Archive for the ‘Annual celebrations’ Category

The “unstitched garment:” Indian saris, African headwraps, & Islamic headwear

Monday, June 1st, 2015

As mentioned in two recent posts, this year’s Folk Craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival will feature textile traditions. You will have the opportunity to watch artisans demonstrate techniques such as lap and loom weaving, quilting, lace making, basket making, and rug hooking. In addition, there will be a tent dedicated to the textiles and techniques used in creating what is known as the “unstitched garment,” e.g.,  South Asian saris, African headwraps and fashion, and Islamic hijab and abaya.

Woman riding a bicyle wearing a sari. Photo from Saris: Tradition and Beyond by 	Rta Kapur Chishti

South Asian saris
Lakshmi Narayan, Auburndale, MA

For over 1,000 years, women throughout the Indian subcontinent have worn the sari. Conceived on the loom as a 3-dimensional garment, the sari is made from a single piece of unstitched fabric 5 to 12 yards in length, that is wrapped and pleated, pulled and tucked around the body.

Lakshmi Narayan knows the sari both as cultural insider and researcher. Born in South India, she immigrated to Massachusetts with her family in 2000. When possible, she travels to India to work with people involved with Indian handicrafts and handlooms.

Lakshmi notes that there are over 100 different traditional styles of wearing the sari in India. “You could tell from the way the lady drapes her sari, which community she belongs to.” Once common for everyday wear, the sari now survives as special occasion wear, especially here in the United States. “Women now go to the tailor to have pleats stitched and pinned up. We are losing the ability to wrap the sari, something that was traditionally passed on.”

How comfortable do you feel in a sari? Lakshmi is often asked this. “I can bike miles in one, my aunt played tennis in a white sari with the British memsabs, and today it is worn with pride in corporate India to board meetings.”

Headwraps and clothing by Roseline Accam Adwadjie

African textiles, headwraps, & fashion
Roseline Accam Adwadjie, Worcester, MA

In many cultures around the world, clothing and head adornment are made by wrapping textiles around the body. Roseline Accam Adwadjie, who grew up in Liberia, says, “Africans, we wrap, but not all of our clothes are wraps. African women love dressing, they love colors. They are very elaborate in dressing.”

Roseline runs Chic D’Afrique, a store in Worcester specializing in imported African textiles. “Fabrics come in different grades,” she explains. “The highest quality of waxed cotton has a supple sheen – almost like fine leather.” She also carries plain brocades and Dutch wax prints known as Hollandaise. The latter are stiff from sizing, a combination of wax and starch. “In Africa,” Roseline explains, “after dying the cloth, they put sizing on it and beat it with sticks. They sing as they beat the sizing into the cloth – both as a way of keeping rhythm and avoiding boredom.”

African headwraps can be truly sculptural in form. Their voluminous style enhances the face, like a crown worn by a queen. Roselines more fanciful headwraps are wrapped, pinned, and sewn, thereby holding their shape. A single headwrap provides multiple looks, depending on how it is positioned. The variety is a form of improvisation, a concept fundamental to African and African American performance.

Qamaroa A,ati; Wadud in Islamic hijab and abaya

Islamic headwear & fashion:
Qamaria Amatul-Wadud, Springfield, MA

Qamaria Amatul-Wadud designs and sews clothing for Islamic women who choose to dress modestly. She is skilled in making both the hijab (headwear) and the abaya (outfit). Her creations are primarily for herself, but also for friends and family. In her Muslim community there are many women who sew for themselves, because modest, fashionable clothing is often hard to find commercially.

The Islamic hijab can be square or rectangular, and fastened with a safety pin under the chin and worn with a decorative hijab pin or headband on top. Qamaria adds her own twist to a traditional craft. She considers her style comfortable, yet elegant and modest, pointing out that her designs adhere to religious customs.

Qamaria grew up the youngest girl in a family of 10 children. She started sewing her own clothes when she was 14, following in the footsteps of her mother and older sisters. She makes outfits for every-day, party, and wedding wear, including headscarves, tops, and pants. She never makes an outfit the same way twice, preferring to “switch it up a little.” Now she is passing on the tradition of handmade clothing by teaching her young niece to sew.

 

 

Cranberry Rug Hookers’ Guild coming to Lowell Folk Festival

Thursday, May 21st, 2015
Hooked rug by Susan Sharpe

Hooked rug in the primitive style by Susan Sharpe of Mashpee

Rug hooking fits into the “waste not, want not” mentality. Using recycled wool from clothing and remnants from textile mills, rug hooking was once common in households along the eastern seaboard in New England and Atlantic Canada. The technique is still used to create colorful floor rugs, table mats, pillows, and wall hangings.

In late March, Millie Rahn and I drove out to S. Dennis to attend a meeting of the Cranberry Rug Hookers’ Guild. The guild, which is a chapter of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists (ATHA), meets at bi-monthly “hook-ins” to work on individual rugs, learn from each other, and socialize.

When we arrived, guild president Kathy Blake-Parker welcomed us and invited to partake of the snacks in the kitchen – fresh fruit and vegetables, dip, baked goods, coffee and tea.  A group of about 25 women were busy working on their individual rugs or mats.

Cranberry Rug Hookers hooking

Cranberry Rug Hookers hooking

Some members were working on projects other than rug hooking, including knitting, felt applique, and punch cut embroidery.

Example of felting

Penny rug made for mat swap by Lucy Labor.

Rug hookers work on a small frame, using a hook to pull strips of cut wool or other fiber through a loose weave, such as burlap.

rug hooking frame Rug hooking detail

Jacquelin Lee using hook

“It’s like coloring with wool,” says Kathy Blake Parker.

Unfinished hooked rug by Kathy Blake-Parker

“Moby” an unfinished hooked rug by Kathy Blake-Parker of West Harwich

About mid-way through the afternoon, the group did a show and tell. Each guild member held up what she was working on while one of their members took photos. Once this was done, they did what they called a “mat swap” – a version of the White Elephant game people play during Christmas time. Five women sat in a circle holding the mat (approximately 8 x 8 inches square) she had made specifically for the swap. Reading the text of Goodnight Moon, each would pass on the mat upon hearing a previously selected word. When the poem ended, each woman took home the mat she was holding.

After the rug hooking swap

Members holding up their rug swap results

We went around looking at each woman’s work, engaging some in conversation. Throughout the afternoon, members socialized, worked on their rugs, ate snacks, exchanged advice, and seemed to enjoy themselves. The variety of work was impressive. Some women use commercially produced patterns while others create patterns of their own design. Most everyone re-dyes their wool.

Rug hooking by Sylvia Doiron

“School Houses” a hooked rug by Sylvia Doiron of Barnstable.

In addition to the pleasure had in creating something of beauty, guild members commented on how comforting rug hooking can be during life’s changes, like a daughter going off to college. Guild member Mary Rita Labor, who has been hooking rugs for 15 years, shared this with us, ” I became a rug hooker after my three children, the last child went off to college. I was a little lonely, a little lost. I did have that emptiness syndrome, no question about it. And I took an adult education class and really fell in love with rug hooking. It’s been very relaxing, it’s been a good friend to me. Brought a lot of good people to my life. And was very comforting when I lost my mother. It comes in handy in more ways than one.”

The guild displays their work at the Barnstable County Fair every summer and also produces the Biennial Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild show in mid-May. Two members of the guild will be demonstrating in the Folk Craft area of this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival.  Come meet them.

Rug hooking by Jackie Lee

“Plaid Nation” rug hooked by Jacqueline Lee

Hand Crafting Textiles in the 21st Century

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

folk craft banner

It’s that time of year when we are busy selecting craft demonstrators for the Lowell Folk Festival. Our theme is textile traditions and for the past several months I’ve been traveling to meet with people who are passionate about hand crafting textiles out of wool, cotton, and linen.

In Colonial New England, prior to the availability of manufactured goods, women were primarily responsible for the production of household textiles. Cloth was woven out of homespun cotton, wool, and flax; quilts were pieced together from worn out clothing and feed sacks. Women sewed the family’s clothing, hooked rugs, and knitted sweaters and mittens.

Mile of Mills by Sally Palmer Field

Of course, the late 19th century Industrial Revolution changed all this. As pictured above in Sally Palmer Field’s Mile of Mills wall hanging, Lowell is the birthplace of the American textile industry. Once fabrics were manufactured locally, they became more affordable. Today, the majority of textiles we use are commercially manufactured halfway round the world. Buying hand-crafted textiles has become something of a luxury. What began as basic survival skills — weaving, knitting, quilting,  and rug making — has evolved largely into expressions of creative artistry. The craft artisan’s purpose/market has changed too – from domestic necessity to supplying craft fairs and galleries, and engaging tourists at living history museums.

Linda Lane working on bobbin lace

This is especially true when it comes to the time-consuming, exacting production of bobbin lace. As Linda Lane, a master lace maker points out, “It can’t really be done on a commercial basis because one square inch of lace takes approximately an hour. Due to its complexity and the fineness of the lace, that can be days. So immediately, you price yourself out of a demand market.”

Linda pointing out a join

Linda Lane

An accomplished weaver and spinner, Linda Lane learned to make lace by watching another lace maker for a number of years. Then, with the aid of a few formal lessons and some very good instructional books, she taught herself. Decades later, Linda is a treasure trove of lace making history, patterns, and techniques. A retired nurse, Linda is currently the resident lace maker at the Hooper-Hathaway House in Salem, Massachusetts and a member of the New England Lace Group.

Hooper Hathaway House, Salem, MA

Linda working on bobbin lace

Linda weaves using 20 to 40 English bobbins, plaiting and working the lace-making fibers, which can go from 36 twos to 200 twos.  (Two is the ply – the higher the first figure, the finer the thread.) To make bobbin lace, one must have tremendous patience and keen eyesight. Just look at this example of lace in the making — its pattern comes from the edging found around a handkerchief once belonging to Christian the 4th, King of Denmark, circa 1644.

lace in the making

Notice the size of the metal pins in comparison to the lace to get a sense of scale. The pattern is called a pricking. “This is my sheet music . . . it tells me where to go, but not how to get there. The “how” to get there is up here,” Linda says, pointing to her head.  “In lace, there is a whole world of technique in just getting around a corner.”

Detail of a lace corner

Although lace, being woven, is technically a textile, it is more truly an embellishment. Indeed, lacere, the Latin root of the word lace, is to entice or delight. Bobbin lace, the type that Linda Lane excels at, dates back to the 1450s. “Throughout history,” Linda explains, “lace follows the dictates of  fashion very closely. It goes up and down. Only the well-to-do could afford it – royalty, the aristocracy, and the church.”

And what of lace, today, I ask. Linda responds,“It’s only purpose to exist is to be pure decadence, as it [was] in years past. It’s a socio-economic statement.”

Linda Lane will be demonstrating bobbin lace making at this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival, July 25-26, 2015.

 

This is soooo Boston

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Confetti on snow

Between the New England Patriot’s victory parade down Boylston Street and the over 40 inches of snow Boston has received in  just one week’s time, this image says it all.

Okay, I’m not exactly a football fan and, to be honest, I have no comprehension of the game. On the big day, I didn’t watch the Superbowl — ( I’m more of a Downton Abbey fan). The only way I knew the Patriots had won was being awakened by the distant sound of fireworks going off late Sunday evening.

That said, I am surrounded by knowledgeable and fervent fans. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement and hometown pride over the Patriot’s victory. And even a sports dummy like myself knew key players ridomg by on Boston’s duck boats.

Malcolm Butler and fans

Fans cheering on Malcolm Butler. His interception is a big part of why we are all here today.

Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft holding the Super Bowl trophy

Coach Bill Belichick on the far right.

Flag atop Hancock building copy

Even the buildings are proud!

 

Recycling festival T-shirts to make paper!

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

 Drew Matott with portable Hollander Beater  

Drew Matott had an “aha” moment when he first realized paper could be made from old clothes. He and Margaret Mahan have gone on to bring the transformative experience of hand paper making to people all over the world. In order to pulverize rag into pulp, they use a machine designed and built by papermaking engineer Lee McDonald of Boston. Not only is it portable, it is bicycle powered. Pulling sheets of paper is a fun and messy business. To form a piece of paper, a screen is dipped and submerged in a vat of pulp and pulled through the fibrous water. A thick wet sheet of paper forms as the water drains away. Sheets are stacked, pressed, and hung up to dry.  

In addition to hand paper making and bookbinding, Drew and Margaret founded the Peace Paper Project in 2011. Through paper making workshops, survivors of war and terrorism have been guided to pulp the clothing they associate with their traumatic experience, including military uniforms. The clothing is cut up, beat, and formed into sheets of paper. Working with certified art therapists, participants use the paper to begin the process of adjusting and recovering from their experiences.

At a recent Lowell Folk Festival planning meeting, Millie Rahn and I brought up Drew and Margaret’s request for textiles that could be recycled for making paper at the festival. We talked about approaching a local textile mill but Pat Bowe (of The Lowell Festival Foundation) had the brilliant idea to recycle surplus festival T-shirts from festivals past. Last week, Pat mailed them bundles of brightly colored cotton T-shirts.

Margie Mahan pulping T shirts

Drew wrote to us saying, “We received the t-shirts! We love all the colors! I think it is the perfect amount- Margie and I cut them all up and started processing them into pulp. Over the next three days we will make 12lbs of it into paper to hand out to participants. We will pulp the remainder for use with the bike operated beater and sheet forming during the festival.”

Drew Matott working with beater

Come by to meet paper makers Drew Matott and Margaret Mahan this weekend at the Lowell Folk Festival. You’ll never look at old clothing the same way again.

Mexican Piñatas by Angelica Ortiz

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Pinata by Angelica Ortiz

Perhaps you’ve tried breaking open a piñata at a birthday party, but did you know that this paper mache object has roots in religion? The Spanish brought the tradition of piñatas to Mexico, to help transmit Catholicism.

Angelica Ortiz grew up in Mexico City.  She remembers watching her uncles make piñatas each December. During the nine evenings of Advent, people gathered in the street holding candles to walk and sing songs of Las Posadas. Each night, a different family hosted a party, ending with the breaking of a piñata. 

Breaking pinata in Mexico City Supplies for making clay pot pinata

Piñata is originally an Italian word meaning clay pot. Traditional piñatas in Mexico are still made with a clay pot interior, rather than a balloon. The piñata is covered in shiny paper and fitted with a seven-peaked star, symbolizing the seven deadly sins. “The idea,” Angelica explains, “was to break it. Or hit is as hard as possible so evil and the bad sins will be gone. In Mexico, they filled them with fruit and nuts, not candy.”

When it’s time to try to break the piñata at children’s parties, Angela sings the song traditionally sung in Mexico. “It’s very important,” she says, laughing. “The lyrics indicate 1-2-3 chances at striking the piñata; once the singing stops, your turn is over.”

Come see Angelica making piñatas in the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival on July 26 and 27, 2014

Owl pinata by Angelica Ortiz

The art of Polish paper cut design

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

wycinanki by Susan Urban

Susan Urban practices the Polish art of wycinanki (paper cut design). She also makes cut paper dolls wearing costumes from different regions of Poland. Generations of West Springfield school children have benefited from having her as their art teacher.

Wycinanki are believed to have originated with Polish peasants. Farm women hung sheep skins over the window openings of their farmhouses as a way of keeping out the elements. In order to let in light and air, they used sheep shears to snip small openings in the skins. Like many folk arts, the practice was both functional and decorative. At some point, Polish women transferred their designs to paper.

 Wycinanki of rooster by Susan Urban

In Poland, wycinanki vary by region. The women of Kurpie are famous for their paper cut-outs of animals, geometric designs, and flowers. These symmetrical designs are cut from a single piece of colored paper, folded once. Another style comes from the area of Lowicz and is distinguished by many layers of multi-colored paper. The native Polish rooster, which is black and noted for its strange-shaped tail feathers, is a popular subject for paper cutting. Some designs with repeated elements are made by folding the paper and cutting through as many as eight layers at a time.

 Wycinanki by Susan Urban

 Susan Urban will be demonstrating the art of Polish papercut design in the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival. 

black & white wycinanki by Susan Urban

Children’s paper Lore at the Lowell Folk Festival craft area

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Playing with a fortune teller

Children have traditional ways of playing with each other: telling knock-knock jokes; playing store, tag, or make-believe; posing riddles; playing pranks; and creating playthings out of what is at hand. Some of the most commonly made folk toys are made of paper: fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers), paper airplanes, spitballs shot through straws, and paper footballs scooted across the table just far enough to balance on the edge but not fall off.

But no one officially teaches this kind of thing in school. In fact, it’s what kids do when the teacher isn’t looking. Children have been learning this type of amusement from each other on school playgrounds for generations. What’s remarkable is that these pastimes show such continuity and stability of form through time. Yet, everyone seems to outgrow them.

Eleanor and Mary may be young teenagers, but they fondly remember the paper lore of their pre-adolescence. Fitting the Lowell Folk Festival craft area’s theme of paper, Eleanor and Mary are here to share their knowledge of making and playing with paper. Come watch them fold a fortune teller, candy wrapper chain, or tissue paper flower. Or try your hand at making one of your own. Share what paper lore games you remember playing as a child.

 

Watch Live webcast of National Heritage Fellows Concert

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

We are coming up on the last week of September, which means it’s time for the annual feting of our country’s National Heritage Fellows. This year’s fellows include former Massachusett’s resident and Irish fiddler extraordinaire, Seamus Connolly.

The National Council for Traditional Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts produce a spectacular evening performance September 27th at Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus. Fortunately, for those unable to attend the concert, the event will be live streamed at arts.gov,  with an archive available following the event. Viewers can share comments and photos on
Twitter using the hashtag #NEAHeritage. You may also request copies of
the concert program by emailing heritage@arts.gov.

Carving Traditions on Display

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Come to this summer’s Lowell Folk Festival next weekend and seek out the Folk Craft & Foodways area, which is located in Lucy Larcom Park, not far from Boarding House Park. Under the shade of big tents, you will discover 16 traditional artists who spend their days carving in a variety of media (wood, stone, clay, plaster, & fruit). Like ornamental woodcarver David Calvo . . .

stonecarver Jesse Marsolais . . .

and Chinese seal script carver Wen-hao Tien.

The majority of the carvers demonstrating their skills on Saturday and Sunday (July 27 – 28)  work with hand tools — gouges, chisels, knives, and rasps. One carves with the help of an electric powered lathe. You will see whimsical carvings revealing dazzling skill, religious figures to aid worship, ornamental elements to enhance architectural trim (and hide joints) and figurative carving depicting wildlife, logging traditions, and more.

As you visit the craft area, see if you can discern the place of origin for each of these carving traditions whose techniques and styles originated in Italy, Greece, Japan, French Canada, Puerto Rico, England, Cambodia, and China. Ask questions. What role does design and drawing play in producing carved art? How are these individual artists able to sustain their craft in today’s globalized, mass-produced marketplace?

 

 


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