My friend, Ruth, is a physician who has been volunteering at the Matangwe Clinic in rural Kenya for the past eleven years. She and I have travelled there together for the last four. This year she decided to commission the rug hookers to make her six chair seats depicting the local community. Colourful and charming, the collection is the work of five different rug hookers. They are made of hand-cut t-shirt strips, wool strips and nylons–in fact anything we could lay our hands on. It is amazing to see the ingenuity and talent of the local women. I will back the mats with Kenyan cotton and they will soon bring a touch of Kenya to Ruth’s dining room.
Now that the show is over and Kenya is in the past, I have some time to sit at my rug and make some headway. Not a lot of headway as you can see–but some. The design is set out loosely, with an idea about the background colours. There is nothing planned or scientific about this rug. It begins with blue at either end and transitions into green. Where it goes from there is a mystery which will be solved by the dye pots. It is huge to lug around, but still a pleasure to hook. I’ve been sitting in my sun room with the spring sun pouring in over my shoulder and just letting the day go by. It’s about time. It has been a busy, busy year and I’m ready for some rug time. After all – how we spend our days is how we spend our lives…
I learned so much from the rug hookers in Matangwe. I learned about dignity and perseverance certainly, but I also learned about colour and design. I learned that it’s not about materials, having the best wool or the perfect colour, but about how you interpret your world using what you have. These hooked works have brought me to see Matangwe in a new way. Below are some pieces that stood out for me and the stories behind them.
Esther and Irene were new hookers this year. They walked two hours each way, five days a week, to get to the community centre for their hooking lessons. They were quiet and dignified and we exchanged only a few words. However, their work demonstrates a bold use of colour and shape that belies their shyness. These were their second pieces of hooking, ever. I love the energy in them and am intrigued by the way they see their world.
Tabitha arrived every day with her four month old daughter. A second year hooker, Tabitha produced more pieces than I was expecting anyone to make. She was resourceful, hardworking and creative. During the first week she completed the test assignments quickly, using materials from home. She then went on to make chair seats and table mats of her own design. Everyone loved the first piece below,hooked with wool and t-shirts, and it sold quickly in Matangwe. Clearly it resonated with the people there. The following two pieces are of her own design as well, begun at home and finished using t-shirts, stockings and wool. The material seems to be a determining factor in the design–the last piece using stockings is finer and more whimsical that the other two which use a combination of wool and t-shirts.
And like Tabitha, Everlyne was on fire producing pieces of her own design. Here is a photo of her on the last day with yet another piece, done entirely with t-shirts. She has incorporated her own version of one of the local birds with design features she saw in Rug Hooking magazine.
Jill commented on the last post that it must be ‘quite an adjustment returning’ to Canada after a month in Kenya. It is. And I will write more about my 5 days in Amsterdam after Kenya, a key part of the adjustment for me. For now, I have been mulling over the achievements of the 14 women who spent three weeks hooking and, in addition, their impact on me.
Above are pictures of our sale on the final day of the course. Employees at the local medical clinic and the local school came to admire and purchase. We sold several pieces. There were more pieces in addition to those pictured, including an order of six chair seats. This is a remarkable achievement for 14 women, half of whom had never hooked before.
A few words on the process: I brought a large duffle bag full of donated linen, t-shirts and woollen strips. While in Nairobi, I was able to purchase 10 additional yards of burlap and some cotton jersey remnants from a t-shirt factory. After the second week, we went to the local market in Bondo and purchased a large bag of second-hand t-shirts, especially in the colours of sky and grass–we were running out of materials!
There were two classes, morning and afternoon. Everyone began hooking a small mat, either a flower or a heart, to establish standards both for hooking and for finishing. Everyone then went on to hook one of the local birds from a photo, tracing the image on to the backing, using the window as a light box. From there, once the first two pieces were completed to an acceptable standard, the rug hookers designed their own mats and chair cushions. The experienced rug hookers–those who had hooked last year–took to the challenge quickly and some completed five or six pieces in the three weeks. And there were a few new rug hookers who completed wonderfully creative pieces, while others stayed with the original two pieces.
I loved sitting hooking with these women. Some sang quietly as they hooked, others chatted and laughed, but there was always an atmosphere of cooperation and achievement. As the time went on, they became more daring in their designs, drawing their interpretation of the world around them. I would often be surprised when one of the rug hookers would arrive with an almost completed piece which she had begun at home. Tomorrow I’ll write about what I learned about design and colour from these wonderful rug hookers.
Below, buying t-shirts at the Bondo market. Vendors often have their wares spread on the ground on a tarp. Bondo is a 7 km boda boda (motorcycle) ride on deeply rutted, dusty roads. Three adults and a couple of baskets on a boda boda is commonplace–and I am always relieved when we arrive safely.
Today is our ‘exhibition’ and my final day of Matangwe rug hooking. Everyone has been working very hard to get as many pieces as possible completed for today. Things have come together in this third week and I am overwhelmed by the quality of the technique and design. We had an order for 6 chairs seats and below you will see four contenders, plus one of my favourite bird mats, accurately depicting a Cordon Bleu, one of my favourite Matangwe birds. Many of the rug hookers have have progressed from copying a photo using the window as a light box, to designing scenes from their lives. We went shopping in Bondo for tshirts last week as we had run out of material for sky and grass. Turquoise is a favourite.
Uploading photos is a tedious business but I will try to do another post later today. We have over 30 pieces for the exhibiton and sale.
Hello again from Kenya. I am in Kisumu with a great view of Lake Victoria from my balcony so I plan to sketch it soon. I hope to post some of my sketches of Matangwe and Kisumu later this week. But first rug hooking news.
We have now finished our second week of rug hooking. The pile of woollen worms has really shrunk and we have been to Bondo to shop for T shirts. We were expecially looking for the colours of grass and sky. I am thrilled with the work especially the larger mats and chair seats which they have drawn of local scenes. I love the way they combine tshirts, wool and the occasional nylon stocing. Here are some samples of the work so far.
I’ve been hooking along with the women, using this piece to demonstrate technique. But as you can see from the work above, they are very fast learners and have a wonderful sense of colour and design. They have been inspired by Rug Hooking magazine and the slides I’ve shown them, but these pieces all have a Matangwe lens. It’s magic to watch these wonderful women translate their environment into hooking.