International Textiles

Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to travel, so to speak, through textiles! A new friend who was a missionary in both Papua New Guinea and the tiny island nation of Yap shared some beautiful pieces she brought back with her. 

First up, the bilum bag.

These bags from Papua New Guinea are very similar to crochet, but they are made of yarn or fiber that is untwisted and re-twisted by hand, and knotted into a mesh fabric using a tool made from an umbrella spoke. They can range in size from large enough to carry a toddler in to small enough for a little project or some produce. The larger bags are carried hung from one's forehead, or hung around one's neck to carry in front, leaving the hands free in both cases. 

Traditional Bilum Bag

The one my friend gave me was made from twisted grass fibers, and dyed in the center with yellow to create a beautiful stripe. (You all know how I feel about yellow!). The style of this bag is more openwork, while some bilum bags are much more tightly knotted from colorful acrylic yarn to create a dense fabric. You can see more examples of bilum bags here, here, and here. The best part? Australia has funded a project to help women in Papua New Guinea increase their income through their bilum bags. You can read more about this project here

Next, the lavalava skirt.

These skirts, made in the tiny Micronesian nation of Yap, are tightly woven from handmade looms using very thin fibers akin to single embroidery threads. The fabric is very dense and sturdy, but with plenty of drape. Worn like a sarong, they are wrapped around the hips and tucked in at the side, allowing the fringe to drape down in the front.

Traditional Lavalava Skirt
Traditional Lavalava Skirt
Traditional Lavalava Skirt

There's even a sort of ritual or routine to fold these skirts properly - it was fun to learn how. The colorwork and intricacy of these skirts is just incredible, and they are woven completely by hand! The looms used to weave these skirts are similar to belt looms, and they are usually made from found objects. The most interesting loom my friend saw was one crafted from the parts of a plane that crashed during World War II. You can read more about lavalava skirts here and here

I'm really happy to own textiles made on the other side of the world, and be able to enjoy their beauty and intricacy in my own home. It's incredible to me how various cultures create cloth, and what they make with the cloth they've woven. Even the colorwork - it's so special. I hope you enjoyed this little international journey through textiles with me! 

A Kind Legacy: How I Inherited a Bounty of Unspun Fiber

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to take an introductory weaving class at Harrisville Designs - taught by the amazing Tom Jipson. I learned how to warp and weave several patterns on a little 22" floor loom, and it was one of the best fiber experiences of my life. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. You can see a bit of my process over on my Instagram @melodyfulonefiberartist, and Harrisville even shared my work on their own Instagram @harrisvilledesigns

weaving class with tom jipson
weaving class with tom jipson

During this class, I received a call from a friend of a friend, whom I had met at the IF Gathering this spring and again at a Bible conference later in the summer. She told me a patient of hers was looking to donate fiber, both unspun and spun, to someone who would use it. This patient had just had her husband pass away, and he was apparently a big deal in the textile world. Not an artist exactly, but a textile quality control guru. He had many accomplishments and involvements connected with his name, and when he passed away, he left behind boxes and boxes of fiber. She wanted them to go to someone who would use them. I had just learned how to spin on a simple drop spindle, and I'm always looking to expand my collection of high-quality materials, so I called her and we set up a meeting. 

fiber materials

That Saturday, I drove down to Rhode Island and to her beautiful house by the river. She was the sweetest lady, with shiny bangles and a kind face. I went through boxes and boxes of this amazing stuff, and filled a few boxes and bags of my own. My apartment won't allow for much expansion in my materials collection, but I couldn't bear to take less than four boxes. (Four... kind of big boxes). 

fiber materials

How wonderful is this? My plan is to spin most if not all of the fiber into yarn that I will then use in my weavings and textiles. (Granted, cashmere fiber is notoriously difficult to spin because it has almost no staple, but we'll get past that little roadblock.)  I also hope to use the actual yarn for projects too. This is incredibly beautiful stuff that I'm privileged to use in my work. People are kind and thoughtful, and I've made another friend in the fiber arts world that I'll be sharing my work with. Stay tuned!

cashmere fiber
spinning fiber