What’s the difference between a coaster and a cocktail napkin? Not something Cesi thinks about a lot - until ibu commissions hundreds of handwoven cocktail napkins (what do they use these things for???) When I first met Cesi last December, she had traveled many miles through the mountains to present me with piles of her work, already completed. The work was beautiful, yes, but I was crestfallen. The finished item was neither coaster nor cocktail napkin, but something in between: a stiff, crunchy square.
It’s one of the hardest things I encounter while working with artisans in other cultures: what to do when your designs get lost in translation? In this case, a stiffener had been added that ruined the whole appeal of carrying a napkin under your mojito. All that work! All those bright and hopeful intentions! But she had gone beyond my instructions. What to do???
I went back up the mountain with Cesi and met the other weavers in her cooperative. I saw their looms at work on our ibu project, talked through their challenges and successes, and told them the crunchy squares would not work where I live.
We are a team. A business. A movement in the world, and we must work together in excellence. This is not a charity. It is a collaboration of equals. We have to get it right.
Imagine her disappointment. Imagine me feeling like a total schmuck. By that afternoon, as you can see in the picture at the top of this page, she was back on the loom, determined to make it right. So, when 3 enormous boxes arrived last week from Chiapas Mexico, full of proper cocktail napkins and pillow covers exquisitely executed and linens fresh off the loom, it thrilled me - as it did Cesi - to see our project come out just right. She learned what a cocktail napkin is, what excellence demands, the windfall of determination. I learned the hard work of honesty, the management of quality, the price of giving and demanding the best we have of each other.
Now, we have a riot of color and beauty going on at ibu from the hands of Cesi and her friends. Come and see us, have a drink (with a napkin), toast the determination of one woman to try and fail and and begin again, to work alongside all women, to reach for a true revolution of reciprocity and respect.
Until next week ~
Susan Hull Walker