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Weaving

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studios: A Year of Creativity

January 8, 2016

Inside the Artists' Studios | UncommonGoods

One of the most exciting things about serving as Editor of The Goods is that there’s always a Maker Story right around the corner. I am honored to get opportunities to meet talented artists, to see what they make and how they make it, and– when I’m extra lucky– to actually step inside their creative spaces. Over the past year, I had the pleasure of visiting several artists and seeing them in action, as did a few of our blog contributors, photographers, and buyers.  

From woodworking to weaving to jewelry making and beyond, we saw so much creativity last year that we couldn’t help but give our 2015 Studio Tours one more chance to shine before heading out with cameras and notepads to capture more inspirational moments in the year to come. Here are a few hand-picked highlights from those Studio Tours, complete with a few inspirational quotes, photos that made me want to drop everything and start a new creative project on the spot, and plenty of great advice. 

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Easy Weaving Without Jumping Through Hoops

September 29, 2015

Valerie

Product:  Easy Weaving Loom

Research:
I already know how to knit and crochet, so I’m ready for a new textile challenge. The Easy Weaving Loom caught my eye the minute I saw it in This Just In. After watching this video I was sure I was up for the challenge. It seems simple enough, and once I get the hang of it I can begin to explore different materials and textures. There are endless possibilities!

Capture

Hypothesis:
I completed my experiment in June, and I wanted to make something that would be useful right away. The product story claims that when using this item, “In no time you’ll have a professional looking woven masterpiece than can become a stylish scarf, or cellphone or sunglasses case.” A stylish scarf, while fun to make, would not have be seasonally appropriate. And while the projects that are possible are not limited to these three, I decided a sunglasses case was a good place to start. It’s basic and small enough to finish quickly, so I figured it was good practice and I’d be making something to accompany me to the beach in no time!

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Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Tricia Wright

August 7, 2015

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I visited Tricia Wright, maker of the Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug, and her beautiful home studio in the heart of San Francisco. From bright pop art, mod furniture, to quirky collections – the moment I walked in I knew that I was very much in a designer’s living space. (Times two because – fun fact -her husband is a designer as well!) While her adorable dog, Major, greeted me as I admired her succulent plant collection and charming outdoor deck, she explained how her home has been a work in progress over the past few years. But now, it’s finally at the stage where she’s comfortable with it being as is – giving her a lot more time to innovate and make “stuff.”

PicMonkey Collage

“Rugs weren’t always my craft. I bought a loom from Craigslist and actually just learned how to weave this year, ” Tricia laughed as she described to me how she “accidentally” got into weaving. A few months back – Tricia noticed she still had a pile of unused bike tubes leftover from an art sculpture she built. And being the sustainable artist that she is – she didn’t want to throw them out. “At the time – I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to make. But I knew something great could come from them.” When she finally came up with the idea of making rugs out of the bike tubes, she suggested that her friend who knew how to loom professionally take the tubes. But her friend – who obviously knew about Tricia’s incredible crafty talents and natural DIY finesse – convinced her that she should definitely learn on her own. When she saw the listing for the wooden loom on Craigslist – Tricia took it as a sign to stop debating, sign up for local weave classes, and just do it. Six months later, the Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug design was for sale at UncommonGoods.

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I was blown away by Tricia’s home and design space (I mean, who wouldn’t be impressed by a wall of beer bottle caps and an entire shelf collection of old-fashioned irons?), but I was even more inspired by her story. I left with a simple reminder: You can’t be perfect in everything, but you sure can try.

PicMonkey Collage

Get inside the head of Tricia Wright and see how San Francisco inspires her work, how she celebrates the little things, and why she associates herself with the Karate Kid.

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Maker Stories

My Hammock Supports Me (And a Lot of Other People)

April 3, 2015

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Some of my most blissful hours over the last couple of years have been spent lying in a hammock. This would be less surprising if I didn’t live in an old Brooklyn apartment building where the tenants are not allowed to use the back yard. Yes, I’m a little eccentric.

Do Good Hammock Maker Story | UncommonGoods

Green Dome Garden, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo by Wally Gobetz. Creative Commons License.

Like most people who work at UncommonGoods, I’m also more than a little obsessed with sustainability. One hot night a couple of summers ago, some friends and I were chatting in a neighborhood garden. I told them I’d been trying to think of ways to stay cool in the summer without using a lot of electricity.

fanI’d installed ceiling fans in my apartment, and now carried a handheld folding fan with me everywhere. “They’re underrated!” I stolidly affirmed.

 

Amir in Green Dome Garden

Plant and hammock enthusiast Amir Yarkoni, co-creator of the Green Dome Garden. Photo by Meredith Chesney. Used by permission.

“Hammocks!” declared Amir. “Hammocks are the best! The air can circulate around you and it keeps you cool!”

Yes! A hammock! I needed one immediately. Wanting eclipsed reasoning. I didn’t bother to wonder where I’d hang it in my apartment, with its flimsy, sheetrock walls.Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Hammock closeup

Photo courtesy Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

We sell hammocks at UG. I’d never looked at ours closely. Now I did. It looked perfect. What Amir had recommended was an open weave Mayan-style hammock (as opposed to Brazilian style, made of tightly-woven fabric).

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

“The indians sleep in a bed they call an ‘hamaca’ which looks like a piece of cloth with both an open and tight weave, like a net … made of cotton … about 2.5 or 3 yards long, with many henequen twine strings at either end which can be hung at any height. They are good beds, and clean … and since the weather is warm they require no covers at all … and they are portable so a child can carry it over the arm.” –Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, 1535, Wikipedia. Source: ibiblio.

Hammocks were (probably) invented by aboriginal people of the Caribbean and Central America. UncommonGoods’s Mayan-style hammocks are woven by aboriginal people as well–10,000 miles away, in Thailand.

In a small village in the north Thailand mountains, members of a dwindling, endangered tribe called the Mlabri learned how to make what are arguably the best hammocks in the world. Yet hammocks were never part of their culture. Making and selling them was a brilliant business move to preserve their tribe in the face of unwelcome changes to their traditional way of life.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri dance in their traditional clothing, loin cloths, 1959. Photo by Boonserm Satrabhaya. Northern Thai Information Center, Chiang Mai University Library.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri temporary shelter made of fresh leaves, 1959. Photo by Boonserm Satrabhaya. Northern Thai Information Center, Chiang Mai University Library.

Up until a few decades ago the Mlabri tribe lived a nomadic, Stone Age existence in the mountains of Thailand and Laos. Hunter-gatherers who believed farming brought bad luck, they ate roots, wild fruits, and small game. They mostly wore loin cloths. They had no written language. For shelter, they built tiny lean-to’s out of bamboo and banana leaves where they stayed for a week or so until the banana leaves yellowed and shriveled. By then, they would have exhausted the area’s food resources anyway. Their beliefs, as well as necessity, dictated that they move on at that point, and build another temporary shelter somewhere else.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

An abandoned Mlabri shelter, with the famous yellow leaves. Photo by Pat Mongkron. Used with permission

Because all that other people ever saw of them were the dead banana leaves on their little shacks, they called them “Phaw Tong Luang” (the spirits/ghosts of the yellow leaves). (The Mlabri, being real people, prefer not to be called “ghosts,” but they’re fine with the “yellow leaf” part.)

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri in destroyed forest area. Photo by Patrick Aventurier. Used with permission. (http://www.patrickaventurier.com/) Flickr

The tropical jungle where the Mlabri lived began to shrink dramatically during the 1970s. Intense guerilla combat in the area–spilled over from the Vietnam war–along with teak logging and agriculture, destroyed so much forest that the Mlabri eventually couldn’t survive the way they had for nearly a thousand years. Tigers and malaria had always been dangers; starvation was now added to the list. By the 1990s, there were only 300 Mlabri left.

Hmong farmers made them their slaves through a combination of manipulation and force. They schooled them in slash-and-burn agriculture and put them (including children) to work in dangerously pesticide-heavy fields, where they also often ate and slept. Drug traffickers used them; sex traffickers preyed on them; they were made to perform in demeaning faux primitive tourist shows. Not considered citizens by the Thai government because they had no birth certificates, they had no civil rights. Suicide, virtually unknown in the tribe before this, became another danger.

Mlabri women making traditional wild jute bags. They have an open, stretchable weave similar to that of Mayan hammocks. 

An American couple, Mary and Gene Long, moved to the area as missionaries in 1978. Horrified by the condition of the Mlabri people, the couple dedicated themselves to helping them. Gene had an “aha” moment after observing some of the women skillfully weaving net bags from wild jute: If these weaving whizzes learned how to make marketable hammocks, maybe they could earn a decent living.

“A Path to Prosperity, The Mlabri People and Yellow Leaf Hammocks” 

It worked–though not without causing conflict with the Hmong, who weren’t happy about losing their ultra-cheap laborers. Decades later, after learning not only how to make hammocks, but also some fundamental post-Stone Age things like “What is money?”, the Mlabri have largely liberated themselves from peonage. Hammock weaving provides a 650% increase over average hill tribe wages, enough to move families from subsistence living to the middle class.

Having gained strength and confidence through the improvements in their circumstances, the Mlabri successfully lobbied the Thai government for their civil rights, including citizenship, which bequeaths health and education benefits. Mlabri children can attend school for the first time in the tribe’s history.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Mlabri weavers in their village hammock making center. Photo courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

Hammock weaving turned out to be the perfect job for many of the Mlabri, because they can do it at home or in their village hammock center, at times convenient to them, without bosses. Mothers (the weavers are mostly, but not all, women) can work around their childcare schedules. It’s safe and sustainable, both environmentally and economically.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Photo courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

Each hammock is woven by hand on a simple loom. It can take up to 7 days, 150,000 loops and 3.5 miles of yarn to create one. Machines can’t take away these jobs because they can’t recreate the Mlabris’ meticulous craftsmanship and special weaves. The tribe has worked with textile engineers to develop weaving designs that improve on the basic Mayan type, and mold-impervious yarn that holds its brilliant colors without fading.

In 2010, a 26 year-old, hammock-loving American, Joe Demin, bought a Mlabri hammock while traveling in Thailand. So smitten was he by the heavenly hang of this hammock, that he took a 600-mile detour into the jungle to meet the tribe. Right then and there in the village, he decided to quit his job and devote himself to amping up sales so that more of the Mlabri could work without seasonal slowdowns (when they’d have to return to slash-and-burn farming). He convinced his girlfriend Rachel Connors to join him, and together they created a company to accomplish that.

To expand the market for the Mlabri hammocks, the duo has worked with organizations like the Unreasonable Institute and Kiva, and like UncommonGoods, is a B Corp.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Photo courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

Because Mlabri hammocks are gorgeous, sturdy, and indescribably comfortable, they appeal to people around the globe. Ever-increasing sales now support over 200 weavers.

Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

Note: We now sell a different color/pattern, not the one in this photo. Otherwise it’s identical, though.

As for me, Amir was right. On the most unbearably hot, humid summer days, I hang my hammock on my fire escape with a couple of big dollar store carabiners, prop up a cheap beach umbrella (freegan’d from a subway stop where someone had forgotten it) over my head, and bliss out with my tablet. My sweaty skin catches every cooling breeze. The hammock conforms to every part of my body, with no pressure points anywhere. It’s heaven.

Eddie in window

My cat Eddie likes to loaf alongside me in the windowsill.

Let others drive for hours to get to the beach or the country; I can’t wait for the weather to warm up enough that I can start up my blissfully comfortable, low-carbon, flip-proof hammock summer lifestyle again. I owe 150,000 thanks–one for each loop–to the skilled Mlabri weavers who make it possible.

Get the Do Good Hammock | UncommonGoods

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