This event is free. To attend, register on Eventbrite. After you register, you’ll receive the Zoom link and instructions.
Join me online for this free event to explore the indescribable beauty of Sardinian handwoven textiles, see the loving and painstaking artistry of their creation, meet the tessitrici artigianali — the unique women weavers who maintain the tradition of a nearly-lost art – and glimpse just a bit of Sardinia’s majesty.
I’ll discuss the importance of the handmade, the relevance these women, their weavings, and their traditions have in our modern world, and the anima (spirit) of Sardinian handwoven textiles. I’ll share portions of my film as well as photos, stories of the weavers and my adventures on the island, and show some of my personal textile collection.
Extra limited event! Open house and question/answer session on June 21
I’ll host an interactive session for those who have attended previous Sardinian Arts presentations on June 21 at 5pm San Francisco time. This session gives you the opportunity ask me questions about traveling in Sardinia, as well as about the weavers, textiles, traditions, history, and so forth that we may not have time to discuss in the general presentations. As time allows, I will also share stories, photos, and updates, and encourage participants to share as well.
Because the session is designed to be interactive, I do ask that everyone who attends the open house/Q&A session be visible on-camera during the Zoom call. You don’t have to speak, however!
If you have friends who want to attend the open house, please share the registration link with them, as they won’t find the open house listed on EventBrite public events. Please also suggest they first attend the presentation and/or watch I Want to Weave the Weft of Time.
Weave a Real Peace (WARP) is an inclusive global network of individuals and organizations who value the social, cultural, historic, artistic, and economic importance of textile arts. A registered nonprofit in the USA, WARP works to improve the quality of life of textile artisans worldwide.
The group offers educational programs about traditional textile artists and related topics; runs programs to support textile artists; and provides information, resources, and technical assistance within the global textile arts community.
Given my passion for protecting the art, designs, and rights of individuals and traditions — most especially the Sardinian handweavers — people often erroneously assume I am not in favor of innovation in traditional handweaving.
This is not true at all! I very much embrace and support innovation in traditional handweaving and elsewhere — so long as the innovation springs from within the artist and their culture.
Individuals grow, cultures transform themselves, and artistic traditions evolve. An individual weaver’s designs, techniques* and expressions naturally change based upon her own growth, experience and knowledge. Artists share designs, techniques, and ideas within and across cultures. This individual and collective innovation within a culture actively transforms a tradition.
Outside influences do not necessarily foster innovation. A cultural outsider who brings their own design to a traditional weaver and asks them to produce exact copies of the item is looking for labor and production. The outsider who copies a tradition’s artwork and motifs for the outsider’s commercial gain is essentially stealing traditional designs, not fostering innovation. Such activities do not recognize the individual artistry of a weaver or respect traditions of her culture and art.
Respecting a tradition, however, does not mean confining the weavers within that tradition to creating only items identical to those made by their mothers and grandmothers. Understanding this is critical, for outsiders often do have a subtle expectation of how textiles of a particular culture “should” look. This preconception is actually a stereotype projected onto the art and artists within a culture, reflects the limited perception of the outsider, and can consciously or unconsciously limit the expression of a traditional weaver.
The perception and practice of innovation in traditional textiles was discussed by a number of Native American weavers, museum curators, and others during a recent meeting of Weave a Real Peace (WARP). Lily Hope, a Native American artist, teacher, and community facilitator made a statement which seemed to embody what the traditional artists and supporters at the meeting felt: “Innovation is tradition. We can’t impose our ideas of traditional or stifle their [traditional handweavers’] creativity.”
The artists also discussed the fact that tradition extends past the boundaries of time and place. Porfirio Gutierrez, a traditional Oaxacan sarape weaver who now lives in California, said that tradition is carried in the blood, heart, and being of the weavers, and “the voices of our ancestors speak through textiles.”
The voices of the ancestors — the stories, histories, love, compassion, and humanity of weavers’ antecedents — are intertwined with those of the contemporary handweavers in modern traditional textiles. These intangible qualities of humanity coalesce with the skill of the handweaver to create the essence of a traditional handwoven textile. This essence is an expression of humanity both contemporary to and greater than a specific time and heart.
Like any artwork, the handwoven textile carries the energy, consciousness, love, and feeling of the weaver. This essence transcends time and space — and is what makes the handmade, the handwoven, inimitable.
*How a textile is woven (handmade, hand decorated, or mill-made) and the types of dyes and fibers used should be clearly stated on textile labels, as these factors help determine a textile’s price and suitable market.
The word innovation comes from the Latin verb innovare, meaning “to make new.” The word innate stems from a Latin verb innatus, meaning “to be born”. As humans, we have an inborn drive to make ourselves and our lives new. In other words, we innately have the urge to innovate.
A note about the photo: I snapped this in a historic hotel in Alghero. The handmade wooden shutters and hardware on the building exterior are the traditional window coverings, several centuries old, and maintain the historic integrity of the building. Modernizations have included well-fitting, tightly-latching glass windows on the building interior — an innovation I much appreciated, especially on my first night at the hotel, for there was a terrific thunderstorm, and the shutters were banging wildly outside the latched glass! The glass also permits the light from outside and the beauty of the handmade shutters to grace the room.
Nule and several of the weavers in the film are also featured on Sardinian Arts — see this page.
Dalla Lana Alla Trama – storia della tessitura di Nule (2007) Running Time: 27:27 Produced by the Janas Cultural Association in collaboration with the Town of Nule and the Region of Sardegna Filmmaker: PJ Gambioli Original Soundtrack: Stefano Ferrari Full credits are on the film itself
People often ask about the colors and dyes traditional women handweavers of Sardinia — the tessitrici artigianali — use in their textiles. Weavers and dyers especially want to know specifically how certain colors in the Sardinian textiles are produced. The colors can be subtle or bold; bear the natural hue of wool, linen, or cotton; exhibit beautiful tints derived from natural and vegetable dyestuff; or sometimes even display the firmness of a modern chemical dye.
What I present about Sardinian dyes here and during events is general and never meant to be an exhaustive discussion, for several reasons. Textiles are a key aspect of Sardinian cultural heritage, and the tessitrici artigianali must be the ones to decide if and when to share details about their dyes and dyeing methods, and to present the information, especially outside Sardinia. They’re the holders of the knowledge and expertise, much of which is passed down from one women to another, varies from weaver to weaver, and requires years of study and practice to master.
Within Sardinia, several weavers do offer workshops and presentations about traditional dyes, especially in the towns of Nule and Aggius, where a number of women still dye their own fibers. *
In previous decades and centuries, women of a town would work together to wash, card, spin, dye, and prepare fibers for weaving. This work is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, and the decline of the practice of handweaving means fewer women have the time, means, or help of others to dye fibers by hand. While some handweavers still tint their own fibers, others purchase fibers that have been dyed, usually at a Sardinian mill or dye house.
Many handweavers use a combination hand-dyed and commercially-dyed fibers; either type may be tinted with natural and/or chemical dyes. The choice depends on the weaver’s preference, the colors needed for a particular item or design, and the availability, economics, and practicality of obtaining the fibers the weaver needs.
Dyeing fibers is an art, especially when using vegetable dyestuff. Just as grapes grown for wine have different characteristics based on the soil, light, and shade of where they are grown, and carry these characteristics into the flavor and body of a wine, the plants used for dyeing have different qualifies based upon where the plants are grown, the amount of light and water they receive, when they are picked, and so forth, and carry this into the color the dyestuff imparts. I have met Sardinian weavers who can discern the subtle difference in dye color created by the same type of plants grown in different areas of the island. In addition, the color varies according to the method of dye preparation as well as the weather, season, temperature, and numerous other factors affecting a particular dye bath.
The natural colors and properties of the fibers typically used in Sardinian textiles — black and white wool, golden linen, and off-white cotton — also affect how a dye’s color ultimately sets into the fibers. These natural fibers may also be left uncolored for weaving: natural black or white wool is used alone, or blended to produce a rich grey, and the golden tones of natural linen and the slightly whiter shades of natural cotton are also commonly used in finished weavings. The subtle variegation typically found in naturally-colored and hand-dyed fibers adds warmth to authentic handwoven textiles, and is considered by many a beautiful hallmark of the handmade.
Sardinian dyestuffs are similar to those used in other areas of the world. Onion skins, saffron, and daphne are used to create shades of yellow. Walnut husks produce brown. Ivy, buckthorn, and other plant leaves create greens. A special mushroom is used to produce a natural orange. Logwood, introduced to the island a few centuries ago, produces a black deeper and more consistent than the natural black of wool. Kermes, an insect similar to cochineal, produces a prized scarlet red.
The dyestuffs for purple and lavender, colors long considered to be the exclusive right and signature of royalty because of the difficulty of producing the tints, are abundant in parts of Sardinia — so much so that Scots made trading expeditions to the island in the 1800’s expressly to acquire wool dyed purple and lavender to use in tartans bearing these shades. Pokeweed as well as a certain lichen found in specific areas of the island are used to create the colors.
Interestingly, when I first saw the Sardinian lichen that produces the sought-after lavender tint, I thought the lichen similar to a type that grows on oak trees where I live in the East Bay Area outside San Francisco. I gathered some of the fallen California lichen and prepared it as several of the weavers had instructed me, and then dyed a small amount of cotton cloth and linen fiber, which took on a lavender tint similar to that used in textiles of Aggius.
When I showed the result to a weaver from Aggius — Gabriella Lutzu — she noted subtle differences. I felt her keen discernment of color clearly underscored what we already know: traditional vegetable dyeing is an art, not a science, and that the color produced by any dye batch is due to countless factors, including the source of the dyestuff and the intention, hands, and heart of an artist.
~ Kelly Manjula Koza
* When travel again becomes more predictable, I’ll be leading tours of Sardinian weaving studios, some of which can include dyeing presentations from weavers, if participants are interested.
In my presentations, I always talk about what the term handmade means, discuss the difference between handmade, hand-decorated, and mill-made textiles, and emphasize the importance of establishing and maintaining a classification system to protect the different types of Sardinian textiles.
Currently, there are no formal classifications or protections. This leads to confusion for buyers and encourages unscrupulous foreign businesses to appropriate and copy — steal — Sardinian textile designs and business. Even now, poorly-made textiles are being produced in China and brought into Sardinia, where the cheap imitations are labeled as “Authentic Sardinian” weavings and sold in tourist shops and roadside stands. I find this sad and infuriating.
Handwoven textiles are a key element of Sardinia’s heritage, and valuing and protecting the handweavers and their art is critical to maintaining the integrity of Sardinian textiles, overall Sardinian heritage, and the island’s economy. The European Union has a classification system to protect traditional foods and wines considered important to Italy’s cultural heritage — green plastic jars of “parmesan cheese” are not the same as rounds of true Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese, and the green jar name and labels cannot suggest they are.
A similar textile classification system would help buyers understand what kind of weaving they are purchasing, ensure fair pricing for the different classifications of weavings, and protect Sardinian handweavers, textile producers, and mill owners from having their designs stolen and copied by offshore makers.
While there’s much to discuss about protecting Sardinian textiles, cultural appropriation, and related issues, I’ll be brief here. In fact, what you’ll read below are excerpts addressing these themes from the Sardinian Arts Statement. You can read the full statement here (anche in Italiano).
In recent years, we have heard too many stories of traditional cultures and their arts that have been appropriated by vendors who are greedy and lack scruples. Stolen designs are used to generate profit for large international conglomerates instead of the communities from which the designs come and items are traditionally produced.
For the purpose of elevating the esteem and value for their art, Sardinian weavers should be recognized as artists, and their traditional designs should be respected as art of Sardinian origin. Items which incorporate Sardinian designs should be made only by local producers. The protection of Sardinian artists and designs will be advantageous to all the weavers of the island.
In Sardinia, most sellers don’t currently make a distinction between textiles made by hand, powerloom, or mill. In the tourist shops, on the internet, and even in some textile studios, all of these textiles are sold as “traditional” and “traditional handmade”.
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, and that the public be educated to this regard. In fact, all the classifications have their place and their buyers.
Having discussed and exchanged ideas and opinions with experts over the past years, I think that this system of classification will help buyers understand the classifications of textiles bearing the label “Made in Sardinia”, increase the esteem of all weavers of all the classifications, and protect the weavers in the global economy.
Handmade textiles: Textiles made completely by hand, using looms where all the 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 all the beating is not done by hand/foot. The weavers 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 levels 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. There is no competition. 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.
Truly handwoven Sardinian textiles are a fit for collectors and others who value the highest quality textiles and the work of the women who weave them. Hand-decorated items suit designers who want rapidly-made customized production of their designs or unique items without the cost of a truly handmade item. Mill-made textiles from Sardinia are nicely made, inexpensive, and perfect for everyday use in homes, hotels, and restaurants.
While what I have written here is specific to Sardinia, I believe that protecting the handmade items and traditional arts of all cultures is necessary to preserve and sustainably build economies, societies, and people across the globe. Yes, technology has its place, but technology and gizmos must be balanced with the handmade in order to preserve and advance our physical and mental health, the health of the nature and societies, and the health of our individual and collective spirits.
~ Kelly Manjula Koza
The photos the cheese and also that of the power loom are from unknown websites; my thanks to the photographers.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of this topic. I talk more about this during events, both in-person and online. See the News and Events section or sign up for the mailing list to keep updated!
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.
Touching pibiones is an enchanting experience: Rub your hand over a handwoven textile bearing a pattern created by the pibiones, and your hand feels as if it’s getting a massage. You may even feel you’re playing an instrument that creates a nearly-silent tune, as the pattern and organization of the pibiones are musical in arrangement! Pibiones are practical, as well: They add strength, texture, and design to a textile.
Weaving a textile with pibiones requires skill, dexterity, and patience. Pibiones are created by winding fibers around a long needle that sits on top of the weft (the foundation threads of a textile). 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. (See pibiones being woven in I Want to Weave the Weft of Time.)
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.
While considered uniquely Sardinian, the pibiones tradition of weaving is today found primarily in the Samugheo, in the center of the island. Aggius and Nule, other Sardinian towns renowned for their handwoven textiles, have different weaving traditions.
Join me for a free online screening of my documentary I Want to Weave the Weft of Time August 18, 2021 (Wednesday) from 6 to 7.30pm (18.00 to 19.30) San Francisco time.
I’ll add filmmaker’s commentary to provide a glimpse of how the film came about, the synchronicity of its making, working with the weavers, the soundtrack’s creation, and more. I’ll also share stories and additional video clips, including outtakes and works in progress, and answer questions.
Would your weaving guild, craft studio, art class, or group like to learn more about beautiful Sardinian textiles, the amazing women who weave them, and Sardinia itself?
Would you like to have a private screening and question/answer session with the maker of the documentary I Want to Weave the Weft of Time? See additional and/or unpublished video footage and photos of the weavers in the film, and other weavers at work? See and feel the textiles in person (in-person events only)?
I would love to arrange an online presentation for your group at the time of your convenience, or an in-person event in 2022. I’m well-versed in presenting to audiences large and small, both online and in person, and can discuss the weavers, their art, and Sardinia in a way that considers and captivates your group.