From this point on, you can now call us the “yeah, yeah, yeahs.”
And no it has nothing to do with the band. Several of the women have now nicknamed Maggie and I as “yeah, yeah, yeah” didi. Why? Unaware of our habit of saying “yeah” in acknowledgement of a question, we quickly realized how often we say the phrase. The women were quick to identify this as our most spoken word that they recognized in English. At first feeling silly, I tried to avoid using it. However, now we have fully embraced the recent nickname with smiles and giggles. Today’s lesson was based on the previous paint by numbers exercise, however this time there is no number guiding each step. We have asked to collage fabric inspired by a photograph of food. For one of the first times they are asked to do something based on how they see something, not on how they’re told to execute a task. The goal over the next few days is to encourage personal creative expression. We are hoping that with a little nudge they will create something they never thought they could do. Unfortunately, this part is like pulling teeth. Every woman looks at us with confused and concerned eyes. Why am I gluing this fabric to paper? Does this look like the photograph? Why don’t you just show me what you want me to make? I was told this was a stitching job!
Well here comes a leap of faith. We have always felt strongly that product designs should reflect the creativity of the artisans, and not women behind a computer in the United States. We plan to use these strange collages to inform our new designs of quilts, table runners, pillows and countless other future products. Patience is the most needed skill in this phase. Every few minutes we hear “didi, didi,” and look over to see a few women waving their collage in the air asking for our help. Without knowing many Hindi words, we manage to communicate what their next step is and how they could improve. This is not the easiest task, but it’s exciting to see them succeed. So we trudge through the frustrations of confusion, surrounding chaos of curious neighbors constantly passing through, and lack of sufficient supplies. (We only had 10 pairs of scissors for 37 people. Yikes!)
After a couple of exhausting days, I sit in my bed at the hotel looking through each panel and listening to music. Tearing up, I remember the looks on the faces of each woman when they handed in their work, a look for approval waiting to see my reaction. With a smile and words of encouragement, you see them light up. You can sense relief and feelings of success. I am later told that they feel happy when they find we are pleased. I am overwhelmed with emotion as I look at them now, what beautiful pieces of individual creative expression. This is not to say there are no flaws. The stitches are sloppy and loose. The edges of the patchwork are rough and uneven. Unlike previous trips, I am feeling the weight of running an organization. I find myself pointing out mistakes in my head, worrying about how we are going to make the next stage of high quality products to sell in other markets. Where can we sell all the products they are making? Are people going to even like what we are selling? I must force myself to put that left brain to the side and focus on what I treasure the most, experimentation in design.
There is something very magical about someone’s first piece. Maybe it is the innocence of not yet being bogged down with too many rules and the freedom from structured guidelines. The textile pieces are full of possibility, as well as, the future of these women.
-Colleen & Maggie