Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crafting culture? Count me in.

It has become clear that the mathematics of traditional female crafts are hiding in plain sight. One need not look far, but if you want to look far, go ahead - you will still find the math.

A few weeks ago, I crossed paths with Dona Claudia Vega, a local artisan in San Salvador, El Salvador. Claudia is a older women, perhaps in her mid-seventies or older, but her mind is young. She carries herself gracefully and is the type of woman whose wisdom you can feel when she enters the room. Her specialty is weaving.

Claudia arrived at the workshop location with a portable loom, fiber material, and many examples of her work. She had prepared a weaving demonstration for the children attending the workshop. She set up her loom near a stairway, explaining the importance of correct tension to her craft. She told the children that she was only eight years old when her grandmother taught her the craft, and that she was considered an expert by age ten.

As she unpacked her tools and began to weave, she spoke with the children about the process of making. Her hands moved and manipulated the material so naturally and easily, as if she was not even thinking about her actions. In the moment, I remember thinking that the material itself seemed to be an extension of her body. Claudia touched on many familiar ideas, such as the connection with material one develops when using her own hands to make.

Dona Claudia Vega demonstrates her process of making with her weaving loom. 

Claudia also spoke about number. While elaborating about the planning and design stages of her artwork, she stressed the importance of even numbers and groups of four for specific patterns. The artisan must keep track of the count, according to Claudia, and if one does not think about the number, one cannot envision the final product. She also talked about addition and subtraction, with respect to color work.

At the culmination of her demonstration, we told Claudia that we planned to use one of her works for an e-textile project. The material we selected had taken Claudia three days of near-nonstop weaving to create. She mentioned that the artist must be mindful while making, but this was not a challenge for her, for the craft itself is a mindful practice. It is interesting to observe and identify commonalities in material and traditional female crafts cross-culturally. Number, mindfulness, and sense of community arise naturally in conversation again and again.

Claudia explains that number and mindfulness are key to crafting.

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