Textiles at the End of the Road

A friend recently told me the story behind a pair of stellar mittens she wears this time of year. A few winters ago, she hiked down a road blocked by snow, climbed over a six foot fence, and threw hay to her friend’s horses. In gratitude, her friend, a Sami woman from Norway, knit her a pair of mittens. I want those mittens. Not my friend’s, but a pair just like them. I suppose I could knit myself some or I could buy a pair online. But wouldn’t it be better to go to Norway or Finland instead? Visit the Sami people, travel around with reindeer herds, gawk at the northern lights, and buy bunches of mittens?

Sami mittens from the Norsk Folkmusem in Oslo, Norway–another reason to visit!

It’s that time of year when all the travel experts are making their pronouncements about the best places to travel in 2018 and I suspect it’s given me the travel bug. What’s heartening about many of this year’s lists is that desirable features of a place include the availability of handcrafted textiles or the joy of people in traditional handmade clothing.

The Guardian  recently featured Laos on its list of must-see destinations for this year. Among the recommended activities is a visit to the weaving center Ock Pop Tock and the Textile Art Ethnology Center in Luang Praban to learn traditional weaving and dyeing.  I’d strongly recommend reading Maren Beck and Josh Hirschstein’s Silk Weavers of Hill Tribe Laos beforehand. It will give you a great sense of place, culture, and the textile traditions.

The rugged hills of Houaphan Province, Laos. Photo by Joe Coca.

I think about our authors as I read about where to travel because many live or work in  these dream destinations: Susan Shaefer Davis plotting trips to Morocco, Chip Morris, Eric Mindling and Sheri Brautigam padding about Mexico, Josh and Maren gearing up for their spring trip textile trip in Laos. And Deborah Chandler, wending her way through the markets of Guatemala.
Linda and I have recently returned from Peru where Linda meandered through highland communities visiting master spinners and weavers of the Center for Traditional Textiles. I traveled down to Lake Titicaca on the border with Bolivia and met up with the masterful knitters on Taquile Island.

87-year-old knitter on Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Our books typically feature traditional textiles of far-flung locales and the stories of their makers, so I’m glad to see that the travel experts are finally starting to catch up with us. Not everyone bases their travel plans on the textiles at their destination, but lots of us do, or want to (still dreaming about the Sami mittens). Where will you travel in 2018? What textile treasures will lure you to their place, to their people? Let us know–maybe we’ll join you there.


3 thoughts on “Textiles at the End of the Road

  1. Susan says:

    I’m curious: are the white ‘strings’ around the Peruvian weaver’s neck anchoring or adding to his weaving, or are they attached to earbuds? 🙂

    More seriously, I hope there will be a group I can host to visit Moroccan artisans this fall.

    • Karen Brock says:

      Susan, Peruvian knitters typically tension the yarn they’re working with around their necks, which is what this fellow is doing in the photo.
      Once folks read your books, they’ll come in droves to Morocco, I have no doubt!

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