewing techniques, how to do other things precisely, and acquired an intense love and appreciation of fibers, fabrics, and textiles. I was intrigued by the patterns, the precision, the mathematics hidden in weaves, and mesmerized by the feeling of fine textiles — especially when they were woven or sewn by hand. Even as a toddler, I was drawn to the feeling of bedspreads my mom had at the time: the bumpy, precise patterns had a special feel unlike anything else. I acquired the appreciation for handmade articles and the uncanny ability to sense a handmade article at a distance. 

This passion for textiles was mostly hidden until I went to college. My choice to major in graphic design surprised friends and family: I had been a very academic student in high school, then graduated early to play a sport professionally — certainly a major surprise to my teachers! — and after a few years, finally went to college to study art  . . . and my favorite class was weaving?!?!

Yes.

While at the University of Arizona, I had the great fortune to study with Gayle Wimmer, a well-known fiber artist and Fulbright Fellow who had worked with weavers in Italy, Poland, France, and Israel. Gayle and her classes were my biggest influence while I was at the U of A, and she became a friend and mentor of sorts. I qualify “mentor” only because while I loved weaving and fiber arts, I felt that it was not my calling to be a weaver — yet I knew somehow, weaving and fiber arts would play a significant role in my life. Later, I thought, perhaps I would collect rugs, not so much for the objects themselves, but as a way to honor the women who made them, and the work of the heart that went into the textiles.

I also studied a great deal of film history and photo history, even though I could not afford to take photography classes. Those were the days before digital, and the cost of cameras, 35mm film, paper, and developing solution was beyond my means. It would be later in life when I began my work in video and photography, for in university I could barely cover the cost of the special paper, markers, Exacto knife blades, and Letraset (go look up that word!) necessary to my graphic design studies. 

In college, I also learned that the design style I had acquired from my mom and her brother — my uncle took me to his university design classes and started giving me his old Graphis magazines when I was about six years old — was considered “Swiss school” or “Italian school”. I thought this clean, simple, functional style was merely good design. My professors and other students disagreed. My final project was an identity kit for a fictitious Italian furniture maker, which I immaculately designed, precisely constructed by hand, graciously presented — and strongly defended. 

I was told I would do well in Europe, but not in the United States. It wasn’t the last time I heard this!

Design style aside, I always felt I would end up living, or at least having a second home, outside the United States. For years, I wasn’t certain where this would be, but I knew it would become clear at the right time. In my travels I considered Kerala, India; but no — the ashram and India was not for me as a home. Touring Europe, I considered various places, yet my first visit to Torino and the Piedmont area in 2003 left me feeling that Italy was too smoke-filled and misogynistic for my tastes. 

The threads hadn’t yet together to lead to Sardinia — and one of the most important was a nearly-forgotten recurring dream.

Throughout my childhood, I would often dream of a beach where the water was a deep, clear, unforgettable shade of blue, and the sky was another unique shade of azure. In the foreground, massive rocks tumbled down from my dream-vista to the water. In the distance, yet not too far away, rose the outline of a mountainous island. The beach image seemed familiar — somehow connected to a monastic lifetime — even though I did not know where the beach was, or where I had seen it before. The dream-beach was very unlike the shore of Lake Michigan, just two miles from my childhood home. The beach I saw in the dreams was more like those found in Northern California, but the colors, the rocks, the horizon, the light were not the same. The dream-beach was not a California beach. Nor was it a Hawaiian beach, a Florida beach, an English beach, or even a Greek beach — even though photos I saw of Greek beaches seemed more similar. If anything, I sensed that the dream-beach was in “Italy, but not Italy.” 

The Weft Begins

In 2006, a friend introduced me to the music of an amazing Italian singer and mystic. Even though I didn’t speak Italian at the time, I didn’t need to: the heart and soul of the singer, the voice, and the music struck me, took me inside, and eventually changed my life in ways I did not foresee. 

After a few years of listening to the music with an understanding of the heart (supplemented by whatever bits of Spanish and Latin I remembered from school, and an occasional translation provided by the friend), I decided to study the Italian language. In 2012, I began studying and visited Milano. The next year, I read my first book in Italian: The singer’s biography. As expected, there were many words, phrases, and places I did not know and couldn’t understand by context. 

Google and Wikipedia became my constant companions as I searched for definitions and place names: Sardinia — I knew where that was — but within Sardinia, Gallura? 

I googled. I clicked a link in the search results. A new page opened. Electricity jolted up my spine, and my breathing stopped.

I was looking at photos of my dream-beach.

 

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Tours of Artist Studios in Sardinia

I will be leading tours of artist studios starting in late 2018 or early 2019. If you are interested in participating in a small-group tour, which will include visits to the studio of Isa Frongia/Anna Maria Pirastu, other studios, Sardinia’s weaving museum, and time at beautiful beaches, meals at superb restaurants, and location tours, please contact me.

More to Come

Preparing the beach for those to come.

As you can see, the website is undergoing a major renovation.

As part of the change, I’ll  be adding pages with news, events, thoughts, and information here in the News and Events section.

Some of what you’ll see will include historic information about the shows, and events that have already happened, as well as information I’ve posted on Facebook, since posts there are hard to find later!

More soon,

KMK

How It Came to Be: The Film “I Want to Weave the Weft of Time”

I Want to Weave the Weft of Time grew serendipitously from the love of weaving, great appreciation of the women who continue the nearly-lost tradition of hand weaving in Sardinia, and the desire to share the art, lives, and importance of the weavers with the world.

When I first went to meet the weavers, I didn’t have a videocamera with me: I didn’t intend to film, much less make a documentary.

I wanted to meet the women who were Sardinia’s traditional weavers, learn about their particular weaving tradition, and bring a few textiles back to the United States. After meeting several weavers across the island, I called Isa and asked if I could return to Samugheo to video her, Suzanna, and Anna Maria. I had only my iPad — not the video cameras I had used to capture documentary footage for other projects! At most, I thought I would film a few minutes of the women working and make a 10-minute video to demonstrate the process of weaving.

I ended up filming for several hours that day, and then returned to Sardinia after a few months to visit and capture additional footage for what I still thought would be a very short video.

In the interim, Bruna had met the Frongias. While she lives in a town an hour or two away, Bruna by chance came to visit the Frongias the day I returned to Samugheo to film. As Isa prepared lunch, Bruna agreed to tell me the story of how she came to meet the Frongias and start to learn to weave. Her talk was entirely spontaneous, and absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have better scripted what she said: It was also what I felt about the weavers, their art, their lives, and the role they maintain, not just in terms of maintaining an artistic tradition, but in propagating a way of life that many in the modern world seek.

We filmed in the studio, with the kitchen (and the sounds of food preparation) above. Months later, when I showed Bruna the finished film, she told me she had completely forgotten that she talked with me! She also didn’t realize that the film’s title came directly from her statement, “tessere le trame del tempo”. Bruna forgot she had told me of the dream, and thought the title a coincidence!

As I was editing the footage, friend Ruth Mendelson – an amazing composer of wonderful original scores for documentaries — saw the draft, encouraged me, and agreed to compose and record the soundtrack. Ruth’s enthusiasm and support propelled me, and the truly heartfelt, complex tapestry of music she scored for the film perfectly captures the feeling of the women, the complexity of the weavings, and the mix of ancient and modern cultures that are Sardinia. Ruth’s score carries the film to a level that’s truly synergistic, much more than the sum of its parts.

I hope you’re as enchanted and moved watching this as we were making I Want to Weave the Weft of Time. The women have adopted me as family, and the film is truly a work of the heart.

Visit WeaveWeftofTime.com to see the film!

~ Kelly Manjula Koza

History

This is the text of one of the educational posters from Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, held at the Italian Cultural Center – San Francisco in January and February 2017.

Looms were prized and essential items in Sardinian households for centuries. Weaving was every woman’s work, and girls learned to weave at a young age. The women wove their corredo, or hope chest textiles, as well as items for daily use and various ceremonial items that were gifted, often prized and used for a lifetime.

After the second world war, power looms and commercial mills began to appear on the island, and production of everyday items started to shift away from the household.

By the late 70’s, almost all of the studios and small shops had switched to using power looms, and items for daily user were made in mills. Today, very few professional handweavers remain.

Similarly, the process of collecting and preparing fibers by hand has virtually disappeared. The preparation of wool, linen, silk, and cotton fibers for weaving was often a communal event.

Today, almost all Sardinian handweavers use fibers that are processed at Sardinia’s one remaining wool processing house, and/or high-quality linen and Egyptian cotton.

Designs

This is the text of one of the educational posters from Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, held at the Italian Cultural Center – San Francisco in January and February 2017.

Designs and motifs used in the weavings vary according to the region, type of loom used, and the items woven.

Birds — doves, peacocks, and domestic hens and cocks — are common, as are deer, baskets of eggs, bunches of grain, grapes, grape leaves, flowers, and other agricultural symbols. Dragons, gryphons, and mythological figures are also found, especially on older textiles.

Many textiles have geometric designs, ranging from stylized flowers to diamonds, triangles, and stepped shapes representing the cycle of birth, growth, harvest, and death/decay.

The zig zags typical of funerary cloths represent water and the ebb and flow of life. The stars and seven colors traditionally used in Nule’s carpets are ancient symbols of power.

Weavers familiar with their own traditions may create textiles that are highly traditional, or they may experiment and mix modern designs with ancient patterns.

Pibiones

This is the text of one of the educational posters from Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, held at the Italian Cultural Center – San Francisco in January and February 2017.

Pibiones are small raised bumps of thread found on the most distinctive of Sardinian textiles. The name comes from an ancient word for grapes, as pibiones feel like grapes, and grapes and the harvest play a significant part in Sardinian history.

Creating pibiones requires skill, dexterity, and patience. The pibiones are created by winding fibers around a long needle that sits on top of the weft. Each pibione is counted and wound by hand, one pibione at a time, one row at a time, matched against a pattern drawn on graph paper.

Pibiones add strength as well as design to a weaving. The best pibiones are firm to the touch and remain durable and distinct when the textile is used. To achieve the desired firmness, threads used in the pibiones are often spun a second time before being woven.

PS: The photo at the top of the page is of the wooden shuttle that holds threads the weaver uses to make pibiones. All the posters from the exhibit have background images of various weaving tools.

The Future

This is the text of one of the educational posters from Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, held at the Italian Cultural Center – San Francisco in January and February 2017.

In a global economy where textiles have been commoditized, the importance of maintaining traditional handweaving and recognizing it as an art cannot be overestimated. Valuing the handweavers and the art and designs of Sardinia is key to ensuring all aspects of the textile tradition — handweavers, the studios using powerlooms, the mills, and the traditional Sardinian designs — remain rooted in and produced in Sardinia, in a sustainable and fairly-traded manner.

Traditional arts are on the verge of being lost, yet the arts and artists offer what many in the modern world seek. The manner in which Sardinian weavers work and live, their principles, and their awareness represent a heritage that can only have a great appeal for a population that lives in a high-tech world of automation and suffers incredibly high levels of stress. For those living in such conditions, the hand weavers become role models for more authentic way of life.

The preservation and elevation of the Sardinian arts, and, in particular, the art of the hand weavers is of fundamental importance: the respect for the handweavers will serve to open doorways of awareness and respect for all weavers, all Sardinian arts, and the heritage and culture of Sardinia. This, over time, will bring positive returns for all those working in tourism and commerce.

Textile Classifications

This is the text of one of the educational posters from Sardinian Textiles: An Exhibit of Handwoven Art, held at the Italian Cultural Center – San Francisco in January and February 2017.

Just as the European Union recognizes different classifications of traditional food, it’s important that Sardinian textiles are classified accurately with reference to the method and place in which they are made. This will help buyers understand classifications of textiles bearing the label “Made in Sardinia”, increase esteem of all weavers in Sardinia, and protect weavers in a global economy.

The suggested classifications are:

  • Handmade textiles: Textiles made completely by hand, using looms where all movements and beating are done only by hand/foot, and not by a hydraulic, electronic, or computerized loom.
  • Hand-decorated textiles: Textiles made by hydraulic, electronic, or computerized looms, where the beating is not all done by hand/foot. The weaver stops the mechanical beating of the loom to make pibiones and/or add other decoration by hand.
  • Mill-made textiles: Textiles made in mills, by hydraulic, electronic, and/or computerized looms with minimum human involvement, and often where many similar objects are produced at the same time.

All the classifications permit:

  • The use of fibers prepared in mills.
  • The use of a sewing machine, if the use is to make seams/hems after the weaving is cut from the loom and the seams/hems are not decorative.

The use of fibers prepared by hand without hydraulic, electronic, or computerized tools can be indicated with the label “Hand-spun fibers”.

All three classifications have their buyers and their place in the market. The difference between the three classifications of textiles is the same as the difference between a painting by a master painter, a limited-edition print of the painting, and a poster.