maandag 30 januari 2012

Sheep Galore!

As wool is my main source of textile to work with, sheep are a source of inspiration. On my travels through Scotland and Ireland I'm always happy to come across a flock or just one. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish them between the rocks. Most of the time they are shy, but occasionally their curiosity wins. Their fleece is sheered but also just gets loose, so there's lots of bits and pieces to be found for my work. I'm always returning home with pockets full of fluffy wool.
Look at the way they live here, they have so much space, such healthy grass to eat and no stress. That's until they eventually are transported.
These happy ones live on Canna.

donderdag 26 januari 2012

Fishing Industry

Here's a map, published by Trouw a.o, which shows the devastating effect of the world's fishing industry.
WWF developed this method of visualising the shocking increase of fishing.
Think before you eat your fish, all the reasons to do so!

dinsdag 24 januari 2012

V&A | golden spider silk

From the 25th of January on a new fabric exhibition will open at the V&A in London. Textile designers Simon Peers (UK) and Nicholas Godley (USA) and their team went to Madagascar, home of the golden-silk-spider. More than one million spiders were needed to weave a piece of 4 meters. This display will showcase the world’s largest pieces of cloth made from spider silk. It will include a brocaded shawl made from the silk of the female golden orb-weaver spiders collected in the highlands of Madagascar, as well as a cape on public display for the first time. The display will also feature background material and a short film revealing the process. It took four years to weave the piece, and looking at it you understand why. What a delicate fabric! The good thing about the life of the spiders is that they were released afterwards. Less sad than the life of the silk caterpillars whose lives are taken while the thread is taken from their cocoon. An amazing project! 

(photo V&A)

maandag 23 januari 2012

David Grossman

The Israeli writer David Grossman is of of my favourite authors. His work is so delicate, full of ideas and beautiful stories, I read his novels and essays over and over again. From the first book I ever read The Yellow Wind to his latest masterpiece To the End of the Land. Humanity plays an important rol in his work, more important than the political situation in his country. Although he has a lot to say about that, it's never on the foreground in his novels. I 'm lucky to know him personally, and it's always a great pleasure to meet him and talk.
(photo from De Papieren Man)

From an interview for The Paris Review in 2007 with Jonathan Shainin there's this extract from their long conversation:

S: Yet in Death as a Way of Life you say: "I don't belong to those who believe that the Holocaust was a specifically Jewish event."
G: I don't think one can separate the Jewishness from the Shoah, but it's an event that's relevant for all humanity. Every human being should ask himself several questions regarding the Shoah. One of them is - in the face of such total arbitrariness- how can I maintain my uniqueness as a human being? What in me can not be eradicated? In Be My Knife I call this idea the luz, the kernel. Luz is a word from the Talmud. It's the smallest bone in your backbone, which can not be eradicated. All your essence is preserved in it, and from that you will be recreated in resurrection. Sometimes I do a little exercise: I ask people to close their eyes and for one minute to think what would be their luz. The pupil of the eye of their personality. I get interesting answers.
S: What is your luz?
G: I guess it has to do with the urge to create.

What a great thinker David Grossman is. A very moving contribution to questioning what's important regarding humanity. Of all times, from the Talmud to the Twenty-First century.

vrijdag 20 januari 2012

The Elders | make an end to child marriage

I've posted before about this initiative endorsed by The Elders. It's so important to empower girls and women all over the world but especially in developing countries, and this might help.
The initiative is called 'girls not brides' and it's worth reading more!

woensdag 18 januari 2012

Selvedge | modern modesty

Today the new issue of Selvedge was dropped in my mailbox. Always a pleasure to read and look at. There's a pile in my studio and most of the times one lays open on a beautiful spread. It's just the most inspiring textile magazine. About crafts, historical background, places and people, art and culture. In this issue one of the topics is modesty. Not for religious reasons (Amish for instance), or cultural reasons (Simone de Beauvoir) but modesty as a choice for a new aesthetic. Shapes, fabric, colour, comfort. Many examples are described and showed. Beautifully made, gorgeous fabrics and elegant as well. It suits the sign of the times; it will probably endure, the new demure!

dinsdag 17 januari 2012

Guardian | HRW report on small farmers in Ethiopia being forced from their land

Human Rights Watch says people in the remote western Gambella region of Ethiopia are being forcibly moved to inadequate villages to free up land for commercial agriculture, Tuesday 17 January 2012

An Indian worker transplants rice on a major commercial agricultural scheme
in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. Photograph: Ben Parker/IRIN

The Ethiopian government is forcibly moving tens of thousands of people in the
remote western Gambella region, with villagers being told that their resettlement is connected to the leasing of large tracts of land for commercial agriculture, according to a human rights group.
Waiting for Death, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, said the population transfers under the "villagisation" programme are being carried out with little consultation or compensation. People are being moved to new villages that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities, said HRW. Relocations have been marked by threats, assaults and arbitrary arrest for those who resist the move. HRW, which conducted 100 interviews in Ethiopiafrom May to June last year, as well as with Gambellans who have fled to refugee camps in Kenya, said it found "widespread" human rights violations at all stages of the programme.
"The Ethiopian government's villagisation programme is not improving access to
services for Gambella's indigenous people, but is instead undermining their livelihoods and food security," said Jan Egeland, the organisation's Europe director. "The government should suspend the programme until it can ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and that people have been properly consulted and compensated for the loss of their land."
Gambella, which is the size of Belgium, has a population of 307,000, mainly indigenous Anuak and Nuer. Its richly fertile soil has attracted foreign and domestic investors who have leased large tracts of land at favourable prices. From 2008 to January 2011, Ethiopia leased out at least 3.6m hectares of land.
An additional 2.1m hectares is available through the federal government's land
bank for agricultural investment. In Gambella, 42% of the land has either being marked for lease to investors or already awarded to investors, according to government figures.
Many of the areas from which people are being moved are within areas earmarked for commercial agricultural investment.
Investors range from Saudi billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.
The report says the Ethiopian government has consistently denied that the resettlement of people in Gambella is connected to the leasing of large areas of land for commercial agriculture, but villagers have been told by government officials that this is an underlying reason for their displacement.
One farmer told HRW that during the government's initial meeting with his village, government officials said: "We will invite investors who will grow cash crops. You do not use the land well. It is lying idle."
By 2013, the Ethiopian government is planning to resettle 1.5 million people in
four regions: Gambella, Afar, Somali, and Benishangul-Gumuz. Relocations started in 2010 in Gambella, and approximately 70,000 people from there were scheduled to be moved by the end of 2011. The plan states that the movements are to be voluntary, and pledges to provide infrastructure for the new villages and assistance to ensure alternative livelihoods.
However, instead of improved access to government services, says HRW, new villages often go without them altogether.
The first round of forced relocations occurred at the worst-possible time of year – the beginning of the harvest – and many of the areas to which people were moved are dry with poor-quality soil. The nearby land needs to be cleared, and agricultural assistance (seeds and fertilisers) has not been provided. The government failure to provide food assistance for relocated people has caused endemic hunger and cases of starvation, according to HRW.
HRW urged international donors to make sure that they are not providing support for forced displacement or facilitating rights violations in the name of development. Ethiopia is one of the world's largest recipients of humanitarian food and development assistance. In 2010, it received more than 700,000 tonnes of food and £1.8bn in aid. The UK is Ethiopia's biggest bilateral donor. Britain is expected to give an average of £331m to Ethiopia annually until 2015.
This is the latest critical HRW report on Ethiopia. In 2010, it issued a report
accusing the government of Meles Zenawi of using development aid to suppress  political dissent by conditioning access to essential government programmes on support for the ruling party, a charge government officials strongly reject.

maandag 16 januari 2012

Zarina Bhimji

And suddenly I came across the work of Zarina Bhimji this past weekend. Never heard of her before I must admit, although she as nominated for the Turner Prize in 2007. There will be an exhibition in the White Chapel gallery in London till late March. She descends from an Asian family in Uganda who fled to Britain in the seventies. Her work consists of films, photo's and installations. The sense of material is wonderful, as well as her colours. In her series 'She Loves to Breathe|Pure Silence her photo's are printed on muslin and framed in plexiglas. The topic is what Asian/African women had to bear when coming into the UK.
A film called 'waiting' is about a factory where sisal is made. The processfilmed very close and is abstracted so that tactility, sound and colour take over from the actual work. So beautiful!

donderdag 12 januari 2012

Textiles as a metaphor for life

In Beverly Gordon's book "Textiles - the whole story" she writes with depth about the meaning of textiles throughout history and through all cultures. Techniques, meaning as well as uses.
The meaning of cloth regarding life is an interesting topic. She describes 5 elements.

Thread as a pathway, a line to follow is the first. In mythology, fairytales and religion there are many examples in the text.  Ariadne's ball of thread to get out of the maze. Also, the word cloth is rooted in Greek mythology. Clotho was one of the three goddesses who controlled human life. Clotho was the spinner 'who spun the thread of life'.

Second is the idea of thread and cloth symbolizing connection, wholeness and strength. Plying threads make them so strong we can trust it to be strong enough to hold body weight for example.  The fragility of life is often connected to the fragility of cloth. An old piece of cloth is not just worn, but also delicate and it has a history.

Third is the symbol of birth and growth. Life grows day by day, textile grows stitch by stitch. The meaning of quilts in (native) American society is an example. But also the child's baptism dress often made of the mother's wedding dress.

The fourth element is that cloth serves as a wrapper, container or framer. Textiles protect us, comfort us and keep things together, take us to another world after we've passed away, hide us.

The fifth and last one is the 'living quality' of textile. It absorbs, both literally and metaphorically. Sweat, sound, energy.

Looking at these elements as Gordon describes them they do play a role in all cultures. My question is: are we still able to see these symbols? With the mass production of clothes, we hardly think of them  as being part of our culture. If we could get back to connect textiles with culture, we can revalue the making of garments and fabric. Thus a more sustainable approach. It can make us think of re-using and old garment instead of throwing it away. Think before you buy as well.

woensdag 11 januari 2012

New Renaissance

In this month's Items, besides many interesting articles, an interview with Stefano Marzano; the former CEO of Philips Design. Talking about the development of design in society he has some interesting things to say.
Here's a quote:
"The current economic crisis could actualize the attention for immaterial values. There has been a period in history in which our scientific knowledge was rather poor and senses were more developed and important. In the Middle Ages cathedrals were built to be closer to God. The mystical had a great value at that time and we have completely lost that. In our current time we should connect immaterial values with our knowledge to get to a more complete system. You could call it humanism, or a New Renaissance."
That is an interesting thought. Thinking like this could reset economic structures which are completely rusted, could change habits, consider developments in a more holistic approach and make space for other ways of thinking. By doing so we can make a real move towards sustainability and a fair outlook on what's really needed. In that sense the economic crisis is a chance.

dinsdag 10 januari 2012

John Lorne Campbell & Margaret Fay Shaw

When I was on Canna I came across this wonderful shed, hidden in the trees and overlooking the bay towards Rhum.

I hopped over the fence, had a peek inside and made some photo's. A small haven. It turned out that it belonged to the house where Campbell and Fay Shaw had lived together. They were both scholars and folklorists, him being born in 1906 in Scotland, she originally from the USA. He emphasized on history and spoken language, she on songs and traditions. Together they have done a lot for passing on the Hebridian history; they dedicated their whole life to it. They lived on many islands, but later moved to Canna, the island that became their property. They were a very ambitious couple. The house they lived in is now being turned into a museum by The National Trust for Scotland, with all their archives. It's still as how they've left it at the end of their lives around 1996.  At that time Canna was more populated than nowadays, but still, a very quiet island. I imagine the little shed was to escape sometimes. To be away from the other. To concentrate on non-scholary matters maybe, or rest. In a lovely environment, that's for sure. The shed looks and feels as if someone just left for a walk. I hope the Trust is taking good care for conservation, for it reflects their style and attitude perfectly.

vrijdag 6 januari 2012


A gale nearby at Canna, Scotland. The subtle tones of grey are stunning! Grey is one of my favourites, and in the Western Isles of Scotland grey is a colour to live with.
As Seton Gordon wrote in 'The Immortal Isles' in 1926:
The grey wind is a wind of sadness, of mystery. 
A sadness that uplifts rather than depresses.

donderdag 5 januari 2012

Plastic and how to cope with it _ Guardian Weekly

Global hunger for plastic packaging leaves waste solution a long way off

Despite measures to increase recycling, discarded plastic packaging continues to blight Earth
Slovenian artist Artnak's Plastic Bag Monster in Brussels
The "Plastic Bag Monster", a creation by Slovenian artist Miha Artnak, is displayed outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels May 24, 2011. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Five hundred tonnes of Christmas tree lights and at least 25m bags of plastic sweet wrappers, turkey coverings, drinks bottles and broken toys will be thrown away by UK homes this Christmas and new year. But only a tiny proportion of this waste will be recycled.
Even at other times of year, only a little under a quarter of the UK's plastic waste is recycled, but over the festive period still less escapes the tip according to a survey by home drinks maker SodaStream. Globally, recycling of plastics is even smaller.
The outcome is a belief that the Earth is being slowly strangled by a gaudy coat of impermeable plastic waste that collects in great floating islands in the world's oceans; clogs up canals and rivers; and is swallowed by animals, birds and sea creatures.
In many parts of the developing world it acts as a near ubiquitous outdoor decoration, along roads in India, around villages in Africa and fluttering off fences across Latin America. And when it is not piling up, it is often burned in the open, releasing noxious smoke.
There are no global figures on the true scale of the problem but, according toPlasticsEurope, the European trade association for plastics manufacturers, 265m tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year. In the UK, about two thirds of this is for packaging; globally, this would translate to 170m tonnes of plastic largely created to be disposed of after one use.
Even at the almost unmatched EU recycling rate of 33%, two thirds of that – or more than 113m tonnes – would end up in landfill, being burned or cluttering up the environment. Such a figure, almost certainly a huge underestimate, would be enough to cover the 48 contiguous states of the US in plastic food wrapping. If the world recycled packaging at the rate the US does, 15%, it would generate more than enough plastic to cover China in plastic wrap. Every year.
A few years ago the UK was seized with worry about plastic bags: communities went "plastic-bag free" and the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced he would talk to retailers about phasing them out. In the absence of much change, his successor, David Cameron, recently re-raised the idea of a national levy. In response, the plastics industry argues that the alternatives would be even more wasteful in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
What would a world without plastic look like? Earlier this year, Austria-based environmental consultancy Denkstatt imagined such a world, where farmers, retailers and consumers use wood, tins, glass bottles and jars, and cardboard to cover their goods. It found the mass of packaging would increase by 3.6 times, it would take more than double the energy to make and the greenhouse gases generated would be 2.7 times higher.
To understand this, consider the properties of plastic that make it so attractive: it is durable, flexible, it does not shatter, it can breathe (or not) and it is extremely lightweight. As a result, food and drink are protected from damage and kept for lengths of time previously unimaginable.
The European Packaging and Films Association (Pafa) says average spoilage of food between harvest and table is 3% in the developed world, compared with 50% in developing countries, where plastic pallets, crates, trays, film and bags are not so widespread. Once the food reaches people's homes, its lifespan is also increased – for a shrinkwrapped cucumber, from two to 14 days.
A less obvious benefit is that, by being much lighter than alternatives, plastic packaging greatly reduces the fuel needed for transport. Because of the huge carbon content of our diets, it is estimated that for every tonne of carbon produced by making plastic, five tonnes is saved, says Barry Turner from Pafa.
A more surprising point is made by Friends of the Earth's waste campaigner Julian Kirby, who points out that because it is inert in landfill, plastic waste buried in the ground is a counterintuitive way of "sequestering" carbon and so avoiding it adding to global warming and climate change.
This focus on carbon and climate change, however, ignores the very reasons plastic bags and plastic packaging generally first gripped the public imagination – namely that it is such a highly visible result of our throwaway society.
Wales, Ireland and other countries have opted to levy a tax on plastic bags to deter their use but making deeper cuts to plastic waste will need other options too.
Many "ethical" products – from sandwiches to nappy bags – have switched to biodegradable plastics, made either from natural products such as cornstarch or by using an additive that helps break down the plastic. However, Turner suggests this will remain a niche, because the process is expensive and – in his words – is "destroying" a resource that could be recycled.
Recycling plastic is particularly hard because there are so many types and because it is difficult to remove contamination. Increasing recycling is, though, one of the two areas focused on by the plastics industry. It estimates that if every council in the UK operated at the rates achieved by the best local authority for each type of plastic – PET bottles, cartons, trays, bags and so on – the country could raise total plastic recycling from 23% to 45%. "On-the-go" recycling – currently almost nonexistent – also needs to be dramatically improved, said Turner.
To meet its self-imposed target of zero plastic waste to landfill by 2020, however, the industry is largely looking to incineration, which is highly controversial with environment groups and communities, who worry about how waste ash is disposed ofand breathing in emissions from the plants – despite assurances from the Health Protection Agency that modern plants are not damaging to health.
Greenhouse gas emissions from such plants are also high: equivalent to 540g of carbon dioxide (CO²e) per kilowatt hourmore than gas power and more than 100 times that for nuclear.
Instead, environment campaigners want more attention paid to the "waste hierarchy" – reduce, reuse, recycle. To drive this change, the government this month proposed increasing all recycling targets, raising plastics to 50%.
If enforced, that should encourage innovations, such as more food recycling (which research suggests reduces over-purchasing and so the need for packaging), and the recent development of a new dye for black plastic bags which, unlike the traditional compound, can be detected by the automatic sorting machines.
Globally, 47 industry groups have united to fund research to stop plastic getting into the seas. On land, countries could adopt a system used in several European nations where manufacturers are responsible for recovering a percentage of the plastic they make. "The idea of producer responsibility is one that people are most agreed on, but no one's sure how," said Kirby.

woensdag 4 januari 2012

Eco Village

In the small magazine from India Motherland, I read an article about a village called Mawlynnong. This village is known to be 'the cleanest village in Asia'. That sounds eutopia! But it's clear that all inhabitants add to make it happen. They seem to live like an extended family anyway, how special is that! Tourist taxes are used to pay village cleaners, schools pay so much attention to the importance of ecology that all children also find it normal to keep their village clean and every grassroot initiative is welcomed by the local government. And the village is built among the huge trees with even using those trees:
"Working with nature and building with the smallest possible footprint has a history in Mawlynnong, something that you can see in the living-root bridge that is the oldest man-made structure in the area."

dinsdag 3 januari 2012

Aran Islands III

And then the knitting and other textile crafts. Synge observes in 1903 'The simplicity and unity of the woman's dress increases in another way the local air of beauty. The women wear red petticoats and jackets of the island wool stained with madder, to which they usually add a plaid shawl twisted round their chests and tied at the back.........The men wear three colours: the natural wool, indigo, and a grey flannel that is woven of alternate threads of indigo and the natural wool. Many of the younger men have adopted the usual fisherman's jersey, but I have only seen one adopted on Inishmaan.'
The so-called Aran knitting, usually in an off-white wool, emerged around the nineteen twenties. Knitting was mainly done for family purposes, but with some of the fishermen now going around the British isles, seeing other jerseys, and the first tourists appearing on the islands, women started to knit and sell. They became very creative in creating new types of stitches- such as diamonds, zigzags- and designing patterns.
Today the tradition is still alive. Although many of the jerseys seen in shops are machine made. It's easy to distinguish whether it's hand- or machine made. An Aran pattern is centered and similar towards both ends of the front and back. If the vertical cable pattern is mirrored seen from the centre, it's handmade. If the cables are turning in the same direction, it's machine made.
It was hard to learn, but once I managed to do it, my skills improved quickly. It's very time consuming, but also here: making takes time and that teaches us to value it!
(further reading: The Aran Sweater by Deidre McQuillan)