Every story has a beginning. A place where, when you unravel all that is woven and tangled, you find the start of the thread.
This is the start of the thread, the start of this story. A tale of people I met in Cambodia in early 2008, good and honest and beautiful and humble and hardworking and creative people, whose lives and livelihoods wove in and out of the six years of days I lived in Cambodia.
This is a narrative written on pages of fabric, raw and natural and authentic fabric, that ignited in me a creative response that would both spark and glow, scald and burn in my Cambodia years. This is the fabric we use in much of our WEAVE+WONDER creating, making that flows from our tactile response to its natural beauty.
And so the thread starts…
My feet were bare on the worn smooth timber floorboards, shoes left at the door as is Cambodia’s custom, keeping outside’s dirt outside. The light stayed outside too, the small barred windows only dimly illuminating this house of dark timber walls and floors. But what I could see was shelves filling one wall of this house stacked high with rolls and folds of fabric. Beautifully imperfect handwoven cotton textures. Muted botanical colours. Loose wefts escaped from their warps. Colours over and under making stripes and checks.
In this land of bright patterns and vibrant colours, polyester and cheap brand knock-offs, the treasures held by this little house sitting quietly unannounced on a dusty Phnom Penh street made my creative heart sing. And to meet and connect with people whose days were filled with the rhythmic labour of dyeing and weaving, creating fabrics using nature’s colour-pot and time-old weaving techniques on timber looms smoothed by years of busy hands, was a gift.
This is a small community built on big ideas. It is the passion-hope of a beautiful family from South Korea, who wanted to work alongside Cambodians to empower and teach, equip and nurture. When they arrived in Cambodia they weren’t sure what this would look like, and took time slow to consider the needs of the people and the sustainability of options. This couple, a pilot and a teacher/artist, connected with weaving communities in rural Cambodia and became determined to help preserve and stimulate traditional weaving skills which were in danger of being lost by mass production, low wages, and a younger generation moving to the city to seek secure employment.
When a dear friend introduced me to them in 2008, this couple had gathered around them in the city a small community of people learning together the technicalities of weaving, the art of natural dyeing, and the realities of establishing a sustainable business model. They lived together, worked together, grew together, struggled together. They worked with families from rural weaving villages, supplying them with the long skeins of cotton dyed in pots of boil-colour, visiting them regularly to mentor and monitor, and returning months later to purchase the rolls of fabric.
It was this fabric, these rolls of fabric, that sparked my creativity. But it was the people, the beautiful Cambodians and their Korean mentors, who softly spoke to my heart.
To know those who toil and labour to make and create is a gift of authenticity.
Handmade is stamped with integrity and purpose when you know the reasons undergirding the making.
These were important lessons I tucked away and held close in the coming chapters of this story.
[ Grateful thanks to Melissa for inviting me to be part of WEAVE+WONDER, and encouraging me to share this story. There will be more threads to follow on another day when the remembering comes quietly… ]