Seller spotlight: WEFTshop

We were excited to recently have the opportunity to speak with Emma Kate Wallace, co-founder of WEFTshop. Standing for Women, Education, Freedom and Textiles, WEFTshop is a Non-profit organisation supporting refugee women from Myanmar (Burma) living on the border of Thailand by developing their skills as textile artisans.

You first visited the Thai-Burma border in 1996. Did you have any idea then that you would return a few years down the line to help found WEFTshop? 

Not really, but I do have very strong memories of being in a remote village on the border and knowing that there was only a couple of metres of river between me, Burma and the fighting

There must be a strong sense of community surrounding WEFTshop. Do you feel that the support network spreads beyond that of a place of employment?

Absolutely, WEFTshop was inspired by the refugee artisans and their commitment to community and culture. It was their generosity that set the wheels of generosity turning which in turn created WEFTshop. I like to think of WEFTshop as a global community; women in Australia connecting with women on the Thai-Burma border. These relationships of generosity, whether its the artisans, volunteers, supporters or customers, live in the very heart of WEFTshop.

How significant is preserving the traditional skills and textiles for yourself and the local women?

Personally I am passionate about skills preservation and this speaks even in my other life as a theatrical tailor, old skills being preserved, used and kept alive… not just something for a museum. Each of our key artisans is passionate about learning and using their traditional skills as a way of expressing their culture and earning a fair wage. They also very naturally love being able to pass these traditional skills on to other women from their community whilst also offering them the opportunity to use their skills to generate income.  

WEFTshop has a focus on education and learning. Do you find there is a crossover between the textile skills that you teach and that of what you learn?

As I am sure is the case with most teachers you learn more than you teach… just being in this environment on the Thai-Burma border where things get done in a very different way and often more slowly to the West which requires patience and surrendering to life’s rhythm as one must do the process of making things. There is a deep appreciation of life one gets when you sit down with women to make things and out of this making comes the frustrations, the solving, the stories: sad and joyful and the beauty. To me each design is a celebration of each artisans ability to overcome their difficult circumstances and to shed a little bit of light and beauty into the world. What could be more inspiring?

In the years since WEFTshop’s establishment have the attitudes and mentalities of the women changed? What has it been like to be a part of such a positive development?

It has been such a gift to share in this journey with our artisans and to be part of it. To see some of them become empowered businesswomen and I mean this in the positive sense that they have had an opportunity to see parts of themselves grow and applying it. To see the joy and happiness it brings them to be able to give other women the opportunity to learn and grow too. To see them become such natural teachers has been such a joy. To hear their dreams about their future and their ability to make a difference amongst their communities and in the world has been game changing…

The products and textiles made by the women at WEFTshop are beautifully handcrafted and skilfully designed. What possibilities lie ahead for textiles from WEFTshop?

WEFTshop was born and grown organically responding to the women’s request for support. So in that way we are open to what comes our way and always interested in mutually beneficial collaborations. We are interested in collaborating with designers more. We are also interested in promoting our 2014 Textile tour, in which the refugee artisans teach us what they know traditionally about natural dyeing, weaving, metal beadwork, appliqué, patchwork, cooking, dancing and storytelling.

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