Promoting traditional textile crafts across Dorset
Some excerpts from our July Newsletter:
AFGHAN ADVENTURE – A TALK BY AMANDA HANNAFORD AT THE GUILD’S JUNE MEETING
(Photographs are from the Qaria Cashmere Co-operative’s website)
I would be willing to bet a month’s salary (well- pension to be precise) that Afghanistan does not come top of the average Brit’s bucket list of “things to do, places to go and people to see” before they turn up their toes and head feet first out of the front door of their home to meet their maker. However, in her talk at the Guild’s June meeting Amanda Hannaford demonstrated dearly that she is not an average Brit.
In November 2014 she spotted a message to the National Association’s Secretary from an organisation called Qaria Cashmere asking for an experienced spinning tutor to teach women In Afghanistan how to spin cashmere. So she sent for further details and then asked what the security situation was like. The response was short and to the point – “we would not be asking people to go if it was not safe”. Amanda then held summit talks with her husband and they agreed that she should go and he would keep the home fires burning while she was away.
However, before she embarked on her adventure she needed to do some preparation and homework and shortly after Christmas she received three samples of the Cashmere with which she would be working. With these she worked out what was the best way to spin the fibres (longdraw). She also tried blending the colours and some dyeing to show her students what could be achieved. Having done all that as well as the usual planning and preparation you do when you go abroad she took off from Heathrow in the last week of February 2015 to begin her two week tour.
Although Amanda’s husband stayed at home she was not alone In travelling to Kabul. One of the directors of Qaria Cashmere accompanied her to Kabul and she was taken care of by another director while she was in Afghanistan. The weather when she arrived was cold, very cold and snow lay everywhere.
Qaria Cashmere was set up as a co-operative in 2014 by five partners to create a business whereby Afghan women hand-make cashmere woollen Items to sell abroad. The goatherds are guaranteed a fair price for their wool and once sold and delivered the raw cashmere is sorted and cleaned In huge machines Imported from Belgium. The women would then spin and create the items to sell. I got the impression it was like the “Fair Trade” organisation.
On the first day Amanda found that there were 17 women and two supervisors to teach – too many to deal with altogether so the group was split into two and she taught one group in the morning and one In the afternoon. Everyone met up at lunchtime. Tablecloths were spread out on the floor and a hot meal was served. Amanda said she loved the food which was of meat and vegetable stew with rice. The photograph we saw of that scene gave the impression of a really sociable gathering and the meal looked really good.
The women were not complete strangers to spinning, but they were used to spinning a hard weaving yarn for a carpet factory. Amanda’s job was to teach them to spin knitting yarn on a spinning wheel. She said that most of the women were illiterate but that in no way meant they were unintelligent (she did by the way have translators, one of whom was her car driver who spoke excellent English and became a class assistant).
During the first week Amanda taught the students using cotton fibres. She taught them to make the rolags and then to spin with them using the longdraw method. In the second week they transferred from cotton to cashmere and by the end of the second week the students were spinning fairly good yarn.
Fridays were Amanda’s day off and on these days she was taken to a number of shops. She was also taken to a dye plant and her photographs showed two massive vats for dyeing and a wheelbarrow piled as high as could be loaded with spun yarn ready for dyeing. It looked like a wheelbarrow piled with cooked spaghetti. Another photograph showed a shopkeeper beside his large and colourful fruit and vegetable stall and Amanda was astonished at the size of the cauliflowers- as big as footballs, she said. Fruit and vegetable stalls were everywhere.
Other places she visited were a carpet factory and a silk weavers’ shed and photographs showed a number of beautiful carpets and silk fabrics.
Towards the end of her stay Amanda’s car driver invited her to his family’s house for an evening meal, and to see a video of his brother’s recent weddlng; an occasion she thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. One of the photographs taken at this party showed an older kindly looking man, beard neatly trimmed, wearing a turban and a smart black tunic clearly made of silk.
Amanda brought with her several skeins of wool the women had spun and dyed in the sixteen months since her visit to Kabul and at the end of her talk we all had a look and felt them. They were beautifully spun, spongy with plenty of elasticity and the colours were wonderful-deep rich reds, blues, greens. The quality of those skeins spoke volumes for the skills of the women back In Kabul and also for the quality of Amanda’s teaching.
This talk was not only Informative from the point of view of someone interested In spinning and weaving. it also stopped me in my tracks in another unexpected way. When mention Is made In this country of Afghanistan we are normally shown film of soldiers in uniform on patrol, guns at the ready; of dusty, desert-like conditions as far as the eye can see. We also see soldiers returning home badly Injured or dead, carried in coffins out of a Hercules transporter plane. What Amanda’s talk revealed was that amidst the bombs, the bullets and bloodshed are thousands of ordinary Mr. and Mrs. Afghan and their families, who want to get on with their lives like ordinary people the world over and who have no wish whatever to become Involved with the violence that we are invariably shown when Afghanistan is talked about In this country.
In thanking Amanda for her excellent talk Karen Foot alluded to this when she asked Amanda to convey to those involved with Qaria cashmere the Guild’s hopes and very best wishes for the success of their company.
Qaria Cashmere have a web site If you are interested to know more: http://www.qariacashmere.com (Editor’s note: sadly, this seems not to have been updated since 2015)
Many members will already know about The Exchange, although the newer members may not. The Exchange is a Community and Arts venue in Sturminster Newton. The Guild held an Exhibition there a few years ago, in conjunction with a Wingham Wool weekend. Many local organisations meet there each week or month and it is also a great place to experience theatre and the arts. Check out their website: www.stur-exchange.co.uk
The Exchange is owned by a charity and has to be self-funding – no money is received from any government department or local authority. It is run by a very small and hardworking staff – A manager, two assistants and two job-sharing caretakers, helped by a team of volunteers. It costs around £300 a day to run The Exchange, so you will see there is a constant need to raise funds, which will supplement the income from the hire of various rooms and halls.
One of the events which we run each year to help raise funds is The Fabric and Haberdashery Exchange. A Sale of donated fabrics (large and small pieces); Knitting, sewing and weaving yarns; all sorts of haberdashery items and also fibres, books and equipment. If you are clearing out your surplus stash items (or know of anyone who is doing so) and would be prepared to donate some of these, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can arrange to meet you at a Guild meeting and take the items off your hands. Fabrics, yarns etc., that you no longer have a use for will usually find a home with another “crafty” person, in the process making room in your stash for more and incidentally helping raise funds for The Exchange.
The date of the Fabric and Haberdashery Exchange is Sunday 20th November and it runs from 12 noon to 3pm. There is plenty of free parking and it is likely that refreshments will be available (although I will need to check that point nearer the day – we have to get volunteers in to serve them)
For more than 10 years Riitta Sinkkonen-Davies has opened her home for a week in June to a small group of weavers who met originally on her weaving courses at Urchfont Manor. The membership has altered from time to time but Lynne Davenport and I have taken part in every course. Riitta is noted for her linen weaving and she delights in passing on her enthusiasm which is not limited to working in linen.
More often than not we were not sure what we wanted to do but Riitta has always guided us to achieve something we could be proud of. This year Lynne wanted to weave something that would use the smaller amounts of linen, of different colours, that she had accumulated. After much discussion with Riitta she settled on a cushion which had a “frame” of one colour with “windows” of different but blending colours. I, on the other hand, knew that I wanted to weave a length of woollen cloth to make a ruana. I hadn’t any suitable yarn but Riitta said that she would supply that. that. It was, however, white and I wanted the ruana to be in what I call “black opal” colours.
No problem. After working out (with a great deal of help from Riitta), a warp was made skeined, then dyed in the skein with a selection of colours. Each dye started as a basic colour but amended with a few drops of this and that until the desired shade was achieved. The skein was dyed in sections – each dipped in the dye pan until it had taken up all the colour then the new colour was created (in the same water!)and the next length of the skein was added to the pan. The process was repeated twice more. The weft length was calculated, skeined then dyed in a single colour.
The warp colours ,when put on the loom, mingled in an exciting way. I wanted to use some kind of undulating twill for the weave. Using her computer programme Riitta helped me choose a twill which is uniquely mine. Once the warp was put on the 8 shaft loom -with Riita’s help- I was ready and eager to start weaving.
There were 5 of us in the group and all received the same inspiration and help from Riitta.She has a knack of knowing just when her help is needed.
As if all this was not enough, we were made welcome in her home which has countless examples, both decorative and useful. Riitta’s husband Colin was in charge of our domestic welfare and produced superb meals and an almost endless supply of tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits.
It is no wonder that after these experiences I am looking forward to the October Guild meeting and workshop.Riitta will show us how to re-use many things to create a wide variety of items from mug mats, to place mats to rag rugs to articles of clothing. Even though I have tried some of these things I know that Riitta will come up with ideas and help for all, from beginners to Lynne Davenport!