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Ibu Stories

    Red Light

    Red Light
    When I lived, briefly, in San Franciso, I would venture up through the wine country to Calistoga and lower myself into one of their famously thick mud baths made of volcanic ash and mineral spring waters only found there.

    Busting My Buttons

    Busting My Buttons
    Amina saw the problem.  The women of her town were making buttons; making them at home with a complex knotting of needle and thread, and trading them for pennies to traveling salesmen who, pumping up the price, sold them to tailors across the country at a nice profit.  The problem was the Middle Man.

    Wild Indigo

    Wild Indigo
    My friend, Monica, and I take a tuk tuk from Luang Prabang to the edge of town where we will stay for 5 nights.  Instead of a hotel reception area, we're let out onto a grassy lawn with clothelines of dyed yarn drying, and through the colorful skeins, hear a smoothie whirring at the bar overlooking the Mekong River, and beyond that, women on wooden looms offering a kind of drumbeat to the jazz of this happy band of people.  We've arrived at the world of Ock Pop Tok. 

    Color Confetti

    Color Confetti
    Perched in the back of an open lorry, I watched the Kenyan countryside roll by - small towns alternating with wide open desert - all a continuous canvas of sandy brown. The high sun bathed my skin, the rhythmic sway over the dirt road ruts and craters cradled me as I returned from emerald green Lake Turkana, (then, in my twenties, a kind of Shangri-la accessible only by a week on the open road; now an hour away by private plane.)

    Love Letters

    Love Letters
    You find letters written by your mother. To your father.  Love letters. And your heart opens. But then you realize that they are written while he was in captivity, kidnapped in a time of conflict in your country. Your heart stretches to take this in.  The words are real; the hand-writing pure; the language your own. You swim in those words.

    What Clothes Remember

    What Clothes Remember
    In Julia's studio are plastic bags stuffed with garments; garments caked with dirt, blood, insects after 20 years of neglect; garments worn by the victims of genocide in Rwanda at the time of their death.

    Repair

    Repair

    Years ago, at a gathering of American Artists for Diversity in Marrakech, I met the remarkable poet, C.K. Williams.  He had just won the Pulitzer Prize.  I had just exhibited my textile creations for the first time.  He admired a piece I had stitched together, wrapping it around his shoulders until he thought he must buy it. I picked up his latest volume of poetry, Repair, and wrapped myself in his words on the plane ride home.

    Open Kimono

    Open Kimono
    It's time to open the kimono, says a financial investor to a young company.  Full disclosure! Time to see the books! in other words; and this corporate lingo is now making its way into mainstream talk.


    Some say it's brazenly sexist, though kimonos have always been worn by men and women, so I find that debatable. 

    Others claim the expression originated in feudal Japan referring to the practice of proving that no weapons were hidden within the folds of the clothing. I like that. A visual pat down.

    Ibu Into Action

    Ibu Into Action
    Dear Ibu Allies,

    2020 will be a year to remember for many reasons, but for the Ibu Foundation, it was a particular standout. Our donations went up by 15% and our outreach strengthened. While many businesses and non-profits struggled to survive, your support helped the Ibu retail store thrive, and enabled the Foundation to uphold our mission. This year taught us again and again that nothing can dampen the power of beauty and the strength of women determined to rise into their own sovereignty. 

    Into the New Year

    Into the New Year

    Today, many of us will begin something new. Me, too.

    Each week, I write about artisans and other bits of life in Ibulliance. But there is so much more that never reaches the page. So, this year, I've decided to undertake a personally narrated trip daily through the world of Ibu on our Instagram platform.  

    We Have Turned the Year

    We Have Turned the Year

    On the last day of the year, Katherine May builds a fire on the beach near her home in Whitstable, England and watches the sun die into the horizon.  With her friends gathered around the flames, together they repeat, marking the moment, 

    We have turned the year.

    Shine Like a Star

    Shine Like a Star
    Stephanie Hunt is one of the truest women I know.  Deeply thoughtful, wisely funny, utterly humble, she is the perfect (and first) Board President for the non-profit arm of the Ibu Movement,WeAreIbu.org. I am daily grateful for her guidance as the IbuFoundation, only in its second year, grows into its own. You have heard from our outstanding Exec Director, Hannah Blatt.  Today I asked Stephanie to speak to you from the Board of Directors about what is inspiring her in this new, young, vital part of our Movement.  -  SHW

    Keeping the Story Alive

    Keeping the Story Alive
    On this particular night, all of the rooms of my house are stacked high with the delicious textiles I love ~ suzanis thrown over chairs, antique coats hanging in doorways, remnants piled on coffee tables - tactile temptation everywhere.  Long before Ibu, I am hosting a non-profit raising funds for building schools in Afghanistan, and doing so by selling lovely vintage textiles of the region. Heaven. 

    On the Other Side of Night

    On the Other Side of Night
    I'm scrolling through my laptop Photos, searching for the cadence of this past year, for the story these images tell. It's what I do at Thanksgiving - reflect on the year's gifts, its losses. Normally, I would collect the faces of those who have shaped my year and form a collage of them; a cornucopia of friends and collaborators, artisans, children, colleagues, all.  But this year, strangely, there are no faces in my photographs. There has been no travel to visit artisans, no events, no parties, no vacations, no family holidays. No faces at all. 
     

    Moroccan Midnight

    Moroccan Midnight
    I followed lanterns down a dark path, past moon-white bouganvillia billowing from the rooftop, candelabras hanging from olive trees, through simple, perfect arches and into some kind of enchantment the spell of which has never let me go. This is how I met Meryanne 22 years ago in the palm groves outside Marrakech, sensing in every turn of our conversation, a friend for life.

    FINALLY

    FINALLY
    Aisha Basuoni cannot leave her home in Gaza where she oversees a group of talented embroiderers. But she hears of Ibu and writes me to ask if we will consider designing with them so they might find a market outside of Palestine. That was two years - and a long, challenging road - ago.  

    The Long March

    The Long March
    1893. New Zealand is the first country to grant women the right to vote in national elections. A movement spreads across Asia and Europe gaining momentum, so that over the next 70 years, women in 70% of all countries in the world win the fight for suffrage.  After 1960, the remaining nations join ranks, the last being Saudia Arabia in 2015, so that today, women can finally vote everywhere on this earth.  At last.

    50 Years Later: A New Love Story

    50 Years Later: A New Love Story
    50 years ago a love story moved the world . . .

    A Dress of Longings

    A Dress of Longings
    I once wrote that a person should do at least one thing in her life that takes her own breath away. That's my friend, Sue Monk Kidd, commenting on her recent supernova of a novel, The Book of Longings.  Her last few books left me breathless, from The Secret Life of Bees to The Invention of Wings.  But, Sue tweets, this is the one - this great daring story - that really takes her own breath. 

    This Monkey's Got Your Back

    This Monkey's Got Your Back
    They thought our color selection drab:  chocolate brown and deep French Roast black.  The Kuna women of Colombia wear bright mola blouses, neon happy.  But we thought it delicious: the rich tones so close they almost vibrate with intensity.  In the end, everyone was won over.

    The Future of Fashion

    The Future of Fashion
    The question itself is meant to provoke new thinking, even dreaming. What is the future of fashion? the editors of Vogue ask 100 leaders in the field and spell it out in their September issue. It's the kind of self-assessment happening in every field.  What are schools without classrooms, performing arts without audiences, fashion without anywhere to wear the latest look?  Things are shaking down.  Like trees shedding their golden coronas, each area of our life is slowly baring its architecture of branches. We're vulnerable.  We're visible, stripped of our leafy golden faces in the world.

    And it's just such honest moments as these that things begin to change.

    When Sisters Link Arms

    When Sisters Link Arms

    Seven of them, actually.  Seven sisters.  In Kyrgyzstan.  Like never before, linking arms.  Because . . . Covid.  

    We began to hear reports of terrible things happening with our artisan colleagues in Kyrgyzstan.  So terrible, I didn't believe them.  We've certainly heard from imposters before, posing as artisans in trouble, pleading cash.  So, though I put the emails aside, I thought it would be a good idea to check in with Zhanyl, just in case.  

    Before They Are All Gone

    Before They Are All Gone
    One Sunday afternoon, two years ago, I read about Abdul Hamid Abdul Razzak - a man in Aurangabad, India, who carried the proud lineage of Himroo weaving in his family blood; Himroo being one of the finest textiles of India. The finest fabric of the Deccan in fact, wrote Marco Polo, in his pursuits of treasure - which I find a compelling recommendation.

    Beauté Noir

    Beauté Noir

    Whispering Cloud. Singing Silk. Tea Silk. Soft Gold.  It's been called many names over the past 2500 years, but all names agree about this rare luxurious cloth - it's liquid on your skin, and weightless as the sky.

    Razima's Story

    Razima's Story
    Razima was 15 years old when she migrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan to escape the war - in 1988.  At the Baghicha refugee camp where she lived, she came to marry one of the security guards, settled in Peshawar, and cared for her 9 children.  When a tragic accident paralyzed her husband, leaving him unable to work, she turned to her embroidery skills to pay for his medical expenses and support her family.

    The House of Wandering Silk

    The House of Wandering Silk
    An Aussie who's lived in London, Osaka, now Berlin, and works out of Delhi, Katherine Neumann is a traveling fool, topping 70 countries visited and more in her daydreams.  Wherever she goes, Katherine turns her roving eye to the local hand crafted textiles and the artisans creating them. Having worked in non-profits trying to improve the lives of women in poverty and witnessing their failure again and again, she had another idea.

    Higher

    Higher

    Listen!  There is something happening among the women of Northern Kenya.  Something powerful. 

    Recently, 1300 women of Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, and other tribes - have been exercising their incredible beading skills to not just earn a living - but to change their lives.  And not just their lives, but 7800 family members, still living their pastoral, semi-nomadic lifestyle.  They've sent 3500 children to school.  They've protected their lands so that 1000 more elephants now graze there, and they've radically reduced the destructive practice of making charcoal by cutting down trees. That's some powerful stuff.

    The Cloud of Unknowing

    The Cloud of Unknowing

    As the pandemic surges into the heart of summer, I feel some days as though I am walking through a cloud.  Nothing is clear.  No-one is certain.  No path is plain to see.

    It makes me think of a text I once studied, anonymously penned in the late 1300s, called The Cloud of Unknowing.  The author traced the mystic's path: giving up - rather painfully giving up - all that we believe about ourselves and the world around us, in order to receive a glimpse of our true being, our true place in the world.

    Dressing the Littlest Weebu

    Dressing the Littlest Weebu
    When I think about the little ones born into this cleft in time; this rupture severing what was before and what will be after, nevermore the same . . . I see in their faces a kind of brave new world.  A future that is being born. Here's how women around the world are honoring them - these future Ibu. These tiny Wee-bu. These faces of hope and change. 

    Love, Kenya

    Love, Kenya
    Meeting a few Maasai women in Kenya, Chrissie Lam thinks their beading skills are brilliant and asks them to make a bracelet holding one powerful word:  LOVE.  Chrissie is traveling around the world with a vague but powerful desire to do somethingand not knowing what, exactly.  She's left her job in corporate fashion and opened to life.  Now, this bracelet wraps her wrist. 

    What Are We Masking

    What Are We Masking

    It's the symbol of our time - the whole crushing chaos of COVID distilled into a few thin layers of cotton. Overnight, fashion sprang on this new social canvas; because fashion is all about manufacturing identity, and what signifier is more in your face than a mask?  But what, I am wondering, does it signify?. Is It a social firewall or a thoughtful gesture?

    Depends on why you wear it, says Liz Bucar quoted in the Washington Post. If you are wearing a mask to protect yourself from others, you are forming a habit of fear. Every time you put a mask on, every time you see someone else wearing one, you will reinforce this fear. 

    At Home In The World

    At Home In The World
    I lean back into the cushions on my sofa one recent evening at home, after many, many recent evenings at home, and still find solace nesting there. My mind drifts to the places holding me  . . . cushions made from the textures of Burkina Faso, the intricate designs of China, Laos, Japan, the weave of Ghana.  I nibble from a pottery bowl fired in Morocco, use a napkin handwoven in Mexico on a table carved in Cameroon.  A Yoruba chief from Nigeria, a gift to my parents from the chief himself, watches over me.

    Wearing is Caring

    Wearing is Caring

    Did you know that there are 75 million garment workers in the world, and almost all of them earn far below the average income of their country? 
    In China, garment workers make 20% of the national average wage.  
    In Bangladesh, where poverty is rampant, 65%.  
    In the United States, 51%.* 

    And across the board, 75% of these garment workers are women. 

    What Matters

    What Matters
    This week, on Social Media, I have joined the world in blacking out. Muting our constant chatter.  Listening to the dark. For these are dark times, and there is much we need to hear about what really matters. 

    Meet Pali

    Meet Pali
    She was married at the age of ten.  And while she tended goat herds for her father, waiting to be sent to her husband's home at 16, her husband died.  Pali was a widow at 14.

    Spinning Your Own Story

    Spinning Your Own Story
    Maybe you like to take a spin on your bike; or occasionally you've had to put your own spin on a total blooper; or you like to spin a yarn over a laid-back dinner? You know, however you spin, what you are actually doing is taking something of your own stuff (your energy, imagination, history) and reeling it out in the world. 

    The Slow of Time

    The Slow of Time
    What is it about this ritual washing in the sea that is so moving?  That women in a small town in Turkey not only hand-loom their organic cotton into the sweeping grace of cloth, but that they then bathe it in the salty waters of the Black Sea and spread it to dry on the quartz sands of Sile beach, as they and their mothers' mothers have done for 150 years?

    Antonia's Kitchen

    Antonia's Kitchen
    I don't really know anyone else who cooks nonpareil meals with native organic plants, medicinal herbs, and top drawer culinary training ... by headlamp ... in a tent ... in the bush.  But Antonia Stogdale does, when not teaching at the Bush Cookery School she founded, or hosting guests at her Lodge, or leading safaris all over Kenya with her husband. 

    Native to this Land

    Native to this Land
    People often ask if we work with artisan groups in the US, which gives me a chance to explain that the primary aim of Ibu, from the beginning, has been to provide a market for women who otherwise would not have one. 

    Don't Stop Me Now

    Don't Stop Me Now
    Nigeria. 
    Crisp white damask,  rich nutmeg embroidery, + highly skilled women  = a knock-out new Ibu dress.

    The Giving Tree

    The Giving Tree
    Two summers ago, while sniffing around for inspiration in an encyclopedic book of ancient textiles, (one of my favorite pastimes), I come across a man's jacket that makes me stop. And then stop some more.  Straight up the back is a Tree of Life as I've never seen before, the archetype of a soul rooted in the earth, branching toward the heavens, and bearing fruit here and now.  And the fruit! Though centuries old and living in a museum, the orbs are utterly modern.  I close my eyes.  I'm wearing a whole dress, top to bottom, with this tree of life articulating my spine, reminding me why I am here. I already love it.

    When Everything Changes

    When Everything Changes
    It began with a child's dress - a tiny red and green affair covered in coins to deflect evil spirits; embroidery and tassels to entice the good.  At Ibu, we translated this timeless inspiration into a piece for our time, and for an enthusiastic group of women in Pakistan who wanted the challenge. Many samples and iterations later, many months of work down the road, we are proud to introduce a dress that sings with history, pride, color, life. We're in love with everything about it. 

    Home (But Not) Alone

    Home (But Not) Alone

    Less than three weeks ago, an esteemed English professor/poet laureate staying in my home pulled out his flip phone (no kidding), and pondered how to Zoom his new online classes.  

    Look at us now.  Henry is sailing through his Zoom maneuvers; my niece Emily is streaming her Sunday morning service to an at-home congregation; my accountant is educating me via a webinar; Elton John and friends play for us from their homes;  artisans the world over are checking in via What's App, friends on email and text; phone conferences play out at my home on the hour; grandparents celebrate their little ones on Facetime  . . . I mean, the longer we are isolated, the more creative we get in banding together.

    When the Sky Falls

    When the Sky Falls
    When the sky falls, the tsunami hits, the pandemic spreads . . . some will run in circles.  Chicken Little will squawk, horde, gnash teeth, forecast gloom. 

    And then there are some, in the midst of life's strange calamities, who will rise into their full stature, and with fear, but not trembling, find a way through.

    The Ache for Home

    The Ache for Home
    My son is my home.  My daughter is my horizon;  so my father confided to his friend.  I've always ached to travel and experience the world and even at the time Dad mused on this  (before mobile phones or even email) I was deep into the MidEast and Africa with a backpack, dropping postcards in the mail like a trail of crumbs.

    A Goddess in Your Garden

    A Goddess in Your Garden
    As I enter some fun parties this week, friends gently lift their elbow for a tap instead of our usual cheek kiss - a nod to the coronavirus weaving its worldwide web.  I marvel at how powerful is this invisible force at work, causing us to quarantine, isolate, close schools, cancel events, crash markets, and fear contact with one another.  And stop bear hugs in their tracks.  Alas.  

    A Festival of the First Five

    A Festival of the First Five

    Even I'm a sucker for Amazon next day delivery. Retail is dead, they say. Madison Avenue is a mausoleum of the marketplace. Shopping is now a finger-click, and poof! - your next TV is waiting at your door. 

    Five years ago, the writing is on the wall. I open Ibu online, knowing the real market is rocketing into hyperspace. A team of five is working in my house - at the dinning table, the sewing room, the office, the kitchen - but know one else can see with their own eyes the handcrafted beauty pouring in from all over the world, which is, I think, a shame. 

    Moroccan Buttons of Sefrou

    Moroccan Buttons of Sefrou

    How do you make a button?  The loop-de-loop kind of intricate things that march down a Moroccan djellaba by the dozens like a proud brigade?  

    Ask any of the twelve Ibu allies who traveled to the city of buttons to learn how.  Sefrou, Morocco is where women know how to start with a tiny piece of paper and needle and whip up a chic little button, no problem; but teaching an American crew was another story altogether!

    Faces of Ibu - Cathie Black

    Faces of Ibu - Cathie Black

    Cathie Black begins her book, Basic Black, talking about the importance of Drive. Persistence. Passion. A fearless forward motion in a woman that doesn't stop when set back. 

    I'd say she is describing herself. This woman who became the first to head up Marketing for a ground-breaking upstart called Ms. Magazine when women's issues were hardly at the forefront of public discourse - this woman threw herself into an almost impossible job and didn't give up. I'd call that Drive. 

    Light and Airy Embroidered Tunics from India

    Light and Airy Embroidered Tunics from India

    Maria spends her days sitting in the courtyard of her home in the rural village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, Mexico, weaving on the ancient backstrap loom. She ties the loom to a post and secures the strap around her waist, sits down on the stone ground, and begins her craft. Each hand-woven garment requires two weeks of preparation and spinning, and another 3 months or 400 hours of weaving. The pieces created are nothing less than a language of love. When asked if Maria enjoys this type of work, she proudly says this is not work to me, this is my way of life.

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