Growing up in North America you learn quickly that the words slavery and cotton are synonymous.
From a young age we are taught that our people were carried on ships and forced to cultivate crops against their will. We are taught to be ashamed of the labor of our ancestors – and if your teacher or your family didn’t tell you about it, then the books, or the TV screen definitely did. The fact is that cotton is the backbone of one of the wealthiest nations today and remains a multi-billion dollar industry. What you are not taught is the process of weaving cotton is an ancient tradition in Africa, and one that has been celebrated and shared all over the world. As skilled producers, traders and navigators, our people were known to distribute to distant lands in the Eastern and Western world. By way of both the Aethiopic and Erythrean Sea, they became known as masters of the waters and masters of trade – selling textiles, minerals, salts, spices, grains, and incense. It is important to remove the attachments we have to the borders established by Colonizers and the names that we were taught, that way we can gain a comprehensive view of the past. Our people were glorified from all the ends of the world and were much closer to the “slaves” than you think.
The history of East Africa is filled with magical events,Godly wisdom and royal affairs
Working there I gained an in depth perspective of the culture and all the different components involved in the weaving process. The history of the people plays an incredible role in the creation of the product. It is also important to know that in modern day Ethiopia there are over 80 different cultures, all with their own tongue and way of life. In part with major religious and cultural influences, geographical and historical factors also impact the different styles of weaving. Some operate indigenously, while others are more modernized. With influences spanning from the northern regions to the south, I was able to see the wide range of styles of cloth. As a Tigrinya woman and coming from such a dynamic background, I realized that the process was more of a spiritual pursuit then just any act of creation. Handling the fibers and working on a handmade loom put me in touch with eons of ancestry. A tradition that gets handed down from Father to Son and Mother to Daughter- I had to humble myself and be thankful learning the process.
The cotton bears memories that ARE grown from the Earth and worked through our hands
After the cotton has been picked cleaned and carded, the process starts with women sitting down and spinning the fibers into threads on a hand wheel. Once the spools of thread are finished they are taken to the looms where they are woven. Extremely long threads are made to create the length of the fabric and then strapped into the loom. This is called the warp. A smaller spool is also created and put into a shuttle which is then thrown back and forth between the layers of the Warp to create the Weft. The intricate designs and patterns are done with colorful silks, all manually intertwined into the Weft and Warp.
These designs define nations - they identify cultures - they represent unity.
My first time on the loom was far from graceful! But overtime I became more familiar with the motions. Throwing the spool between the layers of the Warp to create the Weft requires an accurate hand and working with the pedals demands a certain rhythm. Watching these masters go full speed – spinning, weaving, embroidering is nothing short of inspiring!
Staying true to the culture and preserving the traditional form of weaving is a priority for Me. Giving life to the Maidambe collection is my way of taking control of the economic value in that tradition and using it to uplift and strengthen my nation. Embedding our history into each piece and ensuring that as a designer my work speaks for my community.
It's more than just fashion - It's more than just art - It is a connection to that which came before us and the energies that support our existence into every coming moment