Tactile nourishment

Last week I visited The Sudaji Weaving Project, which is an artisan collective of weavers in the small Sudaji village close to Singaraja in Northern Bali.
Around fifteen women from Sudaji and the surrounding villages work there creating sarongs and fabrics in traditional Balinese patterns from cotton and silk.

The weaving collective was shimmering with beautiful colours and patterns and fabrics and yarns that were just “asking” to be touched. And, once again, like in my previous visits to artisan collaboratives it hit me how deeply nourishing handcrafted products are.

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Traditional pattern made from indigo blue organic cotton.

The women are allowed to bring their children to the weaving collective, which enables them to work and earn their own income. The children are between one and ten years old, and whilst the smallest ones are breastfed and pampered when needed, the bigger ones seem to have a wonderful companionship and a lot of fun.

Yet, juggling between work and childcare must definitely at times be challenging for the weavers, especially since some of the pattern designs are very complex and require concentration.

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One of the women at the weaving collective juggling between work and childcare. 
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This little girl is taking a nap next to her mother’s loom after being breastfed. 

In many parts of the world, traditional crafts-traditions are endangered. They are threatened due to the societal and cultural development, aesthetic challenges (which I will return to in a later post), and particularly due to the fact that they cannot keep up with the industrial evolution.

When working with handcrafted textiles, competing with the automated, machine-made textile and fashion industry that can imitate anything from handwoven fabrics to bobbin lace details is next to impossible. How is it possible to convince a consumer to buy garments, which rightfully (due to the amount of time and the skills used to create them) cost at least five times as much as pieces that resembles them? Well, it most certainly requires insight into the immense burden that fast fashion puts on our natural resources as well as on cultural heritages and human work conditions. But perhaps most importantly it requires an understanding that buying and using a piece of mass-produced clothing deprives us of an important kind of nourishment. Because, something is most definitely lost in the equation that favours a cheap machine-made product in comparison to a slowly crafted one: the aesthetic, tactile nourishment that a thoroughly crafted piece of garment is “charged with” cannot be fully imitated by a machine – and neither can the bond between be creator and the user, which is established through the product. 

However, this kind of understanding and insight does not come out of nothing. The consumer, or the user, must be informed and empowered to make a difference. And that requires a very special cocktail consisting of a mix of storytelling and a shift in the current consensus on what luxury is (i.e. simply put: does luxury mean buying lots of new items on a regular basis, or buying very few things and using and wearing them often and with pride, even when the wear-and-tear starts to show?).

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It takes up to three months to create a sarong with a pattern as detailed as this one. The products created at the Sudaj Weavery are currently only sold in the small shop attached to the workshop. 

In my book Aesthetic Sustainability I discuss a concept that I call designing the temporal object.

Designing objects with temporality in mind can be a way of creating an emotional bond between an object and the user, and hence establishing the potential for durability. When an object becomes a container of time (and thus physical, material, or concrete stories) it is charged with emotional and tactile value, which makes it more than just a thing.

A way of charging a design object with time is to implement the time of creation or to make visible the design process in the object. In my book I have named this method the time of becoming. This way of charging time into a product is an important way of generating value based on a connection between the product and the user. 

The story about the time of creation can appear as verbal and visual storytelling, focusing on the process, methods or techniques that have been used in the design process, or it can be told by implementing concrete traces of the process into the finished product.
By emphasizing the time of becoming the hands behind the product almost become visible, and hence a closeness between the creator and the receiver is established.

Having the time of becoming manifest as visible or tactile traces in the object can also be a way of avoiding that the object will seem too “polished,” and hence disinvitining use. In the case of polished objects, normal use tends to leave unflattering signs of wear-and-tear very quickly. But the wear-and-tear of object surfaces that have been designed to be touched and used can easily make the object appear more beautiful, more interesting, or more attractive. Furthermore, this form of wear adds a continuous sense of renewal to the object that can help maintaining a strong bond between the product and its owner, and thus encourage sustainable behaviour.

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The hands behind a product leave their visible or invisible mark behind.
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The Sudaji Weaving Project uses naturally dyed cotton from Tarum Bali
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More examples of the beautiful naturally dyed cotton.
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A little girl staying close to her mother.
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Some of the beautiful, cheeky children at the artisan collective.
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These children followed us around everywhere when I visited The Sudaji Weaving Project together with my beloved friend and colleague La Femme Rousse from Copenhagen. Sustainable fashion designer Susanne Guldager who is behind La Femme Rousse is planning on a collaboration with the weavers using some of their fabrics in her designs. I am excited to follow, document and mediate the process.

My dear friend Putu Shelly from OmUnity Bali has been engaged in the empowerment of the women from Sudaji and the surrounding villages since 2014. Putu is currently in the process of raising money for more looms as well as establishing a weaving program in order to teach more local women how to weave, and thus sustain the crafts-tradition and the traditional patterns.

Together with Putu I will help the women reach a larger audience, which will hopefully aid them selling more of their beautiful handcrafted products. The goal is to enable the managers of the Sudaji Weaving Project Pak Made Radjin and Ibu Endang to educate and employ more local women.
The first step in this process is creating a website for the weavers and assisting them in designing some beautiful, simple garments. Stay tuned!

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